Lillian B. Rubin’s book, Worlds of Pain: Life in the Working-Class Family, provides many insights into the lives of the men and women who live in white working-class families. Her research is concerned with the nature of the strains, the sources of the conflicts, and the quality of the struggles which engage working-class families. Lillian Rubin hopes that by writing this book she can shed light on the sources of the strain in their lives; which will allow us to better comprehend their lives, their culture, and their present anger. In 1972, Lillian Rubin used in-depth interviewing to collect most of the data for her research.
Her sample includes fifty white working-class families who are all intact families, neither husband nor wife has more than a high school education, the husband works in what is traditionally defined as a blue-collar occupation, the wife was under forty at the time of the study, and there was at least one child under twelve years of age still in the home. 1 For purposes of comparison and accuracy, she also interviewed a group of twenty-five professional middle class families, whose characteristics match those of the working-class group in all areas except education and occupation.
All the families that she met live in twelve different communities around the San Francisco Bay, all lying within a radius of fifty miles from the city. 3 Every person in the study participated in intensive interviews that often lasted as many as 10 hours and required several visits. 4 She chose to interview wives and husbands separately because she was interested in understanding the way each experienced the marriage relationship and their role within it. 5 She finds this to be a positive value for two reasons.
First of all, she can start this sociological study of the family with the assumption “that both perspectives are necessary for understanding the reality of a marriage. “6 Secondly, women tend to discuss their feelings about their lives, roles, and marriages more freely when men are not present. 7 The in depth interviews she conducts with the families are not the only source of data for her study. Rubin also relies on her experience as a practicing marriage and family therapists, as well as her life growing up in a white working-class family.
I found her interviewing technique to be flawless. She took the care to dress appropriately for her interviews; casual but not too casual, after all the subjects expected that she “look like a professional woman ought to look. “9 She conducted the interviews for the working-class families in their homes, so they would feel comfortable. The interviews with the middle-class families took place at their homes or in her office, which ever one they felt more comfortable with.
She made sure there were no distractions in the home during the interviews; in fact,most spouses would take the children off to a relative or a friend’s home for the duration of the interview. She spent around 10 hours with each person to ensure that she had all the information she needed, and she made several visits so that the interviews would not be too long. She tape recorded every interview, and made sure that the subjects were comfortable with the tape recorder. Her questions were open ended and semi structured.
She was wonderful at probing her subjects and keeping them on the right track and making sure they answered her questions. A good example of this is on page 53 when she’s asking a man how he and his wife decided to get married. He states that they didn’t decide to get married his wife did, and Rubin probes him to find out why he agreed to get married to her. Her method of in-depth interviewing provided a good basis for her works internal validity. Her work had a great degree of internal validity, but her role as an insider leaves her conclusions questionable.
Since this was a short term study none of the subjects left during the course of the study, and there were no effects of maturation. There were problems with her selection process of the families. All families came to her through friends, chance encounters, and each family was a source of referrals to others. 10 The referrals from other families cause problems because they might have been in contact with each other during the duration of the study. She accounts for this lack of random selection in her introduction on page 13; she says that the only way to answer these criticisms is “through the quality of the work itself.
Another flaw in the internal validity of her work is the fact that she is an insider to the subject. Lillian Rubin was raised in a white working-class family. While being an insider brings comfort to the subjects and gives them more ease to speak openly, it also leaves room for bias conclusions. In the chapter on the subject’s childhood, for example, she concludes that there were no happy childhoods in working class homes. She recalled her own “impoverished background” and says that “there were happy moments… [but they] were isolated moments.
It didn’t seem to matter that “people implored, even commanded [her] to believe they had happy home lives as children. “13 I had quite a few reservations while reading her book. I felt she had a lot of bias in the subject and this was quite apparent in her conclusions, like I had mentioned above. I thought it was wonderful that she had a group of middle-class families for comparison, but I felt that they were rarely mentioned in her work. She made no mention of the comments made by the middle class men and women in regards to the questions asked to both groups.
Most of her conclusions focus on gender within the working class; at times the comparison with the middle-class family is completely neglected, her conclusions in Chapter 6 are a perfect example. I also felt that her sample was not very representative of the American working class family. This could be because I’m new to the subject and the information is shocking to me, but I felt that it was odd that all the families were so similar and that they all seemed to adhere to common stereotypes-such as marrying young, starting a family young, drinking, unhappy marriages, etc.
I felt as if she was withholding contradictory data. The book itself was well written. I’m happy she chose to write the book in layman’s terms for all to understand; this way she can reach more people with her work. The external validity of her work is marginal. It should be noted that this study was conducted in 1972. While there is a fairly significant new introduction which Rubin wrote in 1992, the text of the book is unchanged. Certainly much has changed in the past twenty years.
Both in terms of the jobs of the working-class, the sex lives of working-class couples, the reasons they marry, and even the definition of working-class itself. Therefore it’s hard to say that her experimental findings are generalizable to today’s real world, they certainly must have provided wonderful insights in the 70’s when it was originally published. In conclusion, her work was quite shocking and enlightening. Her interviewing technique was by the book, but I felt there was too much bias in her work. I don’t find her work to be externally valid since it was written in what seems to be a much different time.