The Outsourced Self What Happens When We Pay Others to Live Our Lives for Us

Arlie Russell Hochschild




Trade Paperback

320 Pages



Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy

The family has long been a haven in a heartless world, the one place immune to market forces and economic calculations, where the personal, the private, and the emotional hold sway. Yet as Arlie Russell Hochschild shows in The Outsourced Self, that is no longer the case: everything that was once part of private life—love, friendship, child rearing—is being transformed into packaged expertise to be sold back to confused, harried Americans.
Drawing on hundreds of interviews and original research, Hochschild follows the incursions of the market into every stage of intimate life. From dating services that train you to be the CEO of your love life to wedding planners who create a couple's "personal narrative"; from nameologists (who help you name your child) to wantologists (who help you name your goals); from commercial surrogate farms in India to hired mourners who will scatter your loved one's ashes in the ocean of your choice—Hochschild reveals a world in which the most intuitive and emotional of human acts have become work for hire.


Praise for The Outsourced Self

"Hochschild isn't really interested in the extremes of the outsourced life. She wants to know what it feels like to be caught in the middle of it. An ethnographic sociologist rather than a quantifier of social trends, Hochschild elicits thoughtful reflections from ordinary people. Then she uses those reflections to chart the confusing intersections between commerce and private life that we all have to navigate now that the purveyors of personal assistance have built strip malls on nearly every acre of our inner selves . . . Hochschild's big contribution . . . is to tally the subtler costs of outsourcing: the 'depersonalization of our bonds with others,' the failure to enjoy the process of finding love or planning a wedding, the missing out on one's children's childhoods—all the little non-tragedies that add up to a thinner, sadder life."—The New York Times Book Review

"What happens to us as we outsource more and more of our personal—even intimate—tasks to paid "coaches," caretakers, companions, event planners and third world surrogate mothers? It takes a social thinker of great stature and scope to tackle this question, and a writer of immense charm to make the answer riveting. Arlie Hochschild is both, and this may be her best book ever."—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed

"The nation's leading sociologist of daily life has turned her razor-sharp eye to rapid advance of the commodity frontier. Exposing both extreme (love coaches, wantologists) and ordinary (elder care, party planners) cases, Hochschild has produced a brilliant, compelling, and hard-to-put-down account of the expansion of market logic and its effects on our culture. This book deserves the country's attention."—Juliet Schor, author of Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth

"What have we given up, Arlie Hochschild worries, when we start paying experts for our most intimate activities? Taking us into a fascinating tour of love coaches, wedding planners, surrogate mothers and more, Hochschild offers her own compelling and controversial answers. Another triumph from this masterful social analyst and a gift to her legion of readers."—Viviana Zelizer, author of The Purchase of Intimacy

"An eminent sociologist explores how service-for-pay is replacing the support of family members, friends and neighbors, and how this shift is impacting lives. Hochschild approaches her subject from three directions: her personal experience, the stories of providers of an array of services and the stories of people who sought their services. Some of the services, such as child care, have been around for a long time; others, such as online dating and wedding planning, are more recent inventions. The author examines every stage of life, from birth to death. Hochschild interviewed women who act as surrogate mothers for infertile couples, as well as those who hire others to bear children for them; she talked to a man who has made a business of scattering the ashes of the dead. She also looks at people who help women select a wedding gown, help a couple choose a baby's name and teach a man how to become a better father. There are even "rent-a-friend" services. Perhaps the most surprising service that she uncovered is that of a wantologist, who 'helps you name your goals.' Hochschild's personal story, which she returns to from time to time, is a far more common one—that of trying to find the right care for an elderly ailing relative."—Kirkus Reviews

"Hochschild examines the myriad ways that Americans "outsource" their personal lives in the 21st century. The book details the cradle-to-grave hired help that we have come to rely on in aspects of our lives that were previously part of our private sphere, from "love coaches" advising online daters to surrogate mothers, from nannies to professional mourners; it doesn't take a village to raise a child anymore, just a credit card. Deftly woven into this tale about the marketization of private lives is the story of Hochschild's aging aunt Elizabeth. From her childhood in a traditional small town where everyone helped each other up to her fragile older years when the author struggled to find a paid caretaker for her, Aunt Elizabeth's life shows both a counterpoint to, and then the ultimate victory of, the commodification of modern family life."—Library Journal

"Incisive, provocative, and often downright entertaining . . . It used to take a village, but these days it takes a full-service mall, much of it in cyberspace. Finding a mate, planning a wedding, potty-training a child, or being a better father—once intuitive, ordinary tasks involving family, friends, and neighbors—now require the services of paid experts, trainers, and a plethora of coaches, such as Internet dating coach Evan Katz, aka e-Cyrano, or Family360, which teaches executives to 'invest time and attention in ‘high leverage' family activities.'"—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Arlie Russell Hochschild

  • Arlie Russell Hochschild is the author of The Time Bind, The Second Shift, and The Managed Heart. She is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. Her articles have appeared in Harper's, Mother Jones, and Psychology Today, among others. She lives in San Francisco.

  • Arlie Russell Hochschild © Paige K. Parsons Photography