Sociology Nonfiction in Review: Work Won’t Love You BackTitle: Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone
Author: Sarah Jaffe
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Summary: The best of narrative nonfiction – moving personal stories plus informative history, both of which helped me better understand the world.

This book covers a wide variety of seemingly unrelated industries, connected only by the way “love” is used to coerce workers into staying in underpaid positions. This jobs fall broadly into two categories – care work and artistic work. Care work includes jobs like teaching, being a home aid, or working at a charity. Artistic jobs include the obvious (actual artists), but also other professions where people are expected to enjoy performing at a high level (programming, athletics). Interestingly to me, the category of care work includes jobs stereotypically associated with women. The category of artistic work includes jobs stereotypically associated with men. Both rely on pressuring men and women to feel obligated to fill stereotypical roles in poorly paid jobs.

Each chapter in this book covers one type of job. These sections begin and end with the experience of an individual who holds a relevant job. Many of these people are activists, trying to transform their profession. The bulk of each chapter gives the history of each profession. I learned a lot from this history. It showed that things could be different and highlighted factors that contribute to the exploitation of labor today. As an aside, some of these professions may not strike you as ones in which workers are exploited, such as programming and athletics. However, both of those careers include both highly paid individuals who are still not earning a fair portion of the profit they generate for their employers. Both also include workers who are simply poorly compensated (female and college athletes, non-US based programmers).

I might be asking too much from a book, but I was hoping to take away more action items than I did. Simply reading this does suggest some obvious structural changes that we, as a society, should make. The whole book, starting with the title, is an argument against keeping a job that pays you badly because you feel you “should”. And the interviews with activists did direct me to some organizations I’ll be supporting (the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Professional Women’s Hockey Player’s Association). However, this book is primarily about our history and where we are today. I loved reading this. The personal stories made it engaging, while knowing the history informs how I view the world. I highly recommend it. Just don’t go into expecting answers. Perhaps in another book.

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