Academic journal article Fathering

Studying "Working Fathers": Comparing Fathers' and Mothers' Work-Family Sonflict, Fit, and Adaptive Strategies in a Global High-Tech Company

Academic journal article Fathering

Studying "Working Fathers": Comparing Fathers' and Mothers' Work-Family Sonflict, Fit, and Adaptive Strategies in a Global High-Tech Company

Article excerpt

Working fathers are underrepresented--conceptually and empirically--in work-family research. Using a global corporate sample of working fathers from 48 countries (N = 7,692), this study compares working fathers to working mothers on key work-family variables as suggested by Voydanoff's (2002) application of ecological systems theory. It examines the direction and the path of the predictors of work-family fit and whether a scarcity or expansion model better explains these results. Finally, it considers what work-family adaptive strategies may affect those relationships. Although fathers consistently reported less family-to-work conflict than mothers, they reported equal amounts of work-to-family conflict. That is, fathers struggled as much as mothers to keep work from draining their energies at home. Similarly, though fathers were less likely than mothers to have used most corporate programs to help find harmony between work and family life, they frequently chose options that provided flexibility in when and where work was done. Overall use of any work-family programs by fathers, including the specific use of flexi-time and flexi-place, were found to be work-family adaptive strategies that predicted greater work-family fit. Having a spouse as the primary caregiver did not predict greater work-family fit for working fathers, but it did for working mothers. Curiously, having greater responsibility for childcare predicted greater work-family fit for fathers but less work-family fit for mothers. These findings have implications for guiding further development of work-family research and programs that include fathers.

Key Words: working fathers, work-family conflict, work-family fit, work-family adaptive strategies

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Mitch, a talented young man in his late twenties, has established himself in a well-rewarded technical career. He heads an important software development project in a large global corporation, and his income is approaching six figures. Sally, a young woman also in her late twenties, manages a group of technical marketing representatives and is responsible for $50 million in revenue. Her income is even higher, about $125,000 per year. Two years ago, Mitch and Sally met on the job, fell in love, and got married within the year. They decided to start a family right away, and Sally is expecting their first child in three months. They now face the question, "How will we manage the dramatic changes in our lives associated with a new baby and demanding work?" Their company is near the top of Working Mothers' list of "Best Companies" to work for and boasts a wide range of family-friendly programs. But when the baby comes, who will take how much time off, and when? Who might seek out a part-time or job-sharing position? Who might explore the option to work at home, scale back his or her career, or even drop out of the labor force for a significant period of time? These are the first of a lifetime of questions to be asked and answered.

Most couples today would probably say that Mitch and Sally should share these important responsibilities equally, or perhaps Mitch should take more responsibility because the dollar value of his work time is lower. The culture, especially in the United States, Australia, and Western Europe, gives lip service to egalitarian gender values. However, the preponderance of work-family research indicates that actual behavior is much more aligned with traditional gender roles (Coltrane, 2000; LaRossa, 1988). Most of the responsibility will likely come to rest squarely on Sally's shoulders, even though she makes more money than her husband.

Understandably, then, most work-family research has focused on mothers' challenges for balancing their work and family lives. Studies rarely look at fathers discretely or focus on the degree to which they experience work-family conflict. That there is no commonly used male counterpart to the term "working mother" is an anomaly in our language illuminated by Levine and Pittinsky (1997) in their book Working Fathers. …

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