Work and Family

Workand Family

Because the two most important roles in life for many people are work and family, understanding the relationship between the two is crucial. Although work and family research in the 1960s and 1970s primarily focused on dual-career families and working mothers, research in the 1980s evolved into a multidisciplinary and multitheoretical area of study. Today researchers are still interested in the interaction between work and family, with a particular focus on the consequences of work for the quality of family life and the development of family members (Perry-Jenkins, Repetti, and Crouter 2000).

Theoretical Paradigms of Work and Family

Paid work has been conceptualized in various ways. Paid work typically consists of activities for which one receives remuneration or that an individual performs while occupying a position in an organization. This does not take into account the work that is unpaid and outside the formal economy.

Research on paid work and family life typically fits into one of two categories, depending on whether one focuses on the workplace or the family (Crouter 1994). Six different conceptual models representing multiple disciplines are presented: the separate spheres model, the multiple roles model, the job demands model, the spillover/crossover model, compensation theory, and an interactive model.

Separate spheres model. The separate spheres model sees family and work as distinctive systems, with the family as a domestic haven for women and work as a public arena for men (Zedeck 1992). Further, family and work should remain separate in order to function properly and the division of labor by sex should be maintained in order to avoid conflict. Although the separate spheres model is rarely used by social scientists in the United States and other industrialized nations today, it still informs the personal decisions as well as policy positions of individuals or countries that embrace more traditional family norms.

Multiple roles model (also known as the conflict perspective [Bowen 1991]). The precursor of the multiple roles approach was early research of the effects of wives' and mothers' employment on marital adjustment, power, and division of labor, as well as on child outcomes (Pleck 1995). The multiple roles perspective shifts from a special focus on wives' employment to viewing wives' employment as only one special case of a broader phenomenon, the possible occupancy of multiple roles by persons of either sex. Although the multiple roles perspective is broader than the older "wives' employment" approach, the multiple roles perspective does not incorporate contextual effects concerning, for example, the actual nature of the job held.

Job demands model. In the job demands model, negative outcomes on marital adjustment and other family variables are interpreted as a function of the structural demands (number, scheduling, and flexibility of work hours) and the psychological demands (pace of work, workplace conflicts, negative moods generated at work) of the jobs individuals hold. Underlying the job demands model is an implicit belief that the job demands most impinging on family life derive from a social organization of work that is structured rather arbitrarily. For example, if a study finds that long hours are associated with family stress, the interpretation made is that reducing hours would benefit families. Nevertheless, if the same study finds that having preschool children in the household is correlated with stress, no one draws the implication that families could or should reduce their stress by not having children.

Spillover/crossover model. Unlike the separate sphere model, which denies the connection between family and work, this model recognizes that either system may have spillover effects on the other (Staines 1980). Simultaneous membership in the two systems often entails strain and overload for individuals, families, and work units. In general, the spillover effects model shifts attention from the effects of social institutions on each other to the effects of family members on each other, ignoring the social and political consequences of the context in which family and work are located.

Compensation theory. This theory is the one most often contrasted with spillover (Zedeck 1992). It hypothesizes that there is an inverse relationship between work and family such that work and non-work experiences tend to be antithetical. It further proposes that individuals make differential investments of themselves in the two settings (Champoux 1978), so that what is provided by one makes up for what is missing in the other (Evans and Bartolome 1984). Deprivations experienced in work are made up or compensated for in nonwork activities.

Interactive model. The interactive model "recognizes the mutual interdependence between family and work systems, taking into account the reciprocal influences of work and family and acknowledging their independent as well as their joint effects, directly and indirectly, on the psychological state and social conditions of individuals" (Chow and Berheide 1988, p. 25). Analyses utilizing the interactive model to describe system interdependence between family and work can be divided into two main types—Marxist and non-Marxist.

Marxists treat family and work as economic units and study their linkages to the larger economy. Non-Marxists tend to see family and work as social systems or structural units and examine the specific circumstances under which occupational and familial roles intersect.

These six models represent the various multi-disciplinary and multitheoretical lenses through which issues related to work and family have been and are currently examined. They also illustrate the multiple and complex links between work and family spheres.

Historical Context and New Patterns

Most information written historically on work and family discusses issues related to the Western world or industrialized countries. In the preindustrial period of England and the United States, for example, the family was the unit of production. Men, women, and children worked in the home and in the fields. Life was characterized by an interweaving of the husband and wife's involvement with domestic life and with a productive work life. There existed an integration of work and family with the husband, wife, and children all working in the home (Coontz 1997; Hutter 1998).

With the Industrial Revolution, work was now separated from the economy. For men, it meant involvement in the outside world and in the expanding marketplace; for women, it increasingly meant confinement within the home. Legislation was introduced restricting employment hours for women and children, thus restricting women's employment opportunities and resulted in married women's staying at home to care for their children.

This ideology of women's confinement to the home originated in the middle and upper classes and is clearly a concept originating in Western family ideology that eventually extended to the working classes also, despite the fact that it ran counter to the economic needs of the family. The idea that work outside the home for married women was a "misfortune and a disgrace" (Oakley 1974, p. 50) became acceptable across all social classes. Nevertheless, although this ideology existed, families were still heavily dependent on the contributions of wives and children to the family budget and in many countries, such as Belgium and Spain, wives were gainfully employed (Janssens 1998).

Historical events, such as pressures of wartime economies, have led to the mass hiring of women in the labor force, causing a temporary relaxation of the gender divide. For example, the popular U.S. icon during World War II, Rosie the Riveter, signifies that women's efforts were seen as vital to the nation's survival. However, as soon as the men came home after World War II, the gender divide was restored. West Germany paralleled the United States in this phenomenon. In contrast, the East German government expected the war widows to replace the male breadwinner by seeking full-time employment (von Oertzen and Rietzschel 1998).

Changes that occurred in the United States from the 1960s to the 1990s include an increase in married women with children in the labor force, a slight decrease in men in the labor force, a greater incidence of early retirement, a continued decline in real earnings, the elimination of many formerly well-paying jobs, wage concessions in several unionized industries, and the establishment of a two-tier wage system that offers lower wages and slower pay increases to new entrants into the labor market. Cyclical unemployment and permanent job loss due to takeovers, plant closings, and layoffs also have increased. Traditionally male jobs (e.g., in manufacturing) are disappearing and the types of jobs women traditionally have held (e.g., in services) are increasing (Haas 1999). Many of the trends listed here have also occurred in European countries such as England and Greece (Brannen 1998).

Family and work are undergoing immense transformation as the twenty-first century begins. Today, alterations in the world economy are now affecting "every aspect of the employment scene—the work, the workers, the employers, and the typical career sequence" (Berger 1998, p. 528) in both developing and industrialized nations. In our postindustrial society, "the global economy is characterized by an advancing communications technology that dictates 'connectedness,' not only among nations, but also among individuals and within our overall social institutions" (Secret, Sprang, and Bradford 1998, p. 813).

In the poorest regions of the world, the shift is from agriculture to industry, as multinational corporations move in to take advantage of cheap labor (Berger 1998). Developing nations meanwhile are shifting from industry-based economies to information and service industries. As a result of all this change, certain job categories are appearing or disappearing, seemingly overnight; educational requirements for work are shifting every few years; and corporate strategies such as downsizing and outsourcing are becoming standard practices. Consequently the work path for individuals is much less predictable and secure than it once was, with a widening employment and income gap between those with knowledge and those without it (Berger 1998).

Technological change has also affected work and family. The growing use of computers, pagers, and cellular telephones, for example, meant that some employees could perform their work almost anywhere. Thus, home businesses and teleworking opportunities have expanded worldwide.

Although more U.S. workers were employed in the 1990s than ever before, many experienced an increase in work hours and job instability, and, for low-wage earners, a decline in real earned income (Mishel, Bernstein, and Schmitt 1999). The number of contingent workers, those holding jobs without long-term contracts, grew in both the United States as well as European nations (Drew and Emerek 1998; Rogers 2000).

The beginning of the twenty-first century found almost half the civilian labor force in developed nations to be female: 40 percent in Japan, 45 percent in Canada and England, 46 percent in the United States, and 49 percent in Sweden (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 1996). In 1998, almost 64 million women in the United States were employed in the civilian labor force and more than 60 percent of adult women were employed. In comparison, 75 percent of adult men were employed (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1998, Table 645). Hispanic women were slightly less likely to be employed (57%) in the United States. Historically, African-American women have had higher labor force participation rates than white or Hispanic women. Between 1994 and 1996, however, African-American and white women had virtually identical rates—approximately 59 percent. Hispanic women participated at a rate of about 53 percent. Since that time, African-American women have edged ahead to a participation rate of 63.5 percent in 1999. White, Asian and Pacific Islander women, and Hispanic women participated at 59.6, 59, and 55.9 percent, respectively (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2000). The labor force participation rate for Cuban women was 53.3 percent; for Mexican women, 52.8 percent; and for Puerto Rican women, 47.4 percent (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 1997).

In examining labor force participation of women ages fifteen to sixty-four in developing countries in 2000, notable differences were found around the world. In Northern Africa, 37 percent of women ages fifteen to sixty-four participated in the labor force in 2000; in Central America and Western, 42 percent of women ages fifteen to sixty-four participated in the labor force in 2000; in South America, 46 percent of women ages fifteen to sixty-four participated in the labor force in 2000; in South Central Asia, 47 percent of women ages fifteen to sixty-four participated in the labor force in 2000; in the Caribbean, 54 percent of women ages fifteen to sixty-four participated in the labor force in 2000; and in Western Africa, 58 percent of women ages fifteen to sixty-four participated in the labor force in 2000. The highest rates were found in Middle Africa (63%), in Southeast Asia (64%), and in Eastern Africa, where 73 percent of women percent of women ages fifteen to sixty-four participated in the labor force in 2000 (Population Today 2002).

Between 1960 and 1997, the percentage of married women in the United States labor force almost doubled—from 32 percent to 62 percent. During that same period, the number of employed married women between twenty-five and thirty-four years of age (the ages during which women are most likely to bear children) rose from 29 to 72 percent. Over 70 percent of married women with children were in the labor force in 1997, including 78 percent of those with children six to seventeen years of age, and 64 percent of those with children age six or younger (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1998, Table 654). In countries such as Belgium, France, Portugal, and Ireland, female economic activity peaks for women in their mid-twenties, and then falls as women leave the labor force to begin raising a family, whereas in Sweden and Finland rates continually increase for women until their fifties (Hantrais 2000). France has one of the highest female participation in the labor force rates for mothers, as well as one of the highest birth rates in the European Union (Fagnani 1998).

By 1990, nearly three-quarters of all divorced mothers also were involved in the U.S. labor force. The experience of women in the U.S. labor force follows that of their counterparts in Russia, Sweden, and Israel (Hutter 1998, 335). Many single-parent families are in poverty, however; for example, England, Australia, the United States, Canada, and Italy all have high rates of young children in single-parent families who are in poverty (Brannen 1998).

At the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries, increasing ethnic diversity became evident in the workforce. In every developed nation—except France—the total immigrant segment of the labor force is increasing, with rates of 25 percent in Australia, 19 percent in Canada, 9 percent in the United States, Austria, and Germany, 3 percent in England, and 1 percent in two nations that formerly had virtually no immigrant workers, Italy and Japan (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 1996).

Child labor is on the increase in the United States, especially those children in their teenage years (Zinn and Eitzen 1999). Almost all U.S. adolescents now work at some time during high school (Mortimer and Finch 1996). Unlike children from Western industrialized countries, many children in poorer countries, such as India, Pakistan, and Morocco, perform a wide variety of jobs and they and their families are dependent on this income. One of the most visible forms of child labor in large cities in countries such as Brazil, Kenya, and India is that performed by street children. In countries that have been agricultural communities in the past but are under pressure to industrialize—such as many of the countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia—child workers engage in both traditional work and modern industrial production. Tourism is also a major employer of children in many countries (Hobbs, McKechnie, and Lavalette 1999).

During the last several decades, the U.S. family has undergone dramatic changes that have had an effect on work and family. Similar to trends reported in the majority of developed nations, the U.S. family has become increasingly heterogeneous (Fredriksen-Goldsen and Scharlach 2001). Dual-career families now outnumber traditional families (those in which the husband but not the wife is the earner) 2 to 1 in the United States (Zinn and Eitzen 1999). Alternative, noninstitutionalized family forms are becoming more common, particularly in Sweden, Denmark, and France, whereas patterns of family formation remain much more conventional in southern Europe, particularly Portugal and Greece (Hantrais 2000).

Other notable changes affecting the U.S. family include a decrease in overall fertility, an increase in family dissolutions, and a shift in economic roles within the family (Fredriksen-Goldsen and Scharlach 2001). In a reversal of traditional roles, some husbands relinquish the role of breadwinner to their wives. Househusbands are those rare men who stay home to care for the family and do the housework while their wives are the wage earners.

However, these changes are not limited to the United States. The role of women in many cultures has been changing. Traditionally, married Brazilian and Filipino women stayed in the home and performed housework and childcare while husbands worked outside of the home and were responsible for the family's economic support (Sroufe and Cooper 1988; Szanton 1982), but an increased rate of women in the work force has been observed in Brazil (Schmink 1986) and the Philippines (Eviota 1982).

In underdeveloped countries working mothers become more an issue of survival than of social significance. Among developing countries the housewife's income is likely to be an important addition to the material support of the family. As noted above, in many countries the income of children is also significant for the family.

Links between Work and Family

Impact of employment on families. The structure of work and work roles has direct effects on family roles and family life. Among the most significant aspects of work that influence family life and family roles are (Gelles 1995; Zinn and Eitzen 1999):

  1. the amount of time worked and the location of work;
  2. the nature of the work schedule;
  3. the geographic mobility associated with work;
  4. work-related travel; and
  5. type of work.

Generally, in the United States in the early twenty-first century, both women and men work longer hours than they did twenty years earlier (Zinn and Eitzen 1999). Hours have risen for men as well as women, and for those in the working class well as for professionals (Zinn and Eitzen 1999). Married men work longer hours than unmarried men, but the reverse is true for women, with unmarried women working longer hours than married women (Voydanoff 1987). Fathers of younger children work longer hours than those of older children (Moen and Moorehouse 1983). More than a third of employed men with younger children in England work fifty hours a week or more (European Commission Network on Childcare 1993), a figure surpassed only by Ireland, and significantly above the European average (Eurostat 1992).

Throughout the industrialized world, the end of the twentieth century saw a change in work times. The United States, Canada, and Japan tend to give firms more independence and authority in determining working hours so there is greater disparity between enterprises. In Japan, there is no general working time standard, whereas in the United States the normal work schedule is a seven- to eight-hour workday during the daylight hours Monday through Friday. The two most common deviations from this norm are shift work and flex-time (Gelles 1995). The prevalence of shift work (afternoon or evening shifts that begin around 3

p.m. and end around 11 p.m. or the "graveyard shift" that begins around 11 p.m. and end around 7 or 8 a.m.) is growing for both women and men (Zinn and Eitzen 1999). As of 1985, one out of every six working mothers with children under fourteen and one out of every five working fathers held an evening or night job or worked a rotating shift (Zinn and Eitzen 1999). Thus, "one out of every six two-income couples with children under the age of six had work hours that did not overlap at all" (McEnroe 1991, 50). Shift work often precludes the sharing of routine family activities. Levels of temporary, shift, weekend, and homeworking tend to be similar for women and men within European countries, unlike rates of part-time employment, in which there is a consistent divergence in men's and women's rates (Drew and Emerek 1998). This divergence also exists in the United States. Estimates suggest that one-fifth of the U.S. labor force is involved in part-time work; the majority of these are women.

Alternative arrangements, such as flextime (a flexible schedule around the traditional or normal core working hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; flextime workers may choose to arrive early and leave early, or may report to work later and work later), allow workers to spend more time with their children and spouses than do regular-hour workers. However, the amount of total contact U.S. parents have with their children has dropped 40 percent since 1965 (Mattox 1990). Surprisingly, flextime workers spend less time alone with spouses (Winett and Neale 1980). Men are slightly more likely than women to work flextime hours, and married men and men with children have higher rates of flextime work than married women and women with children (Nollen 1982). Weekend working is more common and important among male workers and men are much more likely than women to work evening and night shifts in Europe (Drew and Emerek 1998).

Geographical mobility may affect families. The two most common forms in U.S. society are jobrelated moves and transfers and work-related travel (Zinn and Eitzen 1999). In general, the worker who moves has an easier time adjusting than his or her spouse and children. However, the level of stress experienced by the family is uncertain other than high levels of geographical relocation engender family stress (McCollum 1990). Geographical relocation in countries such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland, and France includes older people being left behind while younger people go searching for work (Eurolink Age 1995).

Work-related travel can also have a significant impact on family life. For example, the majority of U.S. workers work and live in different places. Commuting can make fulfilling family-related roles, such as companionship with spouse and children, household responsibilities, and attending family and school functions difficult as commuting extends the workday. Frequent or extended absences of family members can make it difficult for them to perform their family roles and obligations and may lead to estrangement from their families, such as is in Singapore because of the economic strategy of internationalization (Chia 2000).

In addition, the type of work one does has implications for family well-being. Jobs vary in wage levels and other benefits, such as health insurance, Social Security, private pensions, disability, and unemployment insurance (Zinn and Eitzen 1999). Generally, occupational prestige and income increase marital stability and marital satisfaction. Inadequate resources, monotonous and unchallenging work, unsafe working conditions, dead-end jobs, the unrelenting threat of unemployment, and low self-esteem also affect family life. Specific occupations have been singled out for their high rates of negative carryover. For example, problems associated with family disorganization and personal stress—divorce, family violence, and alcoholism—are particularly common in the families of urban police officers (Hoffman 1987).

Effects of family on work. Family roles and family structure also influence work and work roles. Although variations do exist, the following general trends exist in the Western industrialized world. Two of the most significant aspects of family life and family roles that influence work are (1) parenthood and other dependent care responsibilities and (2) marital dynamics (Gelles 1995; Haas 1999).

Having children does affect labor market behavior. For example, women who earn a high proportion of family income before childbirth or who have high-status jobs have been found to be more likely to return to work sooner after childbirth than other women (Yoon and Waite 1994). However, involvement in family roles seems to reduce women's tendency to be involved in careers (Haas 1999). Mothers are also more likely than fathers to miss days of work and research suggests that up to 40 percent of parents miss work because of child-care responsibilities (Ferber and O'Farrell 1991). In the Caribbean (as in other countries), many women quit their jobs because of an inability to find appropriate childcare (Massiah 1999). Others work evening or weekend shifts (when husbands can care for children) or leave the workplace for home-based employment. In fact, women account for an increasing share of the self-employed in many postindustrial nations (McManus 2001). In single parent households, extended family members may assist with childcare, such as the case in Botswana where the grandmother may be the main caregiver for her daughter's children while the daughter works (Ingstad 1994).

There is a continuing reliance on the family, particularly middle-aged and older women, as well as increasing numbers of older men, to provide elder care in industrial countries with increasing numbers of elderly persons. Although men participate in elder care, throughout the world the majority of caregivers are women and responsibilities for elderly parents affect labor force behavior (Haas 1999). Generally, women experience more interruptions in their work due to elder care responsibilities than do men (Neal et al. 1990), which include a decrease in work hours, rearranging work schedules, taking unpaid leave, being late or leaving work early, and working less efficiently because of stress. Daughters of elders who require substantial assistance with daily living are often forced to quit work entirely (Barnes, Given, and Given 1995).

Marital dynamics also influence work behavior and performance, particularly for women. For example, having a lower-earning husband and being in an unstable marital relationship increases women's chances of being in the labor force (McLanahan and Booth 1991). The requirements of the husbands' job or their desire for occupational achievement can also affect women's involvement in the paid labor force (Fowlkes 1987). Marital distress likewise affects work productivity, particularly for men (Haas 1999).

Employer/workplace responses. Policies affecting workers' abilities to manage their work and family lives fall into four areas: family-related leave, child-care, adult dependent care, and alternate working arrangements. Nations vary in their family policies. Some provide every resident free childcare, universal health benefits, and paid maternity leave, sometimes for a year; others mandate that employers provide such benefits; others, such as the United States, furnish only minimal support, such as the first family leave law, not passed until 1993, which legalized maternity leave—but only for twelve weeks, without pay, and only if the employer has at least fifty full-time workers.

Work-family policies also have different levels of effectiveness because of cross-cultural differences in family structure, standards of living, infrastructure, and cultural beliefs and practices. For example, in England, the lack of paid leave for sick child care, minimal provision of publicly funded child care and the prevailing philosophy of care in the community, which relies heavily on informal care of the elderly and vulnerable, all derive from the assumptions that there is someone (i.e., a woman) at home to provide this sort of care or that a woman's income is not essential for the family. Elsewhere in Europe, social policy is based on the assumption of a modified single-breadwinner family, with women as secondary earners (e.g., Germany and the Netherlands) or on the dual-career family as the norm (e.g., France, the Scandinavian countries and Eastern and Central Europe in the former communist countries) (Lewis 1997).

Future Directions

Themes that emerged from the work and family literature of the 1990s were maternal employment, work socialization, work stress, and multiple roles (Perry-Jenkins, Repetti, and Crouter 2000). New terminology that was introduced into our language since the 1960s includes Mommy track, glass ceiling, second shift, and third shift. We have also seen a rise in part-time and contingent work as well as individuals choosing home-based employment.

Possible directions for work and family research in the future are (1) issues of definition and meaning regarding the terms of "work" and "family"; (2) a need for more cross-cultural and comparative studies; (3) an examination of our theoretical research models: are they universal or are they only applicable in certain contexts?; (4) a need to build better measures of family processes, family relationships, and employed adults' interpretations and constructions of their work and family roles into studies of occupational conditions; (5) research that investigates the role of children; and (6) use of experimental research designs (Perry-Jenkins, Repetti, and Crouter 2000). Other emerging issues include the psychological consequences of job insecurity, the acceptance or rejection of long work hours and the polarization of work rich and work poor, blurred work-family boundaries, and the impact of the changing nature of work on gender equality (Lewis and Cooper 1999).

Work and family connections are complex and change in both expected and unexpected ways over the life course, adapting to cultural and societal developments. It is imperative that future research continue to reflect the complexities of the nature of this relationship for men, women and children.

See also:Childcare; Cohabitation; Commuter Marriages; Computers and Families; Conflict: Marital Relationships; Division of Labor; Dual-Earner Families; Equity; Family Business; Family Roles; Fatherhood; Housework; Housing; Industrialization; Migration; Motherhood; Poverty; Power: Marital Relationships; Marital Quality; Resource Management; Retirement; Rich/Wealthy Families; Single-Parent Families; Stress; Substitute Caregivers; Time Use; Unemployment; Urbanization; Women's Movements


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debra l. berke

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"Work and Family." International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family. 2003. 31 May. 2016 <>.

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