The Work Week for Individuals and Families in 28 Countries

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Working Time for Married Couples in 28 Countries

Medalia, Carla and Jerry A. Jacobs.

“The Work Week for Individuals and Families in 28 Countries.” Pp. 137-157 in Ronald J. Burke and Cary L. Cooper, eds., The Long Work Hours Culture: Causes, Consequences and Choices. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing.

Gender roles continue to change throughout the world as reflected in women’s labor force participation, educational attainment, age at marriage, divorce rates and fertility levels. Because countries vary in the speed and nature of these transformations, a comparative approach is particularly well-suited to studying them. By employing a cross-national analysis, recent research on work and the family has improved our understanding of how the gendered division of paid labor affects the family and society. The time spent on the job by various family members affects the character and extent of work-family conflict as well as gender inequality within the family and economy. While most research in this area focuses on a small sample of mostly industrial countries, this study casts a wider net.

In their analysis of ten countries, Jacobs and Gornick (2002), and Jacobs and Gerson (2004), examined the length of the workweek for married couples as well as individuals (see also Nock and Kingston, 1988). Furthermore, they reported the fraction of individuals and couples who put in especially long workweeks. Like many studies on working time, the sample of countries they analyzed was limited to all highly developed and industrialized nations in North America and Western Europe. In the current study, we include countries from Eastern Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America along with Western Europe and the North America.

Working time is important to study for three reasons. First, the amount of time spent on paid work is one of the key predictors of work-family conflict. This relationship is especially important to examine as women enter the labor force in greater numbers and working time globally is changing for both sexes. Second, unequal amounts of working time for men and women are associated with gender inequality in the labor market and in the home. Therefore, studying working time for individuals and couples is important in order to understand how gender inequality is reduced or reproduced. Finally, many countries have advocated reduced working hours as a tool for lowering unemployment and distributing labor demands more equitably.

Theoretical Considerations

Work-Family Conflict

Work-family conflict refers to situations in which “the role pressures from the work and family domains are mutually incompatible in some respect” (Greehnaus & Beutell 1985:77). Work-family conflict occurs in two directions: work-to-family conflict occurs when work demands make functioning in the family role difficult, and is characterized by family absences, poor family-role performance, family dissatisfaction and distress. Family-to-work conflict occurs when family demands make it difficult to fulfill employee responsibilities, and is associated with absenteeism from work, tardiness, poor job performance, job dissatisfaction and distress (Voydanoff 2005:707). In the most extreme manifestation, the spillover from work-to-family can lead to divorce, while the spillover from family-to-work can result in dismissal from one’s job.

Three types of work demands are known to influence work-family conflict. Time-based demands are the first type, and occur when work time and schedule conflict with the needs of the family. Non-standard work schedules can also disrupt family life. Thus, working schedules that require evening, night or weekend work can be particularly challenging to working families. Rotating and unpredictable schedules can also be challenging, making childcare arrangements difficult to secure (Presser 2003). Thus, while we focus on the length of the workweek, it is important to keep in mind that this is just one of several different ways that the time constraints of jobs can affect family life.

The second type, strain-based demands, arises when work stressors produce strain and lead to the inability to fulfill the demands of the family. Finally, the third type is behavior-based demands, noted when patterns of behavior in one role conflict with the need for a different type of behavior in another role. For example, a working mother’s adoption of the behavior pattern of a “Type A” executive could come into conflict with the family’s need for a warm mother-figure.

Of these three types of work demands, much support has been found for the time-based model which explains that working hours are related to work-family conflict. Furthermore, time-based demands are easily measured by working hours. Therefore, in this study, we focus on time-based work demands. If such demands are critical predictors of work-family conflict, then it is important to understand how working time varies across countries.

Specifically, working long hours is related to greater work-family conflict for both men and women (Barnett and Gareis 2002; Jacobs and Gerson 2004; van der Lipp et al. 2006; Wharton and Blair-Loy 2006). Other research indicates that overtime work, in particular mandatory overtime work, increases work-family conflict (Golden and Wiens-Tuers 2006). For women who work long hours, experiences of work-family conflict are lessened by the amount of housework husbands do (Barnett and Gareis 2002). The number of children at home exacerbates work-family conflict (Lundberg, Mardberg and Frankenhaeuser 1994; Noor 2003; Wharton and Blair-Loy 2006). Age also has a relationship to work-family conflict, with role conflict peaking between the ages of 35 to 39 (Lundberg, Mardberg and Frankenhaeuser 1994). Socio-economic status, and education level in particular, has not been found to be related to work-family conflict per se, although these factors can affect the nature and extent of job demands (Jacobs and Gerson 2004; Rice, Frone and McFarlin 1992).

While long work hours are associated with a greater likelihood of experiencing work-family conflict, limited working time has been linked to better family outcomes. In a study on couples, Hill et. al. (2006) found that the division of work hours between the partners is not as important as the combined number of hours worked by the couple. Couples who work no more than a total of 60 hours per week report significantly greater job flexibility, improved work-family fit, enhanced family satisfaction, and less work-to-family conflict.

Many studies have shown how work-family conflict is influenced by gender, though results are mixed. Although women are entering the labor force in increasing numbers, gendered conceptions regarding domestic tasks and child care remain a part of many cultures cross-nationally. As a result, some studies have shown that women, more than men, are at risk for experiencing work-family conflict (Wharton and Blair-Loy 2006). However, not all research indicates that women bear the brunt of work-family conflict. Tang and Cousins (2005) found that men experience more work-family conflict regardless of national context. In Western European countries where mothers work part-time hours and are primary caregivers, men report higher levels of work-family conflict. In Eastern European countries where both men and women work full time jobs but where women are still responsible for childcare, men still report experiencing greater work-family conflict.1

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