Chapter 5: Coping with Work and Family Responsibilities

Modernisation and the time squeeze

In previous chapters, we addressed the patterns of women's participation in the labour market and the organisation of the household separately. We will now examine the implications of coping with the two simultaneously, as more women and, to a lesser extent, men are expected to do in most industrialised societies. As long as work and family care and domestic work were the distinct domains of men and women, respectively, the matter of personally balancing the two was a non-issue, both in practical terms and as a research topic. With the ever-increasing participation of women and especially mothers in the labour force, the dominant family model in advanced industrial societies shifted from the male-breadwinner and female-carer family to the two-earner model. Concomitantly, work-family conflict and its corollaries emerged as a topic attracting increasing attention from the research community and as a topic of policy concern.

In the present chapter, we focus on the work-family balance or imbalance as perceived by individuals rather than any objective measure of actual time ‘crunch’. We define work-family conflict or lack of balance as the difficulties perceived by individuals in attempting to combine paid work and family care activities, i.e. the pressure arising from the perceived incompatibility of work and family roles (see [Moe03] [Edl07]). This is measured as the response to survey items that address the extent to which family matters are perceived by the respondent as interfering with the performance of work activities in a proper manner, and, conversely, work-related issues impinging on family care and household activities. The specific measures will be discussed later.

The time pressure implied by the work-family conflict is often viewed as a feature of modernisation. Simmel referred to the phenomenon as ‘increased pace of life’, i.e. a situation in which individuals are confronted with simultaneous tasks and roles which they must rapidly run through [Fri86]. Such circumstances may result in perceived overload. Paradoxically, however, the same experience may lead to an increased sense of stimulation and accomplishment. Hence, the implications of modernisation for the work-family balance are not uniform and are likely to vary across situations and times. Gershuny [Ger00] succinctly summarised the major competing positions. He pointed out that economic progress associated with modernisation intensifies pressure on individuals and the family as boundaries between work and other life spheres are permeated and the technology of the modern economy demands an ever-growing pace of work. The counter-argument states that modernisation contains the means for successfully combining work and family, as it provides coping resources, such as technologies that reduce housework and more flexible social arrangements in the family and in the workplace.

Indeed, in a comprehensive review of studies that addressed the ‘pace of life’ in advanced industrial societies, Garhammer [Gar02] concluded that societies have generally adapted to the higher pace of life and the resulting time pressure. However, the overall or aggregate representation conceals considerable variation between social groups defined by their gender, age, family status and employment situation. These variations, and especially those associated with gender and family situation, will be the focus of the present chapter.

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