Skip to main content

Hays, Sharon 1956-

Hays, Sharon 1956-


Born 1956. Education: University of California, Santa Cruz, B.A., 1977 (college honors); University of California, San Diego, M.A., 1989, Ph.D., 1993.


Office—Department of Sociology, University of Southern California, KAP 352, Los Angeles, CA 90089. E-mail—[email protected]


University of Virginia, Charlottesville, assistant professor, 1993-99, associate professor of sociology and women's studies, 1999-2005, member of Sexual Assault Protocol Committee, 1994-96, and Women's Leadership Development Program, 1996, chairperson, Committee on Educational Policy and Curriculum, subcommittee on history and non-Western studies requirements, 1997-99; University of Southern California, Los Angeles, Barbra Streisand Professorship in Contemporary Gender Studies, 2005—. Member of Distinguished Book Award committee, section on sex and gender, American Sociological Association, 1998-99; member of Southern Sociological Society Committee on Status of Women, 2000. Work has been featured in popular media, including Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Working Mother, and Parenting magazines.


American Sociological Association, National Electronic Network on Gender and Culture (organizer).


Research grants, University of Virginia, 1994, 2000, 2001, 2002; Distinguished Book Award, American Sociological Association, 1997, and honorable mention as Distinguished Scholarly Publication, 1998, both for The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood; first annual Women's Center Faculty Mentoring Award, University of Virginia, 1999.


The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1996.

Flat Broke with Children: Women in the Age of Welfare Reform, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2003.

Contributor to From Sociology to Cultural Studies: New Perspectives, edited by Elizabeth Long, Blackwell, 1997. Contributor to scholarly journals, including Contemporary Sociology, Journal of Marriage and the Family, Sociological Theory, and Media, Culture, and Society. Member of editorial board, Contemporary Sociology.


Sharon Hays's scholarly work concentrates on gender and family issues, particularly centering on modern American cultural trends affecting child rearing and family economics. The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood explores what Hays sees as a conflict between the ideals of "intensive mothering" as espoused by popular twentieth-century child-care advisors, and the economic imperative many women face to work outside the home even when their children are very young. Mothers rather than fathers are by far the ones who sacrifice work time in order to meet their children's needs. This conflict of expectations means that women are caught in a bind: society expects them to be both exemplary mothers and exemplary workers, with no socially acceptable middle ground. "We live in a society that so valorizes paid work," declared Phyllis Eckhaus in a Nation critique, that "the unpaid work of welfare mothers is condemned as theft from taxpayers; where profits are placed so far ahead of people that companies win stock-market windfalls by downsizing longtime employees. How can an ideology of intensive mothering coexist with an ideology of free-market capitalism?"

Hays finds that this dichotomy remains in place even when women have the support of their spouses or partners. In order to change this trend, she concludes, people must overcome the deeply-rooted notion that "nurturing" is an exclusively female characteristic. "For the benefit of families," a Publishers Weekly critic explained, "society must change so the responsibility of parenting is more evenly split among the sexes." American Journal of Sociology contributor Sandra L. Hofferth deemed Hays's conclusions in The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood "thoughtful and carefully written," adding that the book provides "excellent material for family demography or women's studies courses." In her assessment for the Population and Development Review, Susan Greenhalgh concluded: "Overall, Cultural Contradictions is an illuminating and thought-provoking study that makes sociological sense out of the vexing problems that many parents grapple with every day."

Flat Broke with Children: Women in the Age of Welfare Reform uses case studies from welfare offices in a large Sunbelt city and a mid-sized town in the Southeast to chart the effect welfare reform has had on single mothers. Hays interviewed both case workers and welfare recipients in an effort to determine how women come to terms with the dual needs to nurture their children and to become financially independent—two competing and often contradictory agendas. Hays suggests that forces beyond the control of any individual have had a strong influence over the number of children being raised in poverty. "Over the last thirty years, she notes," wrote Angela Ards in Women's Review of Books, "the economic strain of advanced capitalism downsized manufacturing jobs, depressed wages, and destabilized families." Before the 1970s, Hays explains, American capitalism dealt with these issues by keeping men's and women's roles strictly separated: working fathers and stay-at-home mothers. After that point, however, economic pressures moved to keep women's wages low, rooting single mothers in poverty. Hays points out that these same pressures underscore two parallel and sometimes contradictory core American beliefs: personal responsibility and independence on the one hand, and collective responsibility and welfare on the other. A Kirkus Reviews critic found Flat Broke with Children "a balanced portrait of the most controversial of all public programs." Suzanne W. Wood in Library Journal concluded that the books is "very readable, important, and stimulating."



American Journal of Sociology, July, 1997, Sandra L. Hofferth, review of The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood, p. 243.

Booklist, October 15, 1996, Patricia Hassler, review of The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood, p. 383.

Canadian Woman Studies, summer-fall, 1998, review of The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood, pp. 159-160.

Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2002, review of Flat Broke with Children: Women in the Age of Welfare Reform, p. 1822.

Library Journal, March 15, 2003, Suzanne W. Wood, review of Flat Broke with Children, p. 104.

Nation, October 14, 1996, Phyllis Eckhaus, review of The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood, p. 29.

New York Review of Books, November 28, 1996, Diane Johnson, review of The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood, p. 22.

Population and Development Review, March, 1998, Susan Greenhalgh, review of The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood, p. 173.

Publishers Weekly, September 16, 1996, review of The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood, p. 64; January 13, 2003, review of Flat Broke with Children, p. 52.

Signs, autumn, 1999, Linda Rennie Forcey, review of The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood, p. 301.

Social Forces, March, 1998, Ralph Larossa, review of The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood, p. 1159.

Women's Review of Books, April, 1997, Carol Sternhell, review of The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood, p. 5; January, 2004, Angela Ards, "Welfare Family Values," p. 7.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Hays, Sharon 1956-." Contemporary Authors. . 16 Feb. 2019 <>.

"Hays, Sharon 1956-." Contemporary Authors. . (February 16, 2019).

"Hays, Sharon 1956-." Contemporary Authors. . Retrieved February 16, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.