Drivers of work-family imbalance

Before exploring possible societal differences in the likelihood of experiencing work-family balance (or conflict), we review several individual or family attributes that are expected to correlate with work-family balance. These include time availability, family demands and the household division of labour.

Time availability – time is a scarce resource. Hence, one can assume that, when attempting to balance work and family demands, longer hours spent in the labour market are likely to result in a time squeeze. This is typically referred to as the ‘availability’ hypothesis [Cov85] [Jag02]. As chief responsibility for family care and household chores still resides with women, we would expect that long working hours will result in a greater perceived work-family conflict among women than among men. Employment arrangements, and especially the extent of flexibility, were also found to affect work-family balance, but the relationship is not straightforward. When flexibility is accompanied by employment uncertainty, as in the case of precarious jobs, it is likely to increase the pressure emanating from the work situation. However, when the employee is given a greater opportunity to arrange his or her own working schedule, it is possible to coordinate work and family care and to achieve a better work-family balance.

Family demands – the ‘demand’ hypothesis [Cov85] posits that the greater the household demands, the more difficult it is to balance work and family. Household demands vary with family composition and are especially high when young children are present. As women typically carry the main share of family responsibilities and for childcare in particular, we would expect the work-family conflict to be more pronounced among employed mothers of young children than among men or among women without children or those whose children are grown up.

Household division of labour – As the work-family balance relates to the extent to which labour market and family responsibilities are coordinated, we would expect a more egalitarian organisation of household tasks and a greater amount of outsourcing of household tasks to be associated with less conflict between work and family responsibilities. More specifically, women in more egalitarian households will experience less time squeeze (and, therefore, reduced work-family imbalance) than women in more traditionally organised households. The reverse is likely to apply to men, although the differences will be less pronounced.

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