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Role Conflict: Not Only for Women? A Comparative Analysis of 5 Nations

By Moore, Dahlia | International Journal of Comparative Sociology, June 1995 | Go to article overview

Role Conflict: Not Only for Women? A Comparative Analysis of 5 Nations


Moore, Dahlia, International Journal of Comparative Sociology


This research deals with three issues. First, it focuses on the influence of burdens at home and at work on the creation of role conflict. Second, it examines whether in the 1990s men are still "spared" feelings of role conflict, and third, it asks whether the concept of role conflict applies to women who work in the same occupation (university professors) in culturally and industrially diverse societies.

Role conflict occurs whenever a person is required to perform diverse social roles that demand incompatible behaviors (Chassin, Zeiss, Cooper and Reaven, 1985). Home-work role conflict refers to the concurrent and incompatible time demands that people with both work and family obligations encounter (Cowan, 1983; Fuchs, 1989; Horowitz, 1982). Despite the fact that home-work role conflict can befall both genders in all societies, it is usually applied to women not to men (especially to women who are married and mothers of small children) and to less industrialized, tradition-oriented societies more than to industrialized, less traditional ones (Cooke and Rousseau, 1984; Crosby, 1990; Fox and Nickols, 1983; Gray, 1983).

The differential application of the term stems from the sex-typing of behaviors and characteristics and the socially constructed normative expectations regarding the two genders (Epstein, 1988). Sex typing of behaviors means that a majority of the people who behave in a certain way are of one gender, and there is a normative belief that this is "right" (Merton, 1957). Thus, in most societies family and domestic obligations are still considered primarily women's responsibilities, while work and breadwinning are considered primarily men's responsibilities despite the new legitimacy for women's work (Bernstein, 1983; Lehrer and Stokes, 1985; Marini and Brinton, 1984). Therefore, choosing work over family is usually not a conceivable option for women (Izraeli, 1993).

Nowadays, however, even women with small children often continue working outside the house (Kessler-Harris, 1990), and many among them see their work as a career in which they invest much energy (Brinton, 1988; Novarra, 1980; Wiley, 1991). Still, because they are often expected to shoulder most of the domestic chores, the work roles are considered an additional burden to women's existing overload (Cowan, 1983; Polachek, 1985; Roos, 1985).

But there is contradictory empirical evidence regarding the impact of heavier load on role conflict. Some research shows that role conflict is stronger for working mothers (Ruble, et al., 1984), while other research arrives at the opposite conclusion (Crosby, 1987; Epstein, 1988; Kulman, 1986). Several factors were offered as explanations of the inconsistent findings: historical changes (Ross, Mirowsky and Huber, 1983), spouse participation at home (Epstein, 1988), and developing strategies for reducing time pressure (Thoits, 1987).

The implicit assumption behind these notions is that work obligations interfere with fulfilling the domestic roles of women, and thus lead to role conflict. To minimize the interference and reduce role conflict, most working women curtail their work roles by going into part-time jobs, employment in time-flexible occupations, and/or "Mammy tracks" (Bergman, 1992; Fowlkes 1987; Weitzman, 1984). Such employment is more easily found in female-typed occupations (i.e. occupations in which women form the majority of all workers) (Charles, 1992; Moore, 1991). Female-typed occupations tend to more "female friendly" in terms of flexibility, less compulsory overtime, and adjusting working hours to women's needs than male-typed occupations because of their reliance on women workers (Kaufman, 1992; Jacobs, 1989).

Male-typed occupations are not restricted by time-bound family obligations. In fact, their structure is based on the assumption that work roles are the workers' primary roles, and that their other roles are less important. Therefore, these occupations are constructed to accommodate the "breadwinner" or "careerist" roles rather than the "home-maker" role and demand less flexible, longer working hours and greater work commitment than female-typed occupations (Moore, 1992).

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