UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families Working Paper No. 70 2007
A central concern of dual wage earner parents is maintaining familial bonds in the face of workplace demands. In the United States, eating together is socio-historically an important site for family togetherness, and as such, a subject of public concern, as media reports suggest that family mealtimes may be on the wane. This study examines dinnertime in American life through ethnographic video documentation across a week in the lives of 30 dual earner families with children. Beyond addressing the extent to which families eat together, it analyzes types and frequencies of family dinner arrangements and food preparation practices. Other studies of the robustness of family dinnertime based on subjective reports have not considered the possibility that eating dinner ‘together’ may not mean that all family members are eating in unison but rather that they are eating in different rooms or at different times. Similarly, a home-prepared meal may comprise possibilities ranging from making a meal “from scratch” to popping a packaged food item into the microwave then on to a platter for the family dinner table.