Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Shift Work, Role Overload, and the Transition to Parenthood

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Shift Work, Role Overload, and the Transition to Parenthood

Article excerpt

This article examines how the work hours, work schedules, and role overload of working-class couples are related to depressive symptoms and relationship conflict across the transition to parenthood. Data are from 132 dual-earner couples interviewed 5 times across the transition. Multilevel modeling analyses revealed that working evening or night shifts, as opposed to day shifts, was related to higher levels of depressive symptoms. For mothers only, working rotating shifts predicted relationship conflict. Increases in role overload were positively related to both depression and conflict; working a nonday shift explained variance in depression and conflict above and beyond role overload. Results suggest that for new parents, working nonday shifts may be a risk factor for depressive symptoms and relationship conflict.

Key Words: conflict, depression, dual-earner, transition to parenthood, work family balance, work hours.

A growing trend among parents of young children is to work alternating shifts, where partners' paid work schedules are opposite and nonoverlapping (Presser, 1989, 1994, 2005). It has been suggested that working alternating shifts is a strategy that enables new parents to avoid the high cost of child care and/or to maintain values regarding the importance of exclusive parental care, especially with infants (Deutsch, 1999). Research shows, however, that working nonday shifts is less often a parental choice and more often a nonnegotiable job condition (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2000). Moreover, the potential benefits of shift work, especially for parents of young children, may be negated by its deleterious effects on parents' mental health and their close relationships (Finn, 1981; Presser, 2000; Simon, 1990).

More than 15 million, or 16.8% of all full-time wage and salary employees, work nonday and/or nonfixed shifts, that include evening shifts between 2 p.m. and midnight, night shifts, rotating shifts, and irregular shifts (Beers, 2000). Among dual-earner couples in the United States, one in four includes at least one partner who is a shift worker; this number rises to one in three if they have children (Presser, 2000). Shift work is most common among blue-collar workers in the protective and food service industries and among those employed as operators, fabricators, and laborers (Beers). Given these demographic trends, important questions arise as to how working nonday shifts affects the psychological well-being and intimate relationships of dual-earner couples, especially those with young children and employed in blue-collar occupations. Moreover, because a large literature indicates that it is not enough to look at work hours or work schedules alone to predict individual or family outcomes, we must also understand individuals' subjective experiences of these work conditions (Barling, 1990; Gareis, Barnett, & Brennan, 2003). The current study explores both the direct relationships among work hours, work schedules, and new parents' reports of depression and relationship conflict, as well as how these relationships may differ as a function of workers' perceived role overload.


Questions surrounding how much and when people work have pervaded the work and family literature since its inception (Perry-Jenkins, Repetti, & Crouter, 2000). Presser (1994, 2000) contends that a shortcoming of much of this research is the implicit assumption that workers hold fixed, daytime employment schedules. Her research points to the significance of the scheduling of work hours, and the degree of overlap between partners' schedules, as holding important implications for family life.

Nonday work schedules have been associated with relationship stress and work-family conflict (Kingston & Nock, 1987; Mellor, 1986; Rubin, 1994; Simon, 1990; Staines & Pleck, 1983). Much of this research, however, is cross-sectional; thus, it is not clear whether nonday shift-work schedules lead to troubled relationships or if more negative relationships lead individuals to work opposite shifts. …

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