From Dr. Jane's Notebook
Managing Your Dual-Career Family
The challenge to succeed both at home and at work represents a big change that has
taken place in our society over the past three decades. Statistics show that in 1970, 30%
of children under the age of six had mothers working outside the home. In 1988, that
figure had risen to 57%. It is currently estimated that 66% of women in families with
children under 18, work outside the home, and that figure is expected to rise to 80% by
the year 2000. Now, more than ever, it is important to consider the impact of work on
marital satisfaction and childrearing.
Marital relationships are affected both positively and negatively by having two adults
in the provider role. On the positive side:
- There is greater economic security associated with having two sources of income.
Husbands who are the sole breadwinners have been found to be more susceptible to
depression. With another income to rely on, they worry less.
- Women with higher incomes and more education describe less marital conflict in their
homes. Women are also more satisfied in marriages where the husband has a good education.
These are more excellent reasons to pursue that degree...
- Researchers who study "family adaptation" report that when wives work more
hours, their husbands tend to be more involved in child care responsibilities, which is
good for both kids and dads!
- On the negative side, working so hard often results in less companionship, less
husband-wife contact due to working different hours, less communication, less sexual
satisfaction, and more stress.
For couples who are interested in the research findings, the following suggestions are
- Division of Household Labor. Fairness in the sharing of household labor has been
shown to be related to the marital satisfaction of wives. Although husbands are not as
concerned about the fairness of sharing these responsibilities, their participation in
these roles leads to their increased happiness as well. There is evidence that women who
work full-time outside the home, also work full-time in the home; while this is not true
of most husbands. The idea that women spend more time on family work and childcare is an
area of growing concern, which necessitates husbands' rethinking their responsibilities at
- Attitudes of those who work. Problems often arise when a wife's career status is
greater than her husband's. This in itself is not so much a problem unless the wife is
perceived as competitive with her husband. Husbands and wives who compete with one another
both lose out when it comes to marital happiness.
Marital satisfaction is affected by "negative mood spillover" from the job
and lack of interpersonal suppport. Researchers who have studied men with "Type
A" personalities found that the quality of achievement-striving (or ambition) is
positive in marriage; but the quality of irritability (and impatience) is associated with
proneness to divorce.
- Effects of children. The difficulty of combining marriage and career is further
complicated by the presence of children in the home. Tension is especially common when
children are under the age of 13. Husbands reported more tension and less marital
happiness when they had greater numbers of children and when the kids were younger. This
is another reason why an "understanding workplace" for families is very
important, especially when children are young.
- Employers can help. Studies show that dual-career couples with children
experience work-family conflicts, which affect their performance at home and on the job.
Researchers have found that greater independence at work and control of one's work
schedule reduce these conflicts. As such, employers who are concerned about the welfare of
employees and their families, might reduce employee stress by offering flex-time, more
part-time employment opportunities, and support for employees who need to take family
It is interesting to note that women are more inclined to take time in accordance with
federal Family Leave Act guidelines; whereas husbands who take time off from work are more
inclined to take sick time or vacation time when necessary. Men often feel
unsupported in the workplace for taking family leave, so they don't call it that.
However, in the long run, if men do not take advantage of the need for family leave time,
employers may increasingly doubt the necessity for men to have this benefit.
- Things you can do as a couple. There is evidence that "debriefing
sessions" or conversations about work, after work, are very important to couples.
These conversations allow spouses to share their frustrations and successes from the day's
work and provide interpersonal support for each other. Both husbands and wives confirm the
value of these debriefing conversations and say that it is the quality of these talks, and
not the quantity of time spent talking, which is the crucial feature.
Yet another feature of employment which has been investigated is the effect of sleep
schedules for spouses. The term, "mismatched circadium rhythm" refers to the
problem of day people and night people, or spouses who work on different
shifts. Couples who are mismatched in their sleep schedules often experience more marital
conflict, fewer shared activities, less conversation, less sexual intercourse and less
marital adjustment. To cope with this situation, couples who work different schedules must
make special efforts to plan their time together.
As our world and our lifestyles continue to change, we must continually rethink the
work-family balancing act. In addition to concerns about our economic health, we must also
be concerned about the health of our family lives and the health of our marriages, as we
make these important decisions. It certainly is a lot to think about!
ęCopyright, 1996, 1999, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
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Last Updated February 27, 1999 by Gary M. Grandon,