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Work and 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).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaModern Marriage & Family IssuesWork and Family - Theoretical Paradigms Of Work And Family, Historical Context And New Patterns, Links Between Work And Family