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The backdrop for this study is found in large-scale changes in the structure of the U.S. economy as it has shifted to a postindustrial, information- and services-dominated economy within which individuals and families seek their livelihood. The changes in the economy are pervasive and deep and have affected both white-collar and blue-collar workers. Many of those displaced by declining industries have found themselves either under-qualified or overqualified for jobs in the growing sectors of the economy. Even those whose jobs have not been directly affected have faced stagnation in wage growth and flattened career trajectories (Hale, 1997; Joint Economic Committee, 1992a, 1992b). Today's workers, as a result, are more likely to feel the effects of employment uncertainty and financial insecurity rather than permanent job loss and economic privation (Harwood, 1996). Moreover, affected segments of the labor force include a greater proportion of workers from middle- and high-status occupations than earlier economic recessions did (Farley, 1996; Joint Economic Committee, 1992b). Adding to a sense of dislocation is that, unlike earlier periods of depression or recession, the economy today is considered robust and financial markets strong ("Economy Growing at Steady Pace 1996; Harwood, 1996; for a contrasting view, see Quinn, 1996).
Two additional demographic trends intersect with this economic picture and may affect how economic distress has an impact on individual and family well-being. First, women's own labor force participation patterns--their year-round, full-time job-holding patterns that more closely mirror those of their brothers and husbands--mean that women's job holding is more common and that more married men have the dual-earner cushion of wives' earnings from employment than in past recessionary periods (Farley, 1996). Married men with employed wives may be less threatened by their own potential job loss and also more affected by their wives' job security than suggested in past research. A second trend is the increase in nonmarital lifestyles for both men and women (Farley, 1996; Goldscheider & Waite, 1991). The patterns differ by gender, but the bottom line is that at both younger and more mature ages, smaller proportions of men and women workers are married, and given child custody patterns following divorce, more nonmarried women workers than men have minor children in their homes. Thus, relatively fewer male workers bring family-sourced motivations to the workplace, and more women do, as sole providers for themselves and any children they may have. Teachman, Call, and Carver (1994) found that being married shortened the duration of joblessness among White men, which the authors interpreted as a motivational effect stemming from the married-man provider role. The potential implications of both of these trends suggest that attention be given to how lifestyle patterns intersect with indicators of economic distress to intensify or buffer their effects on individual and family well-being.
In this article, we pursue two objectives. First, we describe levels of economic distress found among respondents to a community-based sample survey exploring the impact of economic changes on individuals and families. This objective is a simple one to provide evidence from one community in the mid-1990s of the experiences of a random sample of adults who are confronted with and responding to challenges resulting from changes in the economy. The second aim is analytic to discover whether some components of economic distress are more distressful, and, if so, whether there are differences for men and women. Thus, we examine the predictive power of a series of measures of economic distress and explore different pathways through which they have an impact on individuals and families.
A voluminous literature in sociology, behavioral economics, social psychology, and family studies plumbs the many links between work and family well-being (e.g., Bowen & Pittman, 1995; Gilbert, 1985; Goldschieder & Waite, 1991; Korenman & Neumark, 1991; Strumpel, 1976; Teachman et al., 1994; Voydanoff, 1990; Voydanoff & Donnelly, 1989). Several classic theoretical perspectives in sociology, including ecological theory, symbolic interaction, and structural-functionalism, direct attention to linkages between economic roles and well-being. Family stress theory, in particular, allows for the fruitful exploration of pathways through which such events or conditions as job holding, job loss, economic sufficiency, and deprivation result in individual and family distress (Boss, 1988).
Beyond its importance as a source of income support for individuals and their dependent family members, employment has symbolic value as a source of self-definition and life meaning. The responses of individuals to potential or actual job loss, therefore, may be reflected in feelings of self-doubt and heightened psychological anxiety. Additionally, workforce changes, although enriching to some (Farley, 1996), have created high levels of economic strain for many families, reflected in increased tensions and family instability. Indeed, previous research has almost uniformly pointed to an inverse relationship between economic distress and individual and family well-being (Conger et al., 1990; Larson, Wilson, & Beley, 1994; McLloyd, 1989; McLloyd, Jayaratne, Ceballo, & Borquez, 1994; Rubin, 1994; Skinner, Elder, & Conger, 1992; Takeuchi, Williams, & Adair, 1991; Voydanoff & Donnelly, 1988, 1989; see Voydanoff, 1990, for an excellent review).
At the same time, the empirical evidence offers a mixed picture, suggesting, for example, that women may react to economic distress differently than men, that only some components of economic distress are inversely associated with measures of psychological well-being, and that unemployment does not uniformly translate into family distress. Traditionally, paid employment is considered more central to a man's self-image as the family provider; for women, other roles are expected to supplement or supplant the worker role (Ferree, 1990). Thus, men rather than women are expected to be more severely affected by their own job loss or insecurity, whereas roamed women arc expected to experience their husband's job instability as more threatening than their own (Voydanoff & Donnelly, 1988). Changes in family demography and internal family dynamics, such as the increased number of women who are sole wage earners in a household, the rise in married women's labor force participation, and the realignment of wage-earning responsibilities between husbands and wives, suggest that the existing research bears replication, refinement, and extension.
SOURCE OF DATA
These issues are explored using social survey data drawn from telephone interviews with two waves of householders ages 18 to 65 residing in a southeastern U.S. metropolitan county (Knox County, Tennessee). A sample of 366 county households was selected using random-digit dialing techniques. Significant effort was made to call back unanswered telephone numbers; all unresolved numbers received a minimum of four call-backs, and answering machines and busy signals generally received up to seven callbacks. To reduce community burden, however, a decision was made at the outset not to attempt to convert first refusals, that is, those who refused to participate at our first contact with them. The sample of 366 respondents represents a cooperation rate of 50% of reachable telephone numbers, comparable to that achieved by the university's professional survey research unit. Consistent with the results of many telephone surveys, we note a volunteer bias in our resulting sample that overrepresents respondents with higher levels of education and income. Thus, we are likely to underestimate levels of economic distress to the extent that these are found disproportionately among those with high school education or less and with modest incomes. Generally, telephone surveys also overrepresent women due to substantially higher cooperation rates among women. To counteract this potential effect, upon reaching a potential respondent, we asked specifically for a male household member in the eligible age range, accepting a resident female only if no eligible males were willing to participate. Our resulting sample includes 221 women and 145 men, a 60% to 40% split by gender.
Data were collected during interviews lasting approximately 30 minutes and conducted …