Balancing Work and Family: Perspectives of Australian Dual-Earner Parents
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In contemporary Australian workplaces there now exists many employed parents who are endeavouring to balance participation between the two central life domains of work and family. For parents living in dual-earner families, simultaneously occupying work and family roles can be difficult and has been associated with outcomes such as physical and psychological health problems and organisational behaviour deficits. In contrast, parents satisfied with their combination of work and family roles have shown positive organisational attitudes and increased psychological health. The purpose of this research was to investigate the work and family role accumulation experiences of parents living in dual-earner couple relationships, and to explore the strategies and processes used by these parents to combine their work and family roles. This research was conducted using a two-phase cross-sectional methodology, incorporating qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis methods. In the first instance, 32 mothers and fathers from intact dual-earner couples employed in lower-level or blue-collar jobs were interviewed at length regarding their work and family role accumulation experiences. The perceptions offered by these parents illustrated the difficulties and tensions they encountered in combining their roles as well as the rewards and benefits they associated with their lifestyle choice. In finding that dual-earner parents perceived both conflict and enhancement to be associated with work and family role accumulation, these results appeared to be paradoxically explained by the two competing theories of role occupancy, the role scarcity (Goode, 1960) and role expansion hypotheses (Sieber, 1974). However, further scrutiny of the data revealed that the role scarcity and role expansion hypotheses alone were not sufficient for explaining the choices that parents made about how they distributed their time and commitment between their dual-domain responsibilities. The parents' interviews contained numerous descriptions of behaviours and thoughts that represented female care provision and male income provision. Accordingly, it was interpreted that the linkages that these dual-earner parents made between their work and family roles were entrenched within traditional gender role identities and values. This signified that these parents either valued and identified with traditional gender parental roles, or were at least willing to recognise and conform to customary gender parental role behaviour, adjusting their participation and commitment to each primary life domain accordingly. The implication of this finding was that role identity value and commitment was an underlying concept linking the conflict and enhancement outcomes. Drawing upon this grounded theoretical direction, a quantitative questionnaire was distributed to parents employed in a range of occupations. The responses from 286 dual-earner parents to measures of work and parental role identity, and their perception of work and family role occupancy demands (time and stressors), were cluster analysed. The analysis recovered a stable three-cluster typology, suggesting that dual-earner parents are not a homogeneous category of people and that different groups of parents construct their occupancy of work and family roles in substantially different ways. The parents clustered into the first group (compromisers) appeared to have reached a somewhat compromised balance between their dominant parental role identity and the demands associated with their occupation of work and family roles, reporting a moderate amount of work/family conflict and enhancement. In contrast, the parents in the second cluster group (jugglers) were described as finding it difficult to adequately balance high work and family demands and a dominant work role identity, reporting high conflict and low enhancement outcomes. The parents in the third cluster group (accommodators) were described as having achieved an accommodated balance between the meaning they derived from their work and family roles and the demands of their work and family roles, reporting significantly stronger levels of work/family enhancement and lower levels of work/family conflict in comparison with the parents in the other two groups. Further analysis of the similarities and differences between the parents in the three cluster groups revealed that significant differences occurred by group on the dependent variable systems of family environment, work and family affect, workplace and personal resources, and work and family social support. The parents clustered into the compromisers and accommodators groups, who appeared to have reached congruency between their salient role identity and role occupancy demands, demonstrated significantly stronger levels of family cohesion, higher levels of family and childcare satisfaction, and lower rates of emotional exhaustion in comparison with the parents in the jugglers group. These parents also reported access to a larger social support network, the perception of greater levels of social support, and were more satisfied with their social support network in comparison with the parents in the jugglers group. It is suggested that these findings offer support for the proposition by Kofodimos (1993) that employed parents can achieve a balanced work/family lifestyle by devoting an appropriate amount of time and energy into their work and family roles to compliment their individual needs and values. In summary, the results of this research suggest that it is fundamental for future conceptual models of 'work and family' to incorporate the measurement of an individual's personal role identity and value as well as the distributional dimension of role accumulation demands. This thesis has thus contributed to the theoretical development of work and family role accumulation research, provided an insight into coping strategies and support processes used by dual-earner parents to balance their dual-domain responsibilities, and extended the demographic and occupational scope of the work and family literature.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Applied Psychology (Health)
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