Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

In the Face of Conflict: Work-Life Conflict and Desired Work Hour Adjustments

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

In the Face of Conflict: Work-Life Conflict and Desired Work Hour Adjustments

Article excerpt

This study helps integrate the work-life and work hours literatures by examining competing predictions about the relationship between work-life conflict and the desire for paid work. Using data from the 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce (N = 2,178), I find that work-life conflict makes women want to decrease the number of hours they work whether the conflict originates at home or at work. Men only want to decrease their hours when work-life conflict originates at work, and some men facing frequent conflict actually want to increase their hours. I also find that having children does not increase the likelihood of wanting to work fewer hours but having a higher income does.

Key Words: gender, work hours, work-life conflict.

Over the past few decades, researchers have spent a great deal of time studying what happens when people combine paid work (hereafter abbreviated as work) with the responsibilities of personal or family life. They have found that although striving to satisfy the demands of work and life can improve psychological and physical health (Barnett, 1999), it can also involve considerable challenges. More specifically, many employees find that the demands of their work and personal or family lives are at least partially incompatible and thus cause some degree of work-family conflict or more generally work-life conflict (Barnett, 1998; Bond, Galinsky, & Swansberg, 1998).

We still know relatively little about how people react to work-life conflict or why they react in the ways they do. Researchers have made different predictions, for instance, regarding how people facing work-life conflict will want to change the number of hours they work. Some authors suggest that work-life conflict makes people want to reduce the number of hours they work (Clarkberg & Moen, 2001; Jacobs & Gerson, 2000). Other authors imply that work-life conflict encourages some people to flee family life and work even more hours (Hochschild, 1997; Kofodimos, 1990). Economic needs, social pressures, and the lure of job rewards can also make people facing work-life conflict not want to change the number of hours they work. It remains unclear which of these predictions is best supported by empirical evidence.

In part, this gap in our knowledge exists because the insights of the work-life and work hours literatures have not been well integrated. Many studies of preferred and actual hours, for instance, stress the importance of work-life conflict without actually measuring it (see, e.g., Clarkberg & Moen, 2001; Jacobs & Gerson, 2000; Reynolds, 2003). Studies of work-life conflict, in contrast, pay close attention to the measurement of work-life conflict but tend to overlook the distinction between preferred and actual hours of work (Barnett, 1998).

This article combines insights from the work-life and work hour literatures to examine competing predictions about work-life conflict and how it is related to the desire to increase, decrease, or maintain one's current work hours. It sheds new light on how people react to work-life conflict and on why people experiencing work-life conflict prefer to change their work hours in different ways. Using data from the 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW), I show that work-life conflict is associated with different preferences depending on the gender of the person experiencing it, the perceived source of the conflict, and the frequency of the conflict. By examining how desired changes in work hours are related to individual, family, and job characteristics, I also help identify some of the opposing forces that can make time allocation decisions so difficult.

EXPLAINING THE DESIRE FOR MORE OR FEWER HOURS OF WORK

Although the desire to increase or decrease one's work hours may be a response to work-life conflict, it may be a response to many other factors as well. Indeed, the determinants of actual and preferred work hours are so varied that no single theory encompasses them all (Golden, 1996). …

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