Labor Regulation as Family Regulation: Decent Work and Decent Families

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It is due time that we understood that regulating the family has been a longstanding goal of labor regulation. This article presents the trajectory of labor regulation as family regulation. It provides a history of the "decent standards" discourse pertaining to wage and hour regulation, and reveals its double meanings: to provide "decent work" and to promote "decent families. " It terms the goal ofproviding decent standards of work and wages as "productive decency" and the goals pertaining to family decency, proper gender norms, and sexual purity as "repressive decency." It shows how labor regulation surprisingly began in the Progressive Era as a means to lower divorce rates by fighting prostitution and address concerns over maternal functions and domestic roles in the family at the beginning of the 20th century, and how it culminated in the New Deal as reproducing the husband-as- breadwinner family model in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Despite the notion that federal law does not interfere in the personal relationship between husband and wife in such mundane and private issues as "who does the dishes," regulating the family has, in fact, been a longstanding goal of labor regulation. Understanding labor regulation as regulating the family allows scholars and lawmakers to revisit the family model as established through existing labor law and to redesign the law for the twenty-first century. The article concludes by suggesting that the 2010 amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act should be understood as a new "entering wedge" toward a re-working of the relationship between the labor market, husbands, wives, and families, and that additional reform is highly merited in light of both the historically-conscious trajectory put forth, and contemporary ideologies about gender and the family.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-151
Number of pages33
JournalBerkeley Journal of Employment & Labor Law
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2012


  • Labor laws
  • Wage laws
  • Domestic relations
  • Chastity
  • Prostitution -- Law & legislation
  • Husband & wife
  • United States


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