Life's Work

84 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2001 Last revised: 30 Oct 2007


This Essay develops a vision of social justice grounded in the redistribution and restructuring of paid work. Work is a site of deep self-formation offering rich opportunities for human flourishing or devastation. In the United States, paid work has been central to citizenship, community, and personal identity: It is largely through the work we do for a living that most of us develop into the men and women we see ourselves (and others see us) as being. Although family-wage thinking has blinded society to the fact that this is true for women, research shows that paid work is vital to women (as it is to men); women who work for a living are better off than other women on a variety of dimensions, despite the fact that women still experience sex discrimination at work. Currently, however, transformations in the structure of work are increasing insecurity and deepening inequality for all but those at the top; many once privileged workers now face conditions akin to those that women and disadvantaged men have long confronted. These trends present deep challenges, but they also provide us with the opportunity to reshape social life by democratizing work. Schultz argues that employment discrimination alone is not capable of generating the needed reforms. Instead, we must remake our laws and culture to create a world in which everyone has the right to participate meaningfully in life-sustaining work, with the social support necessary to do so. She elaborates on the concept of a life's work to describe the central elements of a utopian vision in which women and men from all walks of life can work alongside each other as equals, pursuing common projects and forging connected lives. She calls upon feminists to forego a narrow identity politics in favor of joining with a broad array of other groups to fashion a social order in which work provides a foundation for egalitarian conceptions of citizenship and care. This approach demands that we consider seriously such measures as job creation programs, wage subsidies for workers, universal child care and health care programs, enhanced forms of employee representation, periodic sabbaticals and a reduced workweek for everyone.

JEL Classification: J7, J2, D1

Suggested Citation

Schultz, Vicki, Life's Work. Columbia Law Review, Vol. 100, No. 7, November 2000, Available at SSRN:

Vicki Schultz (Contact Author)

Yale Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

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