UCLA Spotlight

Elinor Ochs: Snooping in the name of science

  • Published Oct 15, 2007 8:00 AM

Elinor Ochs

Elinor Ochs wants to know what’s in your refrigerator. She wants to peek in your closets and look in your garage. She wants to know how often you sit down to dinner with family and how many times a day you hug and kiss your kid. She’d agree that she’s a bit nosy. But it’s all in the name of science.

Ochs, a professor of linguistic anthropology, and her colleagues at UCLA’s Sloan Center on the Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) study how working parents and their children approach the challenges of balancing work, school and family life. CELF videotaped 32 working families at home in Los Angeles for a week, collecting data of every aspect of their lives. For the past several years they’ve been analyzing the data and making some surprising discoveries.

Among them: parents rarely find time to be together when they are at home; families are experiencing a “clutter crisis,” using their garages for general storage; and parents returning home from work are seldom greeted by their children.

Ochs expects the Center’s findings to resonate with anthropologists and other scholars, but touts its usefulness to parents and families, as well. “As basic researchers,” she says, “we illuminate what is not obvious. People often assume that things they do in their everyday lives are natural. Our work can make people rethink how they act in a family.”

Is there one thing that she’s learned that she most wants people to know about? “Perhaps,” she says, “it’s that it doesn’t take as much as you might think to connect as a family. It doesn’t require elaborate outings or huge amounts of ‘quality time.’ Something as small as a warm greeting can help keep a family connected and thriving.”

The Center on the Everyday Lives of Families is funded by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.