Work-family balance in context

As noted above, the work-family time pressure has frequently been theorised in the context of increasing modernisation. Modernisation as it is manifested in advanced industrialisation is associated with changes in fertility and household composition, the rise of mass higher education, growing participation of women in the labour market, a growing demand for gender equality, a shift to the service society, changes in the organisation of work and de-commodification policies [Wil02]. From this point of view, differences in work-family balance (conflict) should be expected between advanced industrial societies and economically less developed societies [Edl07]. The societies that are included in the present study, however, are clustered at the more advanced industrial end of the continuum and are quite similar in the extent of their modernisation processes. Nonetheless, we expect the patterns of work-family balance to differ across the countries that are characterised by distinct family regimes. Edlund (2007, p. 2) has noted that in ‘…the Nordic countries the issue of work-family balance falls within the political sphere.’ In market-oriented countries such as the United States, as Edlund points out, female employment rates are relatively high, as is the case in the Nordic countries. However, they are primarily shaped by market forces with little state intervention. In this context, the work-family balance is primarily seen as a private matter which individuals and families are expected to resolve. In countries on the European continent – those countries Esping-Andersen referred to as conservative – the family is viewed as the dominant provider and the work-family balance for women is often resolved by exiting the labour force and reducing participation in employment activities.

Other studies have also taken a comparative approach to differences between countries in the extent of the work-family balance [Cro06] [Jag02]. These studies typically investigate a small number of countries and seek to explain observed differences in light of the specific characteristics of the countries in question. In this chapter, we join the comparative effort but address possible differences at the aggregate level in work-family balance, employing the typology we have used throughout this manuscript. In general, we expect a lower level of conflict between work and family demands in regimes in which the state provides the means for combining these two competing activities. In other words, the level of conflict will be lower in the individual-independence and in the state-dependence regimes than in the two other regimes. Family policies and childcare arrangements in the individual-independence regime, as well as divergent market arrangements, allow women to reduce work pressures when family demands are high and to increase their involvement in the labour force when family demands are alleviated. For example, women can work part-time when they have babies but still keep their good jobs. When the children grow older they can return to full-time employment without encountering high penalties. Similarly, high quality, publicly subsidised and maintained day-care facilities allow women to devote a greater proportion of their efforts to work activities without being pressured by family demands.

‘Family-friendly’ policies and part-time employment are also available to women in the state-dependence regime, except that in this context the dominant ideology does not expect women to provide for the family as men do. Therefore, women are expected to reduce the work-family conflict by interrupting their employment or, alternatively, by choosing less demanding, often low-paid, part-time jobs. In this context, the amount of time women devote to work is expected to strongly affect their sense of imbalance. Similarly, the perceived conflict will be higher when the children are young, since care arrangements for children are not well developed in these settings, especially for very young children, but also for children of school age.

The conflict between work and family is expected to be greatest in societies characterised by market-dependence or family-dependence regimes. Weak family-oriented policies and the lack of institutional arrangements designed to reduce conflicts are likely to increase the sense of imbalance, especially among full-time working mothers. We would expect the conflict to be especially strong in the market-dependence regime, because women in these countries are expected to participate in paid employment and to contribute to their family’s economic well being. They are expected to maintain a continuous attachment to the labour force in order to maintain their position and their market-related skills. Interruptions to employment due to family demands are likely to be penalised in terms of the type of jobs they are able to secure and their market rewards. Although the market provides childcare solutions, they are not necessarily designed to accommodate the work-family balance and, thus, those who experience greater time and family demands are also expected to experience high work-family imbalances.

As noted above, the sense of conflict is also expected to be high for working women in the family-dependence regime. However, women may often solve the work-family conflict by exiting the labour market (temporarily or for good). Within the ideological framework that governs the family-dependence regime, this is an acceptable solution. However, for those women who remain in the labour market during periods of high family demand we would expect to find strong perceptions of imbalance between their work and family responsibilities.

Using data from the ISSP 2002 Family and Changing Gender Roles survey, Edlund [Edl07] recently proposed three types of responses that appeared to be robust across countries. One response is characterised as work-family balance, i.e. persons who appear not to experience conflict. A second type is work-overload. This refers to a situation in which work requirements tend to interfere with family life and household responsibilities. The third type represents a dual overload, as work and family pressures cross over in both directions. Demands from the domestic sphere interfere with work activities, while problems are experienced at the same time with carrying out domestic duties because of work requirements. Theoretically, we would expect a fourth type as well – in which family demands interfere with work activity in the market – but this did not emerge empirically.

Go to next page >>