Division of Labor and Role Conflict. in Dual-Earner Couples
One of the largest issues still facing American society in the new millennium is how dual-earner couples can balance their occupational and family roles. With the majority of couples now consisting of two wage earners, issues such as who does the household chores and how child care is arranged will become increasingly important.
Many people believe that work and family roles mutually influence each other. That is, when things go bad at work, family suffers, and when problems occur at home, work suffers.
As noted in the text, such role conflicts and mutual interaction appear not to be the case. It is more of a one-way street.
For the most part, problems at home have little effect on job performance, whereas trouble at work can spill over to home life (Gutek & Gilliland, 2007; Streich, Casper, & Salvaggio, 2008).
Negotiating agreeable arrangements of household
and child-care tasks are critical. But as noted in the text, truly equitable divisions of labor are clearly the exception. Most American households with dual-earner couples still operate under a gender-segregated system: There are wives’ chores and husbands’ chores. Without question, all these tasks are important and must be performed to ensure domestic sanitation. However, these tasks take time. The important point for women is that it is not how much time is spent in performing household chores that matters but which tasks are performed. The research cited in the text indicates that what bothers wives the most is not that their husbands are lazy but that their husbands will not perform some "women’s work." Men may mow the lawn, wash the car, and even cook, but they rarely run the vacuum, scrub the toilet, or change the baby’s diaper.
Husbands would be viewed much more positively by their wives if they performed more of the traditionally female tasks. Marital satisfaction would be likely to improve as a result. Moreover, the role modeling provided to children in these households would be a major step in breaking the transmission of age-old stereotypes.
There are benefits of multiple roles: they have a buffering effect by mitigating the stress in one of the roles, and they provide added income, flexible gender ideology, and social support, among others (Frone, 2003; Gutek & Gilliland, 2007). Finally, what role can organizational policies play in reducing work-family conflict? One study suggests that more flexible scheduling can mitigate work-family issues. However, as soon as the organizations’ profits are down, such work-family programs typically are eliminated (Hochschild, 1997). It’s something to think about.
Contrary to popular belief, the age of the children was not a factor in stress level. However, the number of children was important, as stress increases greatly with each additional child, irrespective of their ages. Guilt was also not an issue for these women. In the same study, men reported sharing more of the child-care tasks as a way of dealing with multiple role pressures. In addition, stress is lower for men who have a flexible work schedule that allows them to care for sick children and other family
matters. Together, these findings are encouraging; they indicate that more heterosexual dual-earner couples are learning how to balance work and family adaptively.
The study just reviewed also indicates the importance of taking a life-stage approach to work-family conflict. For example, a number of studies find that the highest conflict between the competing demands of work and family are at the peak parenting years (the period in which there are two or more
Work, Leisure, and Retirement 475
preschool children) (Blanchard-Fields, Chen, & Hebert, 1997; Cournoyer & Mahalik, 1995; Shaw & Burns, 1993). By contrast, inter-role conflict is reduced when people experience a high degree of quality in their marriage (Gutek & Gilliland, 2007). Overall, it is important to note that perception of the quality of a person’s roles is an important indicator of whether or not the person will experience stress.
Dual-earner couples often have difficulty finding time for each other, especially if both work long hours. The amount of time together is not necessarily the most important issue; as long as the time is spent in shared activities such as eating, playing, conversing, and sharing emotions, couples tend to be happy (Kingston & Nock, 1987; Zimmerman et al., 2003). Unfortunately, many couples find that by the time they have an opportunity to be alone together, they are too tired to make the most of it.
A number of studies suggest that stressors associated with work-family conflict may hold different meanings for women and men (Simon, 1995). Cross-cultural data show that burnout from work and parenting is more likely to affect women. A study of dual-earner married couples in Singapore showed that wives are more likely to suffer from burnout than husbands; wives’ burnout resulted from both work and nonwork stress, whereas husbands’ burnout resulted only from work stress (Aryee, 1993). This finding was also supported in American men (Greenglass, 1991). Other studies find that women tend to experience more family demands than men do and spend more time on family work (Costigan et al., 2003; Joshi & Sastry,
1995) . In contrast, men are more vulnerable to work stress than family stress (Costigan et al., 2003; Izraeli, 1993; Lai, 1995). These findings suggest that the source of men’s role stress involves conflict with work roles and the source of women’s role stress lies more in the conflict involving family roles.
Issues concerning balancing work and family are extremely important in couples’ everyday lives. Learning how to deal with multiple roles is an important process in current industrial societies. We are creating patterns that will provide the anticipatory
socialization for our children. Even now, most dualearner couples feel that the benefits, especially the extra income, are worth the costs. Many dual-earner couples, however, have no choice but to try to deal with the situation as best they can: Both partners must work simply to pay the bills. As discussed in the Current Controversies feature, this means that couples need to take seriously the job of deciding how to divide up tasks.
1. What differences are there in how husbands and wives divide household tasks?
2. What is the most important thing an organization can do for employees with children?
3. What helps both working fathers and mothers balance work and family obligations?