Double shift: Working mothers and social change in Australia charts ‘the changes that have occurred in the way motherhood and paid work have been combined in Australia over the last hundred years’. It brings together the insights of ‘historians, sociologists, demographers and social policy analysts’ (1) to explore the contours of mothering and employment at a time when these intersections are ’hot’ topics. Double Shift eschews simplistic or individualized explanatory frameworks for women’s labour patterns, their mothering practices and the ‘contradictory and largely unhelpful policy framework for managing these two basic activities’ by showing how women worked at the turn of the twentieth century (Swain); in the 1920s and 1930s (Damousi); and in the 1950s (Murphy and Probert). These historical interventions in Double Shift add very satisfying depth to contemporary debates about work and family. These chapters reveal the thinness and class specificity of many contemporary discussions about mothers’ employment and social change. They show that women’s mothering labour in Australia has always been linked to the labour market and the options available there. As Shurlee Swain’s account of the dilemmas faced by working mothers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century reveals, ‘decisions about work were made within the context of the family economy’ (87), and that is something that has remained remarkably consistent for women.
These accounts of experience are extended by historical analyses of various policy shifts in family benefits and employment which demonstrate how policy frameworks simultaneously encourage and deter women from full and fair participation in the labour market. As Murphy and Probert suggest, the 1950s saw ‘an expanding economy … tugging more women out of the private sphere into employment’ (Double Shift 150). But they foreground how difficult the work structures and social expectations of the period made this process. Here, as elsewhere in the volume, ‘the moral framework within which hostility to mothers working has been constructed, and its Janus face—the moral framework within which support for mothers who stay home— has been constructed’.