The idea that work-shy Western Europeans and work-crazed Americans differ fundamentally in their orientations to working life and private life has gained wide currency on both sides of the Atlantic within the social science community, spawning rafts of studies charting differences in aggregate time use patterns and work value orientations. Taking an experiential perspective on the behaviors and orientations constitutive of working life and private life, my dissertation approaches the question of cross-national and transatlantic difference from a novel standpoint. Drawing on over one hundred and fifty in-depth interviews with comparable elite professionals, the dissertation carries out a three-way case study of the experiential divergences and convergences between the working lives and private lives of comparable French, Norwegian, and American elite professionals working and living in Paris, Oslo, and San Francisco.
The dissertation examines the ways these three groups organize and experience their working lives and their private lives by exploring convergences and divergences relating to a number of analytical dimensions. The study contrasts their daily work routines, their temporal zoning practices, their career pathways and aspirations, their romantic partners' occupational profiles, as well as their ways of talking about work, work effort, and leisure. Capitalizing on my unique body of data, the dissertation reveals the forms which these various practices and orientations take in these three distinctive societal environments.
The dissertation's findings add a new dimension to the ongoing debates around overwork, extreme work, and work-life strain among managers and professionals. The study's comparative findings reveal important differences in the ways that comparable populations of elite French, Norwegian, and American managers and professionals working in similarly high-stakes, rewarding, and remunerative jobs constitute working life and private life. Relative to their American or French counterparts, elite Norwegian managers and professionals treat their working lives as a less greedy life realm, responding to a social and cultural environment which acts in very specific ways to inhibit the kind of extreme work habits which run rampant in these two other societal contexts.
While both the French and American elite managers and professionals engage in extreme working, this way of working assumes somewhat different forms in the two societal contexts. The extreme work of the American managers and professionals is driven by a deep-seated desire to perform well in a competition over money and personal status. By contrast, the extreme work of the French managers and professionals issues from an attachment to an occupational identity defined through membership in a recognized social and cultural elite. This identity is strengthened and reinforced by a surprisingly strong tendency for the male French elite professionals to pair up with occupationally matched women pursuing their own demanding careers.
Just as the dissertation provides a rich and. nuanced picture of working life among these three groups of managers and professionals, it illuminates the complex linkages between extreme work among managers and professionals, on the one hand, and facets of societal context, on the other hand. Analyzing these connections from a variety of theoretical perspectives, the dissertation reveals the sources of these differences in stratification cultures, gender cultures, systems of elite education, and patterns of romantic and family life.