Can Bartenders Have ‘Normal’ Home and Family Lives? Interview with:
Emily H. Starr, M.A.

Doctoral Candidate
City, Culture, & Community
Tulane University, New Orleans What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: This study examines the relationship between work, partnering, and parenthood through the perspectives of bartenders working in the New Orleans metro area. Bartenders frame work, intimate relationships, and family as interlocking matrices and view their lack of legitimate work (or their lack of a normative 9-5 job with security, benefits, and a salary) as a prohibitive or complicating factor in their ability to assume the roles of partner and parent.

Some of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. labor market are low-wage and low-skill jobs meaning that young people will increasingly grapple with hegemonic “white picket fence” ideologies that prescribe certain family forms and occupational/labor relationships as ideal. Moreover, the matrices of performative adulthood are gendered with women and men framing their work as incompatible with family life for different reasons. Women more often experience sexual harassment/objectification, feel their skills and abilities are called into question, and perceive that women bartenders are marginalized as “certain types of women.” These perceptions lend themselves towards women bartenders framing barwork as incompatible or undesirable with mothering.

Men express anxiety about their long-term earning potential and combating the stigma of low-status work through the professionalization of the craft cocktail and spirits industry. Thus, men are more concerned about their role as breadwinner rather than viewing bartending and fatherhood roles as mutually-exclusive. These findings suggest that bartenders draw upon dominant ideologies of normative adulthood and invoke traditional gender roles to frame their perspectives about bartending and family life.

Importantly, the contours and realities of their working lives are the prohibitive factor in bartenders’ perspectives about the possibility for participating in long-term intimate relationships and parenthood. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Adulthood in America is constructed as acts of “doing” by attaining particular benchmarks. The successful completion of these benchmarks, such as “good” jobs, marriage, and child rearing, are status achievements that signify a successful evolution into adulthood. For bartenders who work in marginalized and/or low-status jobs the lack of access to “good” jobs preclude them from viewing long-term intimate relationships and parenting as possible or desirable. As the service sector grows, at-will employment expands, and unions continue to shrink, people working in informal labor markets will continue to grapple with the ramifications of financial instability. Work is a fundamental dimension of adult life and plays a pivotal role in bartenders’ identity development and projections for their future participation in partnering and parenting. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Performative adulthood views doing work, doing long-term relationships, and doing parenting as a interconnected matrix. The conceptual framework was developed through the narratives of bartenders themselves who framed work as a central feature in their projections and experiences of adult life. Future research is needed to further understand the relationship between work and identity construction, particularly among people working in occupational roles that are lower-skill and provide less job protection. It is important to understand not only how people relate to ideologies about normative adulthood, but also how they are re-mapping them and coming up with new frameworks for positioning themselves as participants in adult life. Moreover, a deeper understanding of the structural and institutional barriers people face in planning for family life will help inform policy responses for supporting this burgeoning segment of the labor force. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Abstract to be presented at the American Sociological Association. “Bartending and family life might not mix”
Emily Starr and Alicia McCraw

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on August 19, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD