Measuring work-family balance

The concept of work-family balance addresses the degree of difficulty or ease with which people manage to balance the demands emanating from the work and family environments. Typically, the concept is concerned with perception, i.e. whether individuals perceive the situation they are in as stressful or manageable. Surveys have used items that differ slightly in their wording, but they aim to convey the same meanings. For example, the Household, Work and Flexibility survey [Jag02] used four items, one of which read: ‘My responsibilities towards my family and other important persons in my life prevented me from doing my work adequately.’ The ISSP survey [Iss02] used a similar item worded: ‘I have found it difficult to concentrate at work because of my family responsibilities.’ A similarly worded item was also used in the ESS module on Work and Family. Nonetheless, item wording and emphases often differ among surveys, as do measurement schemes.

The ESS 2004 survey includes five items that address work-family conflict (or balance) for persons living with a partner. We already mentioned one of the items above, which addresses the way family life might interfere with work. The other items generally consider the way work interferes with other spheres of life. One item, for example, asks: ‘How often do you find that your job prevents you from giving the time you want to your partner or family?’ Each of the items is measured on a five-point Likert scale ranging from ‘never’ (1) to ‘always’ (5).

Utilising the items that address one’s experience with respect to the balancing of work and family, one can investigate a variety of issues at the individual level (e.g. the possible effect of work-family balance on one’s satisfaction with life; or whether flexible work arrangements contribute to work-family balance). These items can also be used to examine differences between groups or societies, linking macro-level characteristics to the average experiences of men and women in society.

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