AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
As the number of dual-earner and single-parent households raising children continues to grow, pressure on organizations to attend to the family responsibilities of employees has been increasing (Families and Work Institute 1991, Goodstein 1994). The sexual division of labor spawned by the development of industrial capitalism in the nineteenth century has given way to a new demographic reality - one in which the responsibilities of workers to provide primary physical care to their dependents are no longer segregated from their responsibilities to provide financially for their families. The US Census Bureau reported that 52% of mothers of infants under one year of age were in the labor force as of 1991 (US Bureau of the Census 1992), while projections indicate that over 85% of employed women can expect to become pregnant at some point during their work life. Indeed, some demographers argue that 90% of women aged 18-49 should be considered active members of the labor force, since even those not currently employed will soon be again (Stipp 1988).
These high rates of female labor-force participation affect men as well, since men are increasingly partnered to women who are likely to be lifetime labor force participants. Without housewives at home to attend to the organization and provision of care to children, fathers are also experiencing tensions between their work and family obligations, although not necessarily the same kind nor to the same degree as mothers (Gerson 1993). Judging from the increased proportion of employed men reporting child-care problems in 1988 compared to 1984, a trend toward greater paternal involvement in family management may be emerging (Fernandez 1990).
The problem of reconciling family caregiving with paid employment is not new in the history of industrial capitalism. In the nineteenth century, factories were sometimes filled with entire families working at the same location but at different tasks, justified in part by the need to adequately supervise and monitor children (Hareven 1982). But this pattern did not persist into the twentieth century as the supply of male labor increased and the effects of harsh working conditions on the health of mothers and children became a concern (Brenner & Ramas 1984). The family responsibilities of those women still compelled to work outside the home were addressed through protective labor legislation in the early twentieth century (Kessler-Harris 1982).
Throughout this period, men's roles as husbands and fathers were not ignored by unions and industrialists but were mostly redefined as only breadwinning responsibilities. Thus, some large companies in the early decades of the twentieth century competed for the loyalties of their predominantly male workers by offering a smorgasbord of benefits such as health, life, accident insurance, and pensions in a system that has become known as "welfare capitalism" (Edwards 1979). Because welfare capitalism proved to be expensive and failed to stop union activity, however, most programs did not survive the Great Depression (Edwards 1979).
World War II brought with it a resurgence of interest in work/family issues as the number of women workers in crucial defense industries dramatically increased. Federally funded child-care centers were opened near defense-related factories, temporarily setting aside the ideology of separate spheres for men and women. Although those child-care centers were closed soon after the war ended, some scholars have argued that the war nevertheless ushered in an era in which unions pushed for and corporations increasingly provided social welfare benefits (Cornfield 1990), mirroring many of the benefits offered under welfare capitalism - health and life insurance, pension plans, and disability protection. Importantly, however, this postwar expansion included federally mandated employer participation in such areas as workers' compensation and Social Security, institutionalizing the notion that employers had at least some obligation to provide for the security of the families of their employees.
Yet the degree to which employers rather than the state should be held responsible for the social welfare of families would continue to be contested. In the United States, to a far greater extent than in Western Europe's social democracies, employers have been allowed to vary in the degree of responsiveness they show to workers' family obligations. Strong welfare states in Western Europe assumed much greater responsibility for ensuring that employers contributed to the well-being of families, through legislative and tax policies that provide paid leaves and reduced work hours for parents of young children and that redistribute income to families with children. The early dependence of European economies on female labor after World War II resulted in explicitly fashioned "family policies" that were designed to protect birth rates while simultaneously incorporating mothers into the labor force (Haas 1991).
In the United States, by contrast, dependence on married women's labor has come relatively late, and employers have mostly avoided regulatory policies that assist parents. Instead, the US welfare state has been fashioned around direct provision of services to families with heads unable to secure employment, financed through general tax revenues. As of this writing, even that minimal guarantee of government assistance to families with children was being decisively limited by federal welfare reform legislation. Yet, legislation that would force employers to accommodate childbearing and family caregiving, or even to sponsor affordable high-quality substitute care while parents work has not been swiftly forthcoming. For instance, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 was twice vetoed by Republican administrations. The version of federally mandated parental leave that ultimately was signed into law shortened the originally proposed leave and contained provisions that exempted small businesses and employees in any business whose job duties were considered essential to the organization's operation.
Some scholars believe nevertheless that the tide is slowly turning in favor of government intervention in the work/family relationship, pointing to the proliferation of bills in the US Congress dealing with work/family issues in recent years (Burstein et al 1995). Although few have yet been passed, the degree of interest certainly suggests possible expansion of the state's interest in regulating the employment of parents of minor children. And the state's abandonment of guaranteed support to parents of minor children might paradoxically increase pressure on lawmakers to legislate solutions to job/family conflict. At present, however, neither government nor employers in the free market have institutionalized policies or procedures for dealing with the influx of workers with caregiving responsibilities into the labor force. No new model has emerged of a relationship between labor, management, and the state that would loosen managerial control over the hours and scheduling of work, allow time for childbearing, and guarantee adequate substitute care for young children.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that children need different types of parental care and supervision at different ages. This problem of heterogeneity in parents' needs is exacerbated by continued ideological debate over the appropriate approach to solving job/family conflicts - while some feel that employers should free workers' time and energy to care for their own children, others promote the transfer of caregiving functions from workers to other institutions such as schools, child-care providers, hospitals, and nursing homes, etc. These divergent perspectives suggest different policy alternatives - extended parental leave for newborns versus infant day care, paid sick days for family illness versus sick-child care, reduced or part-time work hours for parents versus extension of the school day and school year.
Another reason that employers and government have been slow to respond to the needs of parents has been the lack of information about the most efficacious and cost-effective policies to implement. Rigorous evaluation of various workplace policy initiatives designed to reduce job/family stress has, in our opinion, been conspicuously missing. The effects of family responsive policies on parental behavior and children's well-being have not yet received direct attention, although child development experts contributed heavily to the debate on mandated parental leave by summarizing the effects of mothers' early returns to work on the physical and emotional well-being of mothers and infants (Brazelton 1986, Hopper & Zigler 1989).
The remainder of this essay will (a) attempt to develop a conceptualization of "family responsiveness" that is rooted in an analysis of the problems employed parents face as well as the organizational problems that ensue from parents' caregiving responsibilities, (b) review the prevalence of policies designed to assist employed parents and the determinants of organizational adoption of workplace family policies, and (c) evaluate the extent to which various policy initiatives achieve their objectives, whether those relate to family well-being, worker satisfaction, or organizational productivity. We then conclude by discussing the disjuncture between policies that are most likely to solve the dilemmas faced by employed parents and the solutions that employers are likely to adopt strategically without legislative coercion.
THE CHANGING AMERICAN WORKER
Ten years ago, in their review of literature in the then-burgeoning field of work/family conflict, Greenhaus & Beutell (1985) defined work/family conflict as "a form of interrole conflict in which the role pressures from the work and family domains are mutually incompatible in some respect" (p. 77). We look to the survey data on employed parents to determine the sources of job/family conflict as well as the working conditions and policies most desired by parents to ameliorate those conflicts.
What Do Parents Want
It is difficult to state definitively what employees desire in terms of family accommodations. Some studies assessing employees' preferences for workplace initiatives toward reducing work/family conflict sample all employees, while others sample only those with current child-rearing responsibilities. Importantly, the family needs of employees are not homogenous or static. While childbearing employees need leave for childbirth and infant care, parents of preschoolers need high-quality affordable child care and reduced work hours to meet the emotional needs of young children. Parents of school-aged children need after-school, vacation, and summer care, while parents of teens and caregivers of elderly parents need schedule flexibility and leave for emergencies. In a study on the utility of child-care programs, Kossak …