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Pay Someone to Name Your Child? How We Are Outsourcing Our Personal Affairs

Arlie Hochschild, author of 'The Outsourced Self,' discusses the free-market's influence on our private lives.

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AN: Did the surrogate’s situation have psychological ramifications?

AH: Oh yes. One story tells it all. One surrogate was a Hindu but she was paid by a Sikh couple to carry their child. They asked her to go everyday to the Sikh temple so the fetus could be exposed to the recitation of the Sikh texts. They even hired a maid to “help” the surrogate, but also to make sure the surrogate went to the temple daily. So it was like the Hindu surrogate had swallowed a bag of gold that “belonged" to the Sikh clients. But the surrogate drew a line between herself and this idea: she said Hindu prayers to the baby secretly. 

AN: In the United States, there is less of a safety net than in Europe and Scandinavia, more privatization, more breakdowns of communities. Is there less outsourcing in Europe?

AH: The U.S. Germany, Sweden, Italy — they’re all capitalist economies with service sectors offering many personal services. But the U.S. differs from these other countries in how many different services it has, in the lack of public services and in its more pronounced market culture.

When I give lectures on the book, the response is utterly different. When I speak to American audiences, the response is often reflective and sometimes anxious — as if I might be about to criticize some emotionally important service or take it away. But in Italy or Denmark, when I say exactly the same words, people begin a collective giggle. And I’ll have to explain that I’m actually not making fun of anyone or making a joke — and then they think that’s funny. And they’ll say, “Well maybe all this will be coming our way, too.” They see it as a futurama thing. But they’re used to looking over at America and thinking, “Oh my god, in 20 years that’s going to happen here.”

AN: That reminds me of something you wrote that said people are more likely to invest money in eHarmony and if they think it’s science — the matchmaking is done with some pseudo-scientific system. Is this serious?

AH: It is serious. And I interviewed the head of the research lab of eHarmony and he was saying what was really great was that now they were going international, they got a Relationship Lab, and he wants to further the company’s research on love. What they have a lot of research on is social similarities — and the more similar people are, they find, the more compatible. But what escapes them is “chemistry” or what they call “spark.” And they want to do research on that. But to open up that frontier, they’d have to take mouth swabs and examine DNA. And they aspire to that level of predictability of matchmaking. and eHarmony and other companies are now competing with each other on the relative proportion of dates, lasting relationships and marriages each service produces. They advertise their scores in order to attract more customers. Companies are competing not only with each other, but with regular life — they’re wanting to show that you’re more likely to meet someone special via a for-profit matchmaking company than at the office or friend’s party. That makes me wonder what’s happening to the liveliness of our communities.

AN: You talk about how we have grown to stop “feeling a part of something larger.” What is that "something larger" you think we should feel a part of? And how does outsourcing corrupt that?

AH: Yes. Like feeling part of a progressive movement for social change. The environmental movement. A movement for urban renewal. A movement for educational reform. People who volunteer at the recycling center or soup kitchen through a church or neighborhood group can come to feel part of something “larger.” Such a sense of belonging calls on a different part of a self than the market calls on. The market calls on our sense of self-interest. It focuses us on what we “get.” When we feel part of a family, larger community or social movement, we think more of our connection to others, and to what we can give. We are “rich” or “poor” in our access to this feeling part of something larger.