Conflict between work and family life
If more women are doing paid work and they remain primarily responsible for family care and household chores, we may find that there has been an increase in the conflict between balancing work and family life. British Social Attitudes includes four questions that tap into people's perceptions of work-family conflict, by asking how often they have had four different experiences in the past three months. Two of these questions address the spillover from work to home:
I have come home from work too tired to do the chores which need to be done
It has been difficult for me to fulfil my family responsibilities because of the amount
of time I spent on my job
The other two questions look at how family responsibilities can make paid work difficult:
I have arrived at work too tired to function well because of the household work I had done
I have found it difficult to concentrate at work because of my family responsibilities
The responses of working people in couple relationships are presented in Table 5.8.
Again, the key message here is that there appears to be little change in work-life conflict, for either men or women, between 2002 and 2012. This reflects the fact that, over this period, there has been little change in women's labour market participation rates and in their division of labour within the home. In 2012, as in 2002, women are more likely than men to say that they come home from work regularly (weekly or several times a month) too tired to do the household chores (52 per cent of women and 40 per cent of men in 2012). They are also significantly less likely than men to say they have found it difficult to fulfil family responsibilities (20 per cent of women and 30 per cent of men in 2012). What is striking is that neither men nor women admit to family chores or family responsibilities getting in the way of their work. In the case of arriving at work too tired to function, in 2012 two thirds of men and women say this has never happened in the last three months, with a further one in five saying it has happened only once or twice. And, on the issue of whether family responsibilities have interfered with work concentration, half of men and women say this has never happened and a further three in ten in each group say it has only happened once or twice.
Thus there is a gap between people's perceptions of how work can interfere with family life, and how people report family life interferes with work. It could be that people are wary of admitting to underperforming at work, or it could be that they feel they must prioritise work over family life. What is missing from our data, are the people for whom the conflicts proved too much and who gave up their jobs. Thus, if anything these responses might underplay the extent to which jobs can cause difficulties for family life. However there is enough evidence of tensions between work and family life to be a cause for concern.
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- When this question was originally developed in 1984, it asked about "a husband" and "a wife" rather than "a man" and "a woman". This was replaced by a variant of the question using the latter terminology in 1994.
- In 2002 and later years, answer categories were framed with reference to the respondent - "always me", "usually me", "about equal", "usually spouse/partner" and "always spouse/partner". In 1994 and earlier years, response categories were framed with reference to the gender of the individual performing the specific task - "always the woman", "usually the woman", "equal or both", "usually the man" or "always the man". The data presented in Table 5.6 was re-classified for the later years, to reflect the format in which the question was asked in earlier years.
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