Mothers' Work-to-Family Strain in Single and Couple Parent Families: The Role of Job Characteristics and Supports

By Baxter, Jennifer; Alexander, Michael | Australian Journal of Social Issues, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Mothers' Work-to-Family Strain in Single and Couple Parent Families: The Role of Job Characteristics and Supports


Baxter, Jennifer, Alexander, Michael, Australian Journal of Social Issues


There is considerable evidence that for parents, aspects of work 'spill over' into family life, sometimes in a positive way (work-family gains) and other times in a negative way (work-family strains). This analysis focuses on some negative aspects of these work-to-family spillover effects for single and couple mothers.

While there has been increased focus on the work-to-family strain of mothers, given the increased participation of women in employment, less is known about single mothers and their experience of work-to-family strain. We might expect that single parents would have more difficulty in combining work and family responsibilities, given that they do not have the support of a partner to assist with childrearing and other household responsibilities.

This paper explores the relationships between work-to-family strain of employed mothers and a number of factors, broadly grouped as demographic, job characteristics and supports. Amongst these factors, we consider how single motherhood makes a difference. We also consider whether there are certain factors that are particularly pertinent to single mothers, either making the work-family balance significantly worse or better than it is for otherwise similar couple-parent mothers.

Background

Overview

By its very nature, the research surrounding work-to-family gains and strains recognises that the interplay between the work and home environments is crucial to the understanding of individual and family wellbeing. The concept of 'work-to-family spillover' recognises that the demands and resources--emotional and structural--of one domain can flow into and affect a person's fulfilment of a role in another domain. This 'flow' or spillover can be positive or negative, depending on whether it enhances or deters a person's fulfilment in the other role. This paper focuses on mothers' experiences of negative spillover from the work domain to the family domain.

Negative measures of work-to-family spillover capture the degree to which parents believe that family time is compromised by work responsibilities, and can include how work affects the amount or quality of family time. Various theoretical models have been developed to demonstrate the nature of work-to-family spillover and the possible antecedents of this type of spillover (for example, Barnett, 1998; Frone, Russell, & Cooper, 1992; Hill, 2005; Voydanoff, 2005a), although differences across studies in the manner in which the concept has been operationalised has no doubt contributed to the inconsistencies in some of the published results (Keene & Reynolds, 2005). The antecedents of work-to-family spillover are likely to relate to the demands and resources that exist in both the work domain and the family domain. Job characteristics, however, are usually found to be the more important in explaining work-to-family spill0ver than family factors (Keene & Reynolds, 2005), although both have been found to play a part.

In the work environment, factors associated with more work-to-family spillover include longer hours of employment, non-standard work schedules (such as evening work, weekend work, shiftwork, or excessive overtime) (Barnett, 1998; Mennino, Rubin, & Brayfield, 2005; Roehling, Jarvis, & Swope, 2005), the quality, complexity and skill-level of jobs, as well as the degree of flexibility and schedule control a worker has over their tasks (Keene & Reynolds, 2005; Mennino, Rubin, & Brayfield, 2005; Roehling, Jarvis, & Swope, 2005). Higher quality jobs are often associated with higher status occupations, and therefore higher status occupations may be associated with less work-to-family spillover. However, higher status jobs have also been linked to higher stress, which is likely to increase work-to-family spillover (Roehling, Jarvis, & Swope, 2005).

The nature of the employment contract has also been shown to be a factor. …

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