Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Role Balance among White Married Couples

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Role Balance among White Married Couples

Article excerpt

We generate models predicting wives' and husbands' feelings of overall balance across roles. Drawing on fine-grained data about marital lifestyles and time use, we find few predictors that are the same for both partners. Both report greater role balance when their level of parental attachment to children is higher and when their marital satisfaction is greater, but gendered time use gives rise to important differences. Wives report greater balance when they have more paid work hours but have fewer of these hours on weekends. Wives' balance is also greater when they feel less financial strain, have less leisure time alone with their children, more couple leisure alone with their husbands, and more social network involvement. Husbands' contribute to wives' balance when they report more relationship maintenance in the marriage and more leisure with their children at those times when wives are not present. Husbands' own role balance increases as

their income rises, but it decreases as their work hours rise. Husbands' balance also rises with more nuclear family leisure, and it lessens as their leisure alone increases. Our discussion highlights the ways that gendered marital roles lead to these different correlates of balance.

Key Words: gender, leisure, marriage, multiple roles, parenthood, role balance, work.

Married adults typically must juggle their marriage with parenthood, paid work, housework, kinship, friendship, and leisure interests. This complexity has been seen as creating stress, conflict, and overload (Goode, 1960; Netemeyer, Boles, & McMurrian, 1996), but also stimulation and challenge (Barnett & Rivers, 1996). In turn, role theories have offered different perspectives on how people solve the juggling problem. Some analysts see a hierarchy of roles as inevitable, claiming that people put more time and energy into those activities that are most highly valued (e.g., McCall & Simmons, 1978; Reitzes & Mutran, 1994; Stryker, 1980; Thoits, 1992). In contrast, Marks and MacDermid (1996) question the inevitability of this hierarchical self-organization. They concede that some people invest more in some roles and give scant attention to others (as seen, for example, in workaholics' addiction to work). Nevertheless, many people may be more evenhanded in allocating their personal resources among their various roles, a phenomenon Marks and MacDermid termed role balance to signal this nonhierarchical option. Role balance is a cognifive-affective orientation, or "internal working model," reflecting the "tendency to become fully engaged in the performance of every role in one's total role system, to approach every typical role and role partner with an attitude of attentiveness and care" (p. 421).


Despite the popular interest in balancing roles, there is a surprising lack of research. Studies of the work-family interface have accumulated, but they tend to dwell on the interference of each domain with the other (Pleck, 1995). For example, early studies found that for men with the coronary-prone "type A' behavior pattern, jobs have a negative impact on home life and on wives' emotional well-being (Burke, Weir, & DuWors, 1980). Voydanoff (1988) looked both at job demands and at family demands as contributors to work-family conflict. More recent studies have offered a bidirectional model, focusing both on how work interferes with family and how family interferes with work (Frone, Russell, & Cooper, 1992; Frone, Yardley, & Markel, 1997). In all this research, however, the watchword is interference, and the prospect of balancing the different domains is left as an unexplored residual category. Balance becomes the absence of something negative rather than something positive that might be experienced in its own right.

Although this interference notion of the different role domains has gotten more attention, an enhancement perspective has also sought recognition (Pleck, 1995). …

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