Work-Family Commitment and Attitudes toward Feminism in Medical Students

By Hartung, Paul J.; Rogers, James R. | Career Development Quarterly, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Work-Family Commitment and Attitudes toward Feminism in Medical Students


Hartung, Paul J., Rogers, James R., Career Development Quarterly


The authors examine work-family commitment and attitudes toward feminism in a cross-sectional, medical student sample (126 women, 145 men). Results indicated no significant gender differences in commitment levels. Third-year students reported significantly more family commitment than did students in lower years. Women reported significantly more positive attitudes toward feminism than did men. Future research should examine commitment to work and family roles relative to participation in work and family roles and whether medical students have more conservative attitudes toward feminism than do other groups. Reframing multiple role commitments as an opportunity For role integration may help clients identify how work and family can be mutually enhancing and growthproducing rather than conflictual.

In life-span, life-space theory, role salience refers to the importance individuals ascribe to roles played out in various theaters such as work, family, leisure, school, or community (Super, 1982; Super, Savickas, & Super, 1996). Developmental career theorists, researchers, and counselors use the construct of role salience to comprehend how people structure life roles in the context of their lives (Hartung, 1998; Nevill & Culvert, 1996; Super et al., 1996). Role salience comprises three dimensions: participation, or behavioral involvement in a role; commitment, or emotional investment in a role; and knowledge, or cognitive understanding of a role (Super, 1982). The commitment dimension seems to have garnered the most research to date (e.g., Farmer, 1985; Fitzgerald, Fassinger, & Betz, 1995; Loscocco, 1997; Munson, 1992; Niles & Goodnough, 1996; O'Brien & Fassinger, 1993). The present study sought to advance this research by examining levels of commitment to two major life roles, namely work and family, in a cross-sectional sample of medical students. Perceptions about feminism were also examined to determine if levels of commitment to work-family roles relate significantly to attitudes toward feminism and the women's movement as a means of gaining gender role equality.

WORK-FAMILY COMMITMENT

Commitment to life roles has been examined in several studies (for a comprehensive review, see Niles & Goodnough, 1996). These studies have investigated relationships between role salience and a variety of other variables. Significant positive relationships have been found, for example, between career maturity and commitment to work and home roles (Nevill & Super, 1988; Super & Nevill, 1984). Similarly, commitment to student and home roles has been positively correlated with self-esteem (Munson, 1992).

A literature review by Niles and Goodnough (1996) revealed that much of the research on role salience has specifically investigated gender differences in work and family commitment. Research findings in this vein often support traditional gender-role expectations for women and men. For example, in one study, high school girls expressed greater levels of commitment to home and family than did high school boys (Munson, 1992). Similarly, female university students have reported more commitment to home and family than have their male counterparts (Nevill & Super, 1988). The women in Nevill and Super's study also reported greater levels of commitment to work, although they participated less in work than did the men in the study.

It has been proposed that gender differences in work-family commitment reflect gender role socialization differences that prompt young women more than young men to give primacy to home and family life roles. Support for this hypothesis comes from a study by Madill, Brintnell, Macnab, Stewin, and Fitzsimmons (1988). Madill and her colleagues found that professional women who indicated equally high levels of commitment to work and to family reported significant conflict between these two roles because of perceived expectations that they should participate more in home and family life than in work life.

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