We have a love-hate relation with the division of labor. On the one hand, we treasure our individuality and autonomy; we often do things differently just to show that we can. On the other hand, we know that the division of labor, with its regimentation and standardization, is what lets us be amazingly rich. But I wonder: why do we accept borg-like regimentation more at work than at home?
Movies and TV sitcoms focus overwhelmingly on non-work life.
"Overwhelmingly" seems an exaggeration; there are all those shows set in hospitals, law firms, etc. I suppose some bias against work in TV and movies would occur just because of the division of labor you describe; a movie showing lawyers spending hours in the library or standing around in the courthouse waiting for their case to be called wouldn't be all that exciting. I have noticed a remarkable absence of work from serious fiction. James Gould Cozzens, who never had a job except when he was in the army, wrote terrific novels about people at work, but few if any authors do that now.
The standard of living depends entirely on disagreement over value, so that trade can increase the standard of living of both sides of every transaction.
Division of labor is a spectacularly efficient way to produce disagreement over value. The guy who makes the stuff willingly sells it for a lot less than it's worth to you, because it's worth little to him.
At home there's no other side of the transaction.
@agnostic: While your examples hold, I think you're ignoring some important aspects of regimentation.
Social isolates may wear the same clothes every day, but they rarely wear the same clothes as the do at work. Very few people (especially social isolates) wear coat and tie in their leisure time, despite it's prevalence in the workplace. Further evidence that formal business attire is signalling comes from where it is particularly likely to be worn: job interviews, client meetings, management: all areas where signalling is especially important. Maintaining a fashionable "look" may be signalling, but so is business attire.
The same is likely true of keeping ones own schedule.
I like your explanation, but if I was limited to your examples, I'm not sure I'd be convinced there is anything to explain. i.e. I don't think that a single family eating the same food at the same time is that great an efficiency (besides, many families do it). I don't think families buying the same clothes is more efficient, and they are often washed together.
I think the better argument is that single-family homes (and to a lesser extent, apartments) dominate because of signaling, and this is a significant inefficiency. I live in a cooperative house with private rooms and shared public spaces. This definitely provides savings. Especially since shopping and cleaning is centralized. On the margin, privacy has some "real" value, but I would guess that much of its value is signalling.
"In trade for lower wages, employers should allow us more variation in work habits, forms, dress, hours, etc"
This seems a fair description of University professors, especially those with tenure or on tenure track, most or all of whom could earn more in other careers.
Hypothesis: academics prefer to signal to other academics (those whom they consider their intellectual peers) over signalling to the masses by having higher income, visible consumption or conspicuous (socially verifiable) power. Their casual attire, hours, and habits are far more about sending signals than are the suit and tie and window office of the conservative businessman, though academics in their naiveté (pride? delusion?) think the exact opposite.
"Academic freedom" (in the technical sense, not in the attire and office hours sense) is meaningful for a small minority, and for most a signalling mechanism; the point is to have academic freedom, not to use it, and the greater one's external commitment to academic freedom, the easier to obtain the social status among fellow academics associated with having an independent mind, without having to say anything against the academic grain (with the inevitable loss of social status) or original (which involves real intelligence and hard work.) Work habits and clothes are a cheap way to signal commitment to academic freedom.
Sounds a lot like me. The thing is, I actually LIKE routines and familiarity. Change bothers me.
To tough to call this one.
Is signaling really the first place to look for an explanation? A couple of points seem more important:
At home, people choose for themselves how regimented to be. At work, that choice is made by other people, who don't get direct benefits from giving the worker personal autonomy. Assume people do prefer autonomy, they will provide it to themselves when given the decision rights to do so.
In business settings, a regimen that can save a penny per activity might mean the difference between success and bankruptcy, because (1) the activity is done on a very large scale, so the pennies add up, and (2) competitive pressures mean that a small difference in cost or price can drive market share sharply up or down. Neither factor is true in our personal lives.
On the contrary, I'd say that, at least for some people, the signally happens at work.
People prefer the gains in autonomy provided by following their own schedule, etc. But at work, they follow the dress code, show up when everyone else does, in order to signal commitment to the enterprise.
We might prefer to have more autonomy at work (companies list things like "flexible scheduling", "relaxed dress code", and "telecommuting" as benefits) but employers largely prefer to pay people more to signal commitment and competence, rather than merely due to an increase in efficiency.
Signaling seems to be saying "What you think is fun, meaningful, or important" = "good signalers" and "Something is more fun, meaningful, or important" = "the signal communicates higher quality". This post is saying "You think we work to have a fun, enjoyable life outside of work. But actually you're working to send better signals outside of work!"
I guess what I'm saying is: This doesn't seem to be offering too much new insight. Am I misreading the post?
what about the simple desire to be able to do what you want? isn't that the whole point of working, really?
Maybe because there are fewer people to compare ourselves to at home than at work?
That's a heck of a signal you're putting out on your wife's behalf.
In my experience those most willing to hire maids etc. focus on expressing their individuality in other ways, such as hobbies, redecorating frequently, volunteering, being on boards of directors, etc.
I just added to the post.
Interesting; it seems our laws enforce some of our expectations that homes should be allow more autonomy.
But why "last"; why is one "before" the other?