With the increasing commodification of time and given competitive capitalism's production of "winners" and "losers," it should come as no surprise that time as well as wealth has become thoroughly and invidiously stratified.

To occupy different positions in the social hierarchy is to have different temporal orientations to everyday life. This involves such matters as:


Upper classes are a nation's past; the middle class is its future.
--Ayn Rand, Russian-born author (1905-1982)

When passing through one of the most affluent areas of my city while on my way to work I noticed a milk truck parked in front of one of the mansions. Upon seeing a milkman returning to his van with a load of empty milk bottles I was struck by childhood memories of when this now-rare morning ritual was routinely conducted in my own middle class neighborhood.

There's little question for why this disappearance of milk trucks from Levittowns. Inflation of fuel prices, the aging of the baby-boom (whose childhood made such rounds cost-efficient as nearly everyone in the 'burbs had children), the proliferation of supermarkets and the sprouting of convenience stores have all contributed to the obsolescence of the milkman. And yet, here he still is in the 1990s. Among the upper classes, individuals can still afford to maintain such traditional life-styles, including keeping mom at home. It is in the working class that individuals are most susceptible to the broad currents of social change. Here the dual-career and single-parent family roles were first trailblazed, long before it became fashionable for a yuppie couple to leave in their his and her BMWs to their separate professions. The ability to live in or own the past has, for the upper middle class and their highers, become an important dimension of conspicuous consumption.

Times of the Upper Class

Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.
--Barry Switzer

When you think about, there are some intriguing temporal underpinnings to the status claims of the upper class. A universal tactic for convincing others that their place is at a lower rung of the stratification order than yourself and therefore owe special deference to oneself is to establish one's legitimacy through lineage. You have an ancestor who was a passenger on the Mayflower? who fought in the American Revolutionary War? who was one of the founding settlers in your state or your community? You are in luck-- especially if your family has maintained its presence and "good name," and if you are in a place where tradition and continuity are valued. Take the richest woman in the world, Queen Elizabeth: the entire British monarchy depends her being able to point to a 56- generation lineage.

Now, with your genealogy chart and supporting evidence in order, you are ready to lay claim to your rightful membership to some of society's most exclusive clubs and organizations. The community, of course, must be periodically reminded of your special status. You may, for instance, have publicized rites of passage for your brood, such as a debutante celebration. And it helps to be part of your community's historical preservation movement; your ancestor's deeds need to remain part of the public consciousness. A new street needs naming? Let's label it after great-great-great grandpa Throckmorton.


The same passions in man and woman nonetheless differ in tempo; hence man and woman do not cease misunderstanding one another.
--Friedrich Nietzsche

During one cold November week in 1795, Martha Bullard of Hallowell, Maine, listed among her household chores: brewing beer, nursing a sick cow and scouring 35 skeins of wool in preparation for weaving. "A woman's work is never done, as the song says," she wrote in her diary that week. "And happy she whose strength holds out to the end of the days."

In addition to age-stratification, the only other cultural universal by which social roles are allocated is on the basis of gender. Numerous are the temporal strategies for keeping women in their place. The female role has, across cultures and history, been generally characterized by its greater temporal demands, greater age discriminations, and by having to perform a greater number of rituals of temporal deference (e.g., being typically being younger than one's spouse).

So how much has changed since Martha Bullard's time? According to a 1989 telephone survey (n=1,025 women and 472 men, cited in Alison Leigh Cowan, "Poll Finds Women's Gains Have Taken Personal Toll," The New York Times, Aug. 21, 1989:pp. 1,8; see also Michael Bittman and George Matheson's "Changes in Gender Equity" and Juliet Schor's "Work Time and Gender Inequalities"), not much:

does the most cooking 78% 69% 64% 56%
does the most housecleaning 74% 70% 66% 58%
does most food shopping 69% 61% 62% 53%
does the most childcare 68% 41% 56% 28%
does the most billpaying 57% 45% 61% 42%
does the most household repairs 17% 8% 22% 12%
does MORE than his or her fair share of chores 11% 46% 16% 51%
does his or her fair share of chores 61% 48% 40% 47%
does LESS than his or her fair share of chores 27% 3% 42% 3%
they do not get enough time to themselves 47% 37% 84% 49%
the men are willing to let women get ahead, but only if women still do all the housework at home 57% 39% 60% 38%
the women's movement has made things harder for men at home 53% 55% 59% 65%


In the Fall of 1996, "The First Wives Club" was packing women into theaters across the country. The movie pushed a common button: aging males trading in their first wives for younger trophy brides.

Why are men allowed to age without penalty while women must look young and lie about their age or risk disqualification from the sexual and marriage markets? Throughout the animal kingdom, the female is the longer-lived sex and yet for years the U.S. Department of Labor labeled women as "old" at age 35 and males "old" at 45?

OK. In American society, strike one against you if you're old. Strike two if you are female. And what if you a a minority member as well? Enter the so-called "triple- jeopardy" model. Click here to see the percent of "very happy" Americans broken down by age, sex, and race.

Special times for women:


Over fifty years ago Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal argued in An American Dilemma that the problem of race in the United States cut to the very core of our definition as a people. Though founded on the ideals of individual liberty and personal dignity, he saw that we could not, through law or social practice, treat the descendants of slaves as the equals of whites. But, in 1944, he could hardly have foreseen what would happen. Between 1889 and 1918, the NAACP reported that 3,224 black men and women had been lynched. Even three decades ago, Ronald Reagan opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In the early 1960s there was, among African Americans, the sense of time running out for Jim Crow (much like the sense of time running out for apartheid in South Africa). In 1961, ABC television presented a documentary that presents the blacks' point of view. It tells of black impatience--not a popular topic in some quarters of the South. Some boycotted the show's sponsor, Bell & Howe. In Louisiana, schools were prohibited from buying its products. A few years later, NBC had to cancel the "Nat King Cole Show" because sponsors would not pay for blacks on TV.

In 1976, Kentucky ratified the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery. Since 1980, we've seen the first black Miss America and the first black astronaut. In 1994 marked the 30th anniversary of LBJ's signing of the Civil Rights Act. This opened public accommodations to all, began school desegregation, institutionalized equal employment opportunities, and extended voting rights to all. The South of the early sixties is now as remote as the antebellum South.

Histories of the African American Experience

Certainly one acknowledgement of the history of a people is to have their memories affixed on a postage stamp. It was not until 1940, with the issuance of a Booker T. Washington stamp, that the United States first so honored an African American. Since that time, 56 black Americans have been so commemorated.

Yahoo! - Society and Culture:Cultures:African American:History
Selections from The African-American Mosaic: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Black History and Culture
Isis: African American Women in History
Ex-Slave Narrative Collection
366th Infantry HomePage
National Civil Rights Museum
Negro Leagues Baseball Online Archives

Other social groups claiming their own months for historical reflection include:

Native American History Month
Hispanic Heritage Month
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
Gay and Lesbian History Month

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