My First Week with the Work-Family Conlfict

This week was my first week of research with the Summer 2014 Team. Since I missed all of the spring training for the team, this first week was busy learning the ropes and deciding on a research topic to explore during my three weeks with the project. All in all, it was a busy week getting acquainted with the team and forums, choosing a topic, and visiting the Chicago History Museum.

After hearing the research topics of other members of the team, I knew that I wanted to focus on the family aspect of adulthood.  I had no direction other than that until I began to dive into articles about the family and began to find recurring themes in articles from different news websites. The most compelling theme was the work-family conflict, and this is where I ultimately decided to focus my research.

The work-family conflict is a phenomenon that has appeared more and more as women (especially mothers) have entered the work force. Through my research, I have come to understand it as role conflict that comes from the two different roles of employee and parent  interfering with one another. Though many researchers claim that this is a conflict that faces both parents in dual-income homes, the research I have been finding is leaning towards the suggestion that this is more of a woman’s issue than a man’s, and based on all the research I have done on the topic thus far, I agree with this idea.

The first bit of experience I had with this topic was in the research center at the Chicago History Museum. I had the pleasure of looking through four months of Ann Landers’s advice column from 1958 and 1959. The information found in these columns with regard to working mothers was priceless. It was incredible to see how the concept of a working mother was approached in a time where housewives were the norm and compare it to more modern struggles with the work and family domains. In the later 1950′s, women were encouraged to stay home because they belonged there. Landers repeatedly advised women to quit their jobs. In more modern texts, though the pattern persists, it is not the norm to suggest this to mothers or fathers.

Along with the Ann Landers column, I began reading The Second Shift, by Arlie Hochschild. Though this book was written in 1989 based on data collected throughout the 1980′s, the information still is very relevant. I’m only about halfway through the book now, but so far it has been very telling about individual families and how the work-family conflict is perceived and experienced differently based on gender, income, and family type.

As a kind of supplement to the Hochschild book, I read three journal articles of experiments done to measure the work-family conflict. So far, they support all of what Hochschild records in her research and present two main theories about where the work-family conflict comes from and how intensely the roles conflict is based on these studies. The two theories I have come across over and over are the rational explanation of work-family conflict, which suggests that role strain is positively correlated to time spent in each role, and gender model explanation of work-family conflict, which suggests that gender directly affects perceived role strain. In the studies I have read so far, neither have been disproved, which, to me, suggests that perhaps both are accurate, and, instead of being viewed as separate explanations, they should be combined to create one explanation of the root of how much role strain is experienced (or perceived to be experienced) by any one individual.

For this coming week, I plan to try and explore this topic more to see if someone has put these two theories together. I also plan to finish The Second Shift in the next couple days, so I can move on to books that look at the work-family conflict from a more gender oriented perspective.