Family comes first or open all hours?: How low paid women working in food retailing manage webs of obligation at home and work

Kathryn Backett-Milburn, Laura Airey, Linda McKie, Gillian Hogg

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    33 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper draws on qualitative findings from a study exploring work-life balance issues amongst female employees within food retailing. Whilst female employment is fundamental to this sector, there is limited evidence on employees' experiences of reconciling relatively low-paid work and the particular demands of food retailing with domestic and caring responsibilities. Managing competing discourses and demands at home and work is a feature of many women's lives. For those in low-paid jobs, with fewer material resources to fall back on, such webs of obligation, often stretching over the lifecourse, may be particularly difficult to navigate or escape. In food retail work, as in caring/domestic emergencies, timeframes may be tight and demands made on workers at short notice and outwith the standard working day. The study showed that sustaining their moral identities both as good mothers/daughters/family members ('family comes first') and as good and reliable workers ('the store must be staffed') was, therefore, an everyday practical accomplishment for these food retail employees. We explore women's accounts against the backdrop of particular familial, workplace and socio-cultural expectations and constraints, identifying overlapping sets of values between home and work as well as points of contradiction and tension.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)474-496
    Number of pages23
    JournalThe Sociological Review
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2008

    Cite this