PRB Discuss Online: How Do Americans Balance Work and Family?

May 6, 2010 1 PM EST


Transcript of Questions and Answers


Michelle Sparkman Renz: What industries are you observing women juggling? Do you have information about the educational attainment of Women and Men and their balance? Specifically, MBAs or those with business degrees in the workforce? Is there any difference of “intensity of balance” so to speak?
Suzanne M. Bianchi: We have not looked at women in specific industries, though there is a beautifully written, insightful book on this topic by Mary Blair Loy, Competing Devotions (University of California Press) She interviews women CEOs – those who have left the workplace to rear children, those who remain in these demanding jobs. She argues that women are caught between workplaces that expect complete devotion to the job and an almost moral imperative these women feel to also be totally devoted to family and motherhood once they have children. Perhaps not surprisingly, she finds far higher levels of childlessness among those women CEOs who remain in demanding jobs.

John Migliaccio: What is the role and level of involvement of grandparents in work/life balance? Have they helped by taking up some of the need?
Suzanne M. Bianchi: Grandparents do help – especially with childcare when both parents work outside the home. They also are an important source of support for single parents, often having single mothers and grandchildren living in their home. And there has been an increase in grandparents who raise children when the parents of the children are unable to do so. If you want sources for this, see our chapter on “Grandparents” in Lynne Casper and Suzanne Bianchi. 2002. Continuity and Change in the American Family. Sage Publications.

Suzanne M. Bianchi: Much research in the U.S. shows that children are advantaged – economically, in terms of school achievement, and in other areas – when they live with two parents. However, establishing why this is the case – what the causal factors are or what the mechanisms are by which these better outcomes are achieved – remains a topic of much debate and ongoing research.

Sarah: I’ve read that parents now spend more time with our children than did parents 40 years ago. I have trouble reconciling that finding with the research of Arlie Russell Hochschild (The Time Bind), its deep resonance, and the pervasive feeling of business among working parents. Can you shed any light on this question?
Suzanne M. Bianchi: We had exactly your question and you might find of interest a recent article on this very topic: Melissa Milkie, Sara Raley and Suzanne Bianchi. “Taking on the Second Shift: Time Allocation and Time Pressure of U.S. Mothers and Fathers with Preschoolers.” Social Forces, Volume 88 (December 2009 issue). Hochschild made two types of claims in The Second Shift. One was about the division of labor between husbands and wives – the other about the subjective feelings of intense time pressures. We think she was right about the feelings of time pressure. In our own diary data collections, even though people are actually spending as much time or more with their children than in the 1960s, very high percentages still feel they do not have enough tiem for children, their spouse or themselves. These feelings of time pressure and shortages are not all that correlated with how much time they actually spend with their children.See also: Milkie, Mattingly, Nomaguchi, Bianchi & Robinson “The TIme Squeeze: parental Statuesa and Feelings About Time With Children.” Journal of Marriage and Family 66 (August 2004): 739-761.

Ashley Frost: I read recently that that even when both parents work, women still do 75% of household and childrearing duties. Is there any evidence that this persistent inequality may change in the future?
Suzanne M. Bianchi: In our time diary data, we find that married mothers average twice as many hours in childcare/housework as fathers but that fathers average more hours in the work place. When you add the hours of paid and unpaid work together, married mothers and fathers have similar total workloads – but as you note, they remain gender specialized with women doing more of the unpaid work of the family and fathers doing more of the paid work. We argue in our book that there are strong pressures that keep this in place – mothers, even when they go to work outside the home, feel strong pressures to be “good mothers” which means they are the ones to cut back on work hours to accommodate family demands. Men view being a “good dad” as bound up with economic providing for the family – which tends to keep their work hours long, reducing the time they have available in the home. We think this has changed toward more gender equality (or similarity) over the 1965-2000 period – but we do not have exactly equal allocations to paid and unpaid work on the part of mothers and fathers. And it seems unlikely that we will – at least any time soon. For our data, analysis and arguments, see Suzanne Bianchi, John Robison & Melissa Milkie. 2006 Changing Rhythms of American Family Life. NY: Russell Sage.

Epokor Michael Kudjoe: I thank ypu for this very question, for it is a very important one. As a young grow they have to learn from the experience of others so it is in the right direction that this question is asked and must be answered. Being in Ghana and see many complain and also families thorn apart because they are not able to compromise in the house due to work related issues i am happy that this question has been asked.
Suzanne M. Bianchi: You make an important point – much further work needs to be done on this topic in different settings and cultures. Comparative work will also help us better understand the situation in the United States.

Tom Pichard: The prevalent intra-day use of communication technologies and mediums is radically shifting the segmentation of the day into micro-moments that fuse in and out of work, personal and family modes – what are the dominant coping strategies to find balance in this modern mix?
Suzanne M. Bianchi: With technological change, the boundaries between work and family have become much more permeable. We find in our data an increase in multitasking – however, this may not be a very good coping strategy as respondents my find this strategy stressful. Many respondents report that they feel as if they are “always rushed” and “multitasking most of the time.” This is especially true of mothers, though these feelings run high for fathers as well.

Dr. Anima Sharma. New Delhi, India: Dear Bianchi,I am an Indian and I have never been to America but I have worked with quite a few Indians who are in America and Americans who visit India. Hence, my opinion may be biased or based on my limited knowledge bank. My observations say that …the younger population is more comfort loving. The proportion of the workoholics is reducing. You know, in India we consider that the concept of ‘weekends’ and ‘work when you work and play when you play’ are borrowed from western countries. Similarly the concepts like sabbatical, holidays and rejuvenationhave been more prevalent in the westernized offices in India. Seeing these I feel that Americans have a perfect balance between work and family. You know, the only problem is that when people become so dedicated to pleasure that instead … rejuvenation it becomes a religious activity for the people and the work gets affected. Hence, I feel that if the balance remains balanced then it is fine but if one things rides over the other then … the entire balance goes lopsided. Do you think I am right?
Suzanne M. Bianchi: I do not know the answer to your question but I think it raises an important point – which is, it will be important to see whether younger generations in the United States and elsewhere – those who have not yet reached the years of intense “work and family” responsibilities – adopt different attitudes, values and strategies for coping with work life and family life. Do they put less effort into careers? Do they delay or forego marriage and children? You suggest they may be more “comfort loving.” Research in the U.S. suggests that young adults, particularly those without a college education, struggle with finding good, stable jobs that will support a family.

Sanjay Mishra: [Is] it not needful to carry out … research … about the distribution of the total time of the Americans, and see if there is a huge/meagre imbalance of time between work and family ? Can a marriage be made a strong and functional institution rather than courtship?
Suzanne M. Bianchi: In our research we do look at total time allocation of Americans. The time diary method walks people through the day and they report all their activities. The “work/family” balance differs by gender: Mothers average 25 hours per week in paid work and 40 on family care. Fathers average 42 hours per week on paid work and 22 on family care. Total work loads of mothers and fathers are thus similar, but mothers’ hours are tipped toward family care and fathers’ hours toward paid work.

Aneel Shahzad: What are the other factors that influence this balance within the family institutions[?] [A]lthough the American society has achieved gender equity … gender inequity persists within the family organizations.
Suzanne M. Bianchi: Workplaces affect the family – American workers cannot always control the schedules they must work, nor the number of hours. Norms of childrearing – how much time and parental attention children need and which parent should do it – also affect the gender division of labor in the home, with implications for gender equity in the workplace. (See my answer to Ashley Frost’s question on this topic.)

shakilaelango: if both are working how did they look after their kids and spend time to [raise] them?
Suzanne M. Bianchi: American parents, even when they work outside the home, spend considerable time with children in their non-work hours. Working parents also use a mix of paid childcare and informal care from relatives to care for their children during work hours. Mothers also cut back their labor force participation when children are young – for example, we estimate that about 46% of married mothers work for pay and this rises to 73% for married mothers whose children are all over age 6 (all school age).And the “stay-at-home” mother has not disappeared in the U.S. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that in 24 percent of two parent families with children under 15, the mother was a full-time mother.

(SOURCE: Kreider, R. M. & Elliott, D.R. (2009). “America’s Families and Living Arrangements 2007.” Current Population Reports, P20-561. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.)

Leah Anderson: How does socioeconomic status influence the ability of parents to balance work and family demands? Do parents at different socioeconomic levels use different strategies for dealing with this? How much does government (federal and state) policy shape the options available to parents at different income/class levels?
Suzanne M. Bianchi: The work-family juggle is likely more difficult for families with less income because they cannot afford to outsource housework or purchase expensive child care and after school programs. Some argue that it may be parents just above the poverty line or in the working class – those in the middle – who have the most difficulty with work/family balance. They need both incomes, often have jobs with limited flexibility, and do not qualify publically supported for child care programs such as Head Start. The literature on shift work suggests that one way less affluent families balance care and work is for fathers and mothers to work different shifts so that they can cover more of the children’s care.

Susan Brower: I’m interested in the consequences for families as a larger share of parents’ time is spent working. Have you studied any outcomes related to this shift in time use? For example have you looked at any changes in child well-being, relationship quality, or any other outcome that can be linked to this trend? Thanks.
Suzanne M. Bianchi: “What are the outcomes?” is a very important question and I think we need to learn much more about this. Our data collection did not have child outcomes – we collected data on parents. Nor did we have measures of marital quality per se. What we did do was look at where time was disappearing. We found that married parents were spending less time together – both less time alone together and less time in total – now than in the past. Single mothers seemed to have less time to spend with friends and relatives. Working parents also had less time for civic (volunteer) activities and working mothers got less sleep and had less leisure than mothers who were not employed. This evidence is suggestive of some of the costs – at least in the short term – for parents with children.

Dr. Anima Sharma. New Delhi, India: Dear Bianchi,… My experiences say that in India [30-40 years ago] parents used to spend more time for the family and dealing with the family issues … But now, the nature of jobs and work conditions have changed drastically, hence now they are not able to keep the balance. … anomie, delinquent bahaviour, apathy on the one hand and on the other the rates and problems related to split family, single parenthood, divorce, relationships out of the wedlock etc. are the emerging issues in India. … sometimes we feel that this is the by product of modern ways of life and professionalism. My question is that since we follow the west most of time and see them as our role model … then is [it] not the responsibility of the Developed countries especially America to highlight the issues which contribute or hinder the balance between the work and family?
Suzanne M. Bianchi: India is a very interesting context because it is undergoing rapid social change. Some of the lessons learned in the U.S. may be relevant for India – and indeed, India is one of the countries where researchers are doing the kind of time diary data collection we have done for the U.S. This allows for the assessment of work and family balance in India. In the U.S., we have not solved the problems of balancing work with family – and indeed there is increased discussion and research on the types of workplace changes that might help parents juggle young children with jobs. An ongoing concern in the U.S. with our current solution is that women still drop out of the labor force or cut back on work to make sure children are well-cared for – which is a good thing, we want well-cared for children – but there is an economic cost to women in terms of future earnings and old age security when their labor force careers are intermittent. The challenge is to devise policy that both promotes adequate care of children (and the elderly) while not undermining the advances the U.S. hs made toward greater gender equality in the workplace.

J Kishore: Dear Suzanne M Bianchi, Due to globalization and modernization of Indian families same situation is growing as of US. How learning from American households other parts of the world can improve from adverse effects? At the same time local beneficial social values need to be understood and protected.
Suzanne M. Bianchi: Please see my answer to Dr Anima Sharma – it is about the interesting and unique Indian context and what the U.S. is still struggling with in terms of assisting parents with balancing work and family.

Leora Lawton: Background: I’ve been thinking for sometime that theoretically healthcare reform could (have?) ushered in greater feasibility for part-time work in a way that doesn’t penalize the employer with providing double benefits.

Question: Granted that people may need hours because of income, but could part-time/shared positions alleviate the conflict?
Suzanne M. Bianchi: I think the availability of part-time work is important. Research from the PEW Foundation shows that the percentage of mothers who say they want part-time work has increased. You make the interesting point that more universal health care would help make part-time work more attractive because the lack of benefits with this type of work is a drawback, particularly for those who are not tied to another worker (e.g., a spouse) who has family health care benefits.

Inger Brinck: What do you think are the most critical child care issues facing working parents? And, how do you see federal or local policy helping to resolve those challenges? Aside from government policy, what other strategies can advocates pursue to support a healthy work/family balance?
Suzanne M. Bianchi: I think parents want to feel that their children are safe and well-cared for when they (the parents) are not with them and they want opportunities for their children. Hence, they need good schools and safe neighborhoods – and these are things that governments have a large role in providing. They also need resources for “special children” – those with disabilities. Government has a role in this as well. Apart from government, I think anything that bolsters families – and extended families connectedness – can have beneficial outcomes for busy parents of young children. And parents – especially mothers but also fathers – want time when their children are young to parent. Workplace flexibility is tricky – because it does not always create more time – but some creative thinking about how employers can get what they need but how to also have employees get what they need to rear children – is important.

Bill: If I remember correctly (and I may not), time use data from the 1960s and 1970s indicated allocations of time to work and family by wives and husbands that were roughly similar across the U.S., the U.S.S.R., and some Scandinavian countries. These early data were collected principally by home economists, I believe. I’m wondering: what do international comparisons look like today among the industrialized countries? For example, are the Scandiavian countries more egalitarian in this respect than the U.S? Than southern Europe? Than Japan? Thanks for this very interesting discussion.
Suzanne M. Bianchi: In our work, we looked at trends in mothers’ and fathers’ time with children in a handful of developed countries (U.S., Australia, France, Canada, The Netherlands, Britain) and what we found was that the trends were similar (although the levels might be higher or lower in various countries). Let me try to explain. In all countries that we looked at (except France), mothers’ time doing child care was as high (or higher) currently than in the past and fathers’ time doing childcare had increased (except in France where the trend line was flat). What I mean about levels being different is this – in some countries, Australia for example, mothers are much more likely to work part time than U.S. mothers and so the number of hours they spend on child care tends to be higher. Researchers in Britain have harmonized many of the time use data sets across time and across countries and so there are now a number of new and interesting studies that compare countries in terms of time spent doing housework, time mother spend with children, fathers’ involvement in the home. It is a rich and growing literature!

Susan Jekielek: Can you speak to differences –or similiarities– in work/family balance issues for lower income versus middle or upper-income families? And implications from a policy perspective?
Suzanne M. Bianchi: Please see my answer to Leah Anderson for some thoughts on this issue. Low income families oven need more work – better jobs, better pay, more work hours while high income families are often in jobs they enjoy and that pay well but that come with long work hours that do not leave much time for family life.

Renata Kaczmarska: How do you perceive changes in the role of men in families over the last decades? Any research you could recommend focusing on that?
Suzanne M. Bianchi: I think men – at least married men – are doing more in the family and I would refer you to our book for the evidence and arguments. Bianchi, Suzanne M., John P. Robinson, and Melissa A. Milkie. 2006. Changing Rhythms of American Family Life. ASA Rose Series. New York: Russell Sage. At the same time, family instability has increased and so more men do not live with their children. We know less about these men’s involvement with their families – but I would refer you to the Fragile Families Study done at Princeton for the best recent evidence on this topic.

Renata Kaczmarska: Do you know what countries have best family policies? Like those relating to balancing family/work life?
Suzanne M. Bianchi: Almost all European countries have more generous paid family leave policies than the U.S. and better support for single parents (who are usually mothers). France has an extensive childcare and early childhood education program available to all and this facilitates parents’ employment. Some policies, however, have resulted in women being tracked into women’s work and hence the policy context is complex. A good source that reviews the context is J. Gornick and M. Meyers. 2003. Families that Work: Policies for Reconciling Parenthood and Employment. NY: Russell Sage.

Mary Kent: I’ve heard that relatively few men take full advantage of paternity leave they may have to care for a newborn baby, which seems to reinforce the idea that mothers are more responsible for childrearing. Is this changing as fathers (and their employers) accept a greater role for men in child care duties?
Suzanne M. Bianchi: A few countries have attempted to “enforce” father sharing of leave by requiring that a certain portion be taken by fathers – giving essentially a longer paid leave if fathers use some of it. This is a strong incentive. In the U.S. fathers take time around the birth of their children – but this is still often informally negotiated with employers. The U.S. only guarantees unpaid leave – under the Family and Medical Leave Act. A good resource on what various countries do is the work of Janet Gornick who directs the Luxembourg Income Study and is at the CUNY Graduate School.

Kevin Boyd: What behaviors are usually typified by those [children] who lack the appropriate level of guardianship or supervision?
Suzanne M. Bianchi: I am not a child develop expert, but obviously in the extreme, children who are not well-cared for face severe difficulties in life, even death in some cases. More to your point, there is a literature in child development and child psychology that focuses on “resiliency” and this is a particularly useful area of study because it focuses on how children succeed, even in resource-poor environments. You might google the work of Froma Walsh (University of Chicago).

For more information on this topic see:

Suzanne M. Bianchi, John P. Robinson, and Melissa A. Milkie, Changing Rhythms of American Family Life (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2006).

Suzanne M. Bianchi and Lynne M. Casper, “American Families,” Population Bulletin 55, no. 4 (2000).