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From “Compensation ” to “Childhood Wonder”: Why Parents Buy

By Allison J. Pugh


This paper considers how American parents consume on behalf of their children, and their reasons for doing so, in the hopes of helping to untangle the work/family knot at the center. My research involves interviews and fieldwork with a white, largely middle-class sample of married and single mothers of 8-year-old children and is part of a larger study of what I call “child-rearing consumption ” in general. In this paper, I outline a working typology of why parents consume and then delve more deeply into two of the most important aspects: consumption as compensation and as a conduit to childhood wonder. The burgeoning field of work/family studies is taken up mostly with research on satisfaction, conflict, and balance among people straddling their work and family lives. Important studies have looked at how workplaces can make a difference, kinds of jobs, government policies, and schools. But consumption is surely an important part of work/family conflict, not least because most people work so many hours in order to keep up their “preferred standard of living ” (Schor 1992). In short, the moving target that is the preferred standard of living, the truism that most people spend a little more than they make even as their income increases, the spending engine that drives greater and greater work hours, these notions are wha

Year: 2002
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