National Post

Friday, January 22, 1999

Women want less work, more family time: studies
'All-or-nothing': Job market hurts marriages, many say

Corbin Andrews
National Post

Two research studies from Cornell University suggest that many career women would prefer to work part-time and would be happier in a more traditional marriage.

The new findings, which indicate a shift away from the popular notion that it is ideal for women to have both career and family, reveal that married couples who work full-time are the least fulfilled and most likely to experience marital problems.

Many women feel cheated by an "all-or-nothing" job market in which they must work too many hours or none at all, one study says.

"One third of married women want to work less. But many of the 25% of married women who are not employed want to work more," said Marin Clarkberg, an assistant professor of sociology at Cornell and one of the researchers. "They stay out of the labour force, however, because of the all-or-nothing nature of the workplace."

Men, on the other hand, are more content in full-time positions, she said.

"Although about two-fifths of men work more than they would prefer, the adjustment is a small one, and men tend to relatively painlessly slip into the standard role of full-time employee," Dr. Clarkberg said.

"Women, on the other hand, tend to want a more middling number of work hours and are caught between a rock and a hard place, and must choose either to stay at home full-time or work the very long hours that many jobs demand."

Dr. Clarkberg analysed the work schedule preferences of a representative sample of 4554 married couples, including newlyweds and retirees. The couples were interviewed by researchers at the Families and Work Institute during 1987-88 and then again in 1993-94.

Her research found that most women would prefer to work part-time, yet they choose full employment because part-time work does not afford them the same job opportunities.The reason, said Dr. Clarkberg, is that women who enter the work force are expected to conform to the standard single-wage-earner model -- a model that is outdated and "works against women and cheats family life."

A second Cornell University study shows that marriages in which both spouses work 45 hours or more per week are the unhappiest and most troubled, while marriages in which both spouses work a moderate number of hours are the happiest. Young couples starting new families seem to suffer the most.

Phyllis Moen, a Cornell University sociologist and author of the study, said marriage partners who are in demanding professional jobs feel a conflict between their careers and their family. The result is stress and a feelings of inadequacy. However, in marriages with only one partner working full-time and the other working part-time, both partners felt a significant decrease in stress.

More surprising is that the study reveals that in marriages where only the male is in a professional career, both partners rated their quality of life as very high.

Dr. Moen's study also highlights the fact that the modern workplace is not geared toward the best interests of families. In working couples, at least one of the spouses -- usually the male -- is likely to work more than 45 hours per week regardless of whether or not the other spouse works full-time.

"This outdated structure pigeonholes workers as if they were without family responsibilities or other non-work personal involvements," said Dr. Moen.

Dr. Moen analysed a survey of 1679 working couples, collected by researchers at the The Families and Work Institute in New York City, during their National Study of the Changing Workforce, released in 1992. The couples were surveyed at eight different life stages.

Dr. Kerry Daly of the University of Guelph's Centre for Families, Work and Well-Being said the majority of research confirms that many people feel conflicts between work and personal life, but being overworked is only one part of the equation.

"I think we want more things now than people did in the 1950s. Wages aren't in keeping with inflation, but I think there is also a blurry line between need and want. For example, is a TV a need or a want?"

Dr. Daly said companies do seem to be responding, but the conflicts do not always arise from the need to care for children. Family emergency leave, for example, is becoming increasingly important as more baby-boomers are having to cope with ageing, care-dependent parents, Dr. Daly said.

Related Sites

Vanier Institute of the Family
Promoting the well-being of Canada's families.

Child & Family Canada
A clearinghouse of family-related sites.

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