AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
Based on the first wave of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC), this paper investigates potential sources of work-to-family strain for partnered parents of young children. The analysis identifies the importance of gender, job characteristics and the nature of the family environment in exploring how working parents experience negative spillover between their work and family lives.
The last 30 years has seen significant change in the social and economic roles of Australian parents. The dominant "male breadwinner" model of the family of the 1950s and 1960s, where fathers worked full-time in paid employment and mothers worked full-time in the home, has been replaced by one in which it is more common for both parents to undertake some level of paid work. While internationally this has led to a plethora of research into the impact of these changing roles on individual and family wellbeing, there is still relatively little Australian research in this area. Using a new data set of young children and their families, this paper seeks in part to address this deficiency by considering characteristics of the work and family environments that are important in the experience of work-to-family strain.
The literature surrounding work-family balance recognises that the interplay between the work and home environments is crucial to the understanding of individual and family wellbeing. It has long been recognised that events that affect the feelings, attitudes and experiences of a parent in either the family or work environment can "spillover" into other spheres of a parent's life. These spillovers are usually characterised as work-to-family or family-to-work and can be both positive and negative.
This paper focuses only on one aspect of work-family spillover, specifically the detrimental effect that work can have on family life (work-to-family strain) and it identifies (through the use of regression analysis) those characteristics from both the work and family environments that are associated with the level of strain experienced. The analysis uses new Australian data based on a representative sample of families with at least one child who was between three and 18 months old or around 4-5 years old.
Work-to-family strain: Key associations
A key issue of investigation in all work-to-family strain research is whether women and men experience this type of spillover to the same extent or in the same manner. Early writings focused on the different social roles played by women and men and so considered that women were more likely to prioritise family obligations over paid work and men to prioritise paid work over family (Pleck 1977). Such gender role differences would suggest that men are more likely to incur negative spillover from work-to-family due to a greater focus on their paid working roles (Voydanoff 2002).
More recent studies have considered the links between role conflict and perceived salience of each role. Rather than assuming that women and men identify more strongly with a particular domestic or work role, these studies have attempted to measure gender differences in the importance attached to each role and the extent to which this conflicts with their current family and work circumstances (Cinamon and Rich 2002a; 2002b; Westman and Etzion 1995).
Other studies have conceptualised work-to-family strain as resulting from the multiple work and family roles that working parents experience. According to this approach, role strain occurs where individuals have difficulty fulfilling the expectations and responsibilities in both the work and family domains (Marshall and Barnett 1993).
Consequently, a first question of interest that can be considered with the LSAC data is:
Do working mothers and working fathers experience work-to-family strain to the same extent and in the same manner?
Another variable that has generated a great deal of interest with respect to work-to-family strain is that of hours in paid work. There is a common perception that the more hours someone works, the more negative will be its impact on the individual and their family, and that the most negatively affected workers are those who work the longest hours; however, the research around hours is far from conclusive on this point. In her review of the work-family literature, Barnett (1998) provides substantial evidence to "dispute the widespread belief that long work hours exacerbate and reduced work hours ameliorate work/social system issues" (p. 145).
Australian evidence consistent with some of Barnett's (1998) findings on hours comes from Gray, Qu, Stanton and Weston's (2004) research into long work hours and the wellbeing of fathers. Using data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, they found that work-to-family strain was one of only two measures of wellbeing (from a list of 13) where a less favourable outcome was associated with longer work hours (after controlling for a range of characteristics associated with hours worked). Gray et al. (2004) went on to show that satisfaction with work hours (rather than hours themselves) was more important in explaining work-to-family strain, with greater satisfaction with work hours being associated with less negative work-to-family spillover for any given level of actual hours worked. Interestingly, this effect was strongest for those fathers working 60 hours or more per week. However, despite the ameliorating effect of satisfaction with hours, after controlling for satisfaction with hours it was still true that work-to-family strain was higher for fathers who worked longer hours.
More important to work-to-family strain than actual hours worked appears to be the nature of the work itself--in particular, the perceived "quality", complexity and skill level of the job, as well as the degree of flexibility and schedule control a worker has over their tasks. Work hours that encompass less family-friendly work schedules (evening work, weekend work, shiftwork, or excessive overtime) have been found to be associated with greater work-to-family strain (Barnett 1998). In essence, these are measures of job-role quality and in some studies job-role quality is measured using a single index (Barnett, Marshall, Raudenbush and Brennan 1993), with greater job-role quality being associated with lower levels of work-to-family strain.
Consequently, it appears that jobs that have "family-friendly" characteristics are likely to be a resource for parents in managing the work-family balance, while those that lack these characteristics will increase the strains on parents and be more likely to increase negative work-to-family spillover. To date, there is minimal published data about the availability of family-friendly working conditions in Australian workplaces aside from some analyses of the 1995 Australian Workplace Industrial Relations Survey (Gray and Tudball 2003; Whitehouse and Zetlin 1999).
In Australia, the characteristics of casual employment have received considerable debate. On the one hand, casual employment is seen as inferior and less rewarding work (Pocock, Buchanan and Campbell 2002, 2004), but on the other, it is a means by which parents may gain the flexibility to juggle the demands of their work and family responsibilities. The impact of casual employment (compared to permanent, ongoing employment) on work-to-family strains is therefore somewhat unclear--for some parents, the insecurity of casual employment may generate pressures affecting family life, while for others it may provide the flexibility needed to help parents meet their work and family responsibilities.
The effects of self-employment are similarly unclear. There …