Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




This project examines the work and personal lives of truck drivers. Using data from fieldwork at a Midwestern trucking company, along with interviews with 38 drivers, dispatchers, company management and spouses and partners of drivers, I explore the questions: Thirty years out from deregulation, how are drivers' lives affected by the economic state of the industry? How do drivers and unions interact with public policy and company regulations that shape their on-the-job autonomy and their own and others' safety on the road? What are the dynamics of the industry around race, gender and sexuality? How does working in a high-stress, long-hours occupation affect the family and personal lives of drivers?

Using a grounded theory approach to guide interviews and analyze data, I find that as destructive competition between trucking firms has led to a race to the bottom, drivers' career paths have been shaped by firms closing and restructuring, union trucking jobs have disappeared, wages have declined and autonomy has decreased. Competing interests of drivers, trucking companies, industry groups, unions and regulators have created an environment where safety often loses out to economic concerns. Women and people of color have increasingly entered the industry and often face resistance from some of their fellow workers. At the same time the industry has been transformed by deregulation, American family life has also undergone tectonic shifts, with changing expectations for women and men. In an occupation defined by long hours, drivers struggle to make meaningful contributions at home, and their efforts are shaped by expectations that are still gendered.

I argue that moving forward, trucking companies, industry groups, unions and drivers, strongly guided by regulators, must be concerned with reducing destructive competition. In order to attract and retain qualified drivers, companies must think about work/life balance for their employees. Unions must be more proactive in addressing the concerns of all their workers, not allowing solidarity to be disrupted by divide and conquer politics around race and gender. In an economic environment that continues to be shaped by deregulation, this research has broad implications across industry.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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