Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Coping with the Dual-Income Lifestyle

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Coping with the Dual-Income Lifestyle

Article excerpt

An increasing number of married women have entered the work force during the last several decades (Blau & Ferber, 1986). One consequence of this change in employment patterns is that many married women and men combine substantial work and family obligations. Role overload and conflict resulting from increased roles and incongruent role expectations have been identified as common concerns among dual-income couples (Guelzow, Bird, & Koball, 1991).

Role overload exists when the number of roles a person occupies cannot be handled adequately or comfortably because of finite amounts of time and energy (Burr, Leigh, Day, & Constantine, 1979; Seiber, 1974). Pleck, Staines, and Lang (1980) reported that one-third of their sample of dual-income respondents experienced moderate to severe role overload from combining work and family roles. Bolger, DeLongis, Kessler, and Wethington (1989) found that role overload was the most frequently experienced daily stress.

Role overload can occur within one domain of life (e.g., too many demands at home) or it can involve several domains. When overload is evident in multiple domains, spillover effects often occur (Small & Riley, 1990). For example, overload at work can lead to spillover effects at home, or home demands can spill over into paid work. Thus, spillover is one aspect of role overload and a particularly salient aspect for dual-income spouses because of their heavy involvement in both paid work and family domains.

Role conflict refers to the conflict that arises between the expectations of two different roles that a person adopts (Burr et al., 1979; Voydanoff, 1987). For example, the dual-income marriage may create conflicting expectations for women. At work, a professional woman often is expected to be aggressive, competitive, and committed to her work. At home, she often is expected to be nurturing to her children and compassionate and caring to her husband. These differing expectations may require a complex display of potentially incompatible personality characteristics at work and home.

Although there are other aspects of well-being, the dual-income literature on role overload and conflict typically has measured well-being as physical symptomatology and emotional affect (Coverman, 1989; Tiedje et al., 1990). Guelzow et al. (1991) found that role overload and conflict place dual-income spouses at greater risk for both physical and emotional problems. Consequently, it is important to study coping mechanisms in dual-income families that may diffuse or prevent potential deleterious effects of role overload and conflict on spouses' physical symptoms and emotional affect.

COPING MECHANISMS

Direct Effects

Individuals continually develop perceptual and/or behavioral coping strategies to prevent, reduce, divert, avoid, or control emotional stress (Folkman, 1984; Goode, 1960; McCubbin, 1979; Moos, 1984; Pearlin & Schooler, 1978). Unfortunately, only a little is known about the use and effectiveness of coping strategies among dual-income families (Bird, Bird, & Scruggs, 1983). Researchers have found that active coping mechanisms that involve others (e.g., social support and external role redefinition), as well as cognitive restructuring, appear to be the most useful coping mechanisms for dual-income couples (Amatea & Fong-Beyette, 1987; Elman & Gilbert, 1984). Guelzow et al. (1991) found that the use of cognitive restructuring was related to lower psychological stress for men and women, and limiting demands was linked to higher stress levels for men. Dual-income wives seem to use problem-focused coping (e.g., role redefinition) more frequently than emotion-focused coping (e.g., cognitive reappraisal, tension reduction) in role overload situations (Amatea & Fong-Beyette, 1987). Guinta and Compas (1993) found that husbands and wives who coped by withdrawing had high levels of psychological symptomatology.

Moderating Effects

Cohen and Wills (1985) proposed that, theoretically, coping mechanisms (e. …

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