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Keywords:

  • Gender roles;
  • work–family interface;
  • culture;
  • generational and socioeconomic factors

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Generational Factors and Work–Family Interface
  4. International and Cultural Influences on Work–Family Interface
  5. Interaction of Gender and Culture
  6. Practice Implications
  7. References

Multiple factors influence the ways in which men and women combine work and family roles. Career counselors and other career development professionals must be cognizant of the cultural shifts in gender roles and the unique perspectives of younger generations regarding work–family interface. Workplace characteristics, economic trends, and personal values converge to influence decisions related to career, family, and other life roles. Much of the existing literature addressing work–family interface has been conducted in the United States and may not generalize to international populations. In this conceptual article, the authors examine current empirical knowledge and culturally sensitive frameworks for understanding work–family interface across countries and cultures. The authors discuss implications and recommendations for practice based on an integrated conceptualization of the literature.

Contextual factors can profoundly influence career development and work–family interface. Lent, Brown, and Hackett (2000) asserted that contextual influences to career development could be both objectively defined and open to individual interpretation. They encouraged career development theorists to consider both the objective characteristics of the environment and individuals’ perceptions of their environment. Lent and colleagues also discussed how both distal or background contextual factors and proximal or contemporary factors should be considered. In our article, we examine work–family interface within the context of gender roles, cultural background, current economic conditions, workplace environment, and generational status. We also discuss contextual perceptions and values, such as gender egalitarianism and humane orientation. We believe that Lent et al.'s theory of career development can be applied to the combination and interface of both work and family roles. This is consistent with Schultheiss's (2007) relational approach to career development, which describes the interaction between career and other life roles within a larger societal context. In other words, the work role cannot be fully understood in isolation; rather, it is important to consider the interrelatedness of roles. Gender roles, too, must be considered in an interrelated manner.

When women began occupying a greater share of the workforce, researchers focused on how women were managing work and family roles and virtually ignored how men's roles were also changing (Spiker-Miller & Kees, 1995). However, both men and women are concerned with effectively combining work and family roles (Perrone, Wright, & Jackson, 2009). For example, Barnett, Brennan, and Marshall (1994) studied 180 men and women in dual-earner couples in the United States who were employed full time. They found that men in their sample valued their parenting role as much as the women in their sample. Barnett and colleagues also took into account occupational prestige, salary, and household income. Kwon and Roy (2007) conducted a qualitative study with 19 working-class fathers in South Korea who ranged in age from 28 to 48 and had at least one child under the age of 12. Their interviews revealed that most Korean fathers considered their family role to be central to their identity. The authors asserted that it has become more culturally and socially acceptable for Korean fathers to be involved in their children's lives than was traditional for Korean fathers in the past. Work and family roles are in transition, and generational differences can be observed.

Generational Factors and Work–Family Interface

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Generational Factors and Work–Family Interface
  4. International and Cultural Influences on Work–Family Interface
  5. Interaction of Gender and Culture
  6. Practice Implications
  7. References

Generation Y

For Generation Y, born between 1980 and 2000 and also known as millennials, the boundary between work and other life roles may be fluid, permeable, or nonexistent. They may enjoy greater flexibility at their workplace, but may also be expected to be available around the clock throughout the week, including on evenings and weekends. Advances in communication technology have helped shape this workplace trend (e.g., cell phones, e-mail, text messaging), along with increased geographic mobility. There is significant empirical evidence for the younger generation's shift in values, goals, and expectations for balancing work and family roles. For example, on the basis of interviews conducted with 120 women and men between the ages of 18 and 32, Gerson (2010) found that most women and men desired to avoid the extremes of spending too much time either at work or at home. Gender differences were present as women reported more concerns regarding family obligations undermining work prospects, whereas men reported greater concern that work obligations would interfere with family time (Gerson, 2010). Both reported the desire to strike an equitable balance between life roles. Furthermore, young men and women seem to be redefining what qualities are desirable in a long-term partner. Gerson found that many women described an ideal male partner as one who would be active in caretaking and many men described their ideal female partner as one who would achieve financial and career success. These relationship patterns seem to accompany the desire to combine life roles in ways that do not fit into traditional gender stereotypes (Gerson, 2010).

Generational and Cultural Factors

When comparing generations across two cultures, Murphy, Gordon, and Anderson (2004) discovered cross-cultural generational similarities and differences between individuals from the United States and Japan. For example, values related to family security, health/happiness, honesty, and responsibility were among the top five values across all the generations in both cultures. Both cultural groups had self-respect among their top five values for individuals over the age of 40, but neither cultural group had self-respect among the top five values for individuals between the ages of 18 and 25. Individuals ages 31–39 from both countries ranked the value of loyalty in the top five; however, the other generations did not. In comparing cross-cultural differences, Murphy et al. (2004) found that individuals from the United States placed higher values on a comfortable life, family security, freedom, salvation, and self-respect than did individuals from Japan, who highly valued an exciting life, a sense of accomplishment, a world at peace, a world of beauty, health/happiness, pleasure, true friendship, and wisdom.

Comparisons Across Generations and Over Time

Further examining generational differences, Beutell and Wittig-Berman (2008) used a U.S. national sample (N = 3,504) in 2002 to examine work–family conflict and levels of satisfaction among three generations: Xers (age < 38), boomers (ages 38–56), and matures (age 57 and up). For all three generations, mental health and job pressure were the strongest predictors of work–family conflict. Additionally, the authors found that the mature generation had higher levels of satisfaction in the domains of job, family, marriage, and life than did the other two generations studied. Boomers reported higher life and job satisfaction than did Xers, but Xers reported higher marital satisfaction (Beutell & Wittig-Berman, 2008).

Generational differences were also investigated by Wray-Lake, Syvertsen, Briddell, Osgood, and Flanagan (2011) across a 30-year period by analyzing data collected from a sample of U.S. high school seniors (n = 3,000) each year from 1976 to 2005 to examine the meaning of work among participants. Results suggested that the importance of job security had slightly decreased for adolescents in the 1990s and early 2000s as compared to adolescents in the late 1970s and 1980s. During the 30-year period, adolescents reported decreased intrinsic work values (e.g., acquiring useful skills, seeing the results of one's work, having a job that is interesting), consistent extrinsic work values (e.g., status, respect, advancement, earnings), and increased value of work that allows time for leisure. Gender differences were apparent in the trends, with men reporting higher levels of extrinsic work values and women reporting higher levels of intrinsic work values (Wray-Lake et al., 2011). In addition to generational factors, cultural and international differences must be considered.

International and Cultural Influences on Work–Family Interface

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Generational Factors and Work–Family Interface
  4. International and Cultural Influences on Work–Family Interface
  5. Interaction of Gender and Culture
  6. Practice Implications
  7. References

Much of the existing work–family research has been conducted within the United States. Powell, Francesco, and Ling (2009) offered a helpful culture-sensitive theoretical framework for understanding work–family interface, which included four cultural dimensions: (a) individualism versus collectivism, (b) humane orientation, (c) specificity versus diffusion, and (d) gender egalitarianism. We have applied their framework in reviewing the literature to further understand how each of the four cultural dimensions is related to work–family interface.

Individualism Versus Collectivism

Individualism versus collectivism compares the types of relationships societies value, with individualistic cultures valuing independence and collectivistic cultures valuing interdependence. Cheung and Halpern (2010) studied women from Hong Kong, China, and the United States and found no differences between collectivist and individualistic cultures. The authors attributed their null finding to the world becoming more accepting of nontraditional gender roles in work and family. Yang (2005) compared work–family conflict for Chinese and U.S. workers. The two cultures were similar in that women from both cultures reported more work–family conflict than did men; however, Chinese participants reported more work interference with family than did U.S. participants. Spector and colleagues (2007) sampled managers (N = 5,270) from 20 countries and found that individualistic Anglo countries (i.e., the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand) had a stronger association between work–family conflict, job satisfaction, and turnover intentions than did more collectivistic countries (i.e., those within Asia, East Europe, and Latin America). They concluded that individuals from individualistic cultures would be more negatively affected by work–family conflict than would those from collectivistic cultures.

Humane Orientation

Humane orientation describes the degree to which a society values fairness, generosity, altruism, and kindness regarding the social support and welfare of others (Powell et al., 2009). One example of the humane orientation of a society is the family-related policies implemented in places of employment. Mauno, Kinnunen, and Pyykko (2005) studied Finnish workers and found that participants who were employed at family-friendly workplaces experienced less work–family conflict and psychological distress than did those employed in workplaces where family-friendly policies were not in place. Lu and colleagues (2010) studied Taiwanese and British workers and found that for both cultural groups, work–family conflict increased with increased work and family demands and decreased with increased work- and family-related resources. The researchers also found that British participants reported more work constraints and demands, whereas Taiwanese participants reported more work- and family-related resources. In a study that included 15 countries, Masuda et al. (2012) found that managers working for organizations in Anglo countries reported more flexible work arrangements, including flextime, telecommuting, and compressed workweeks, than did individuals from Asian and Latin American countries. Managers with more flextime reported greater job satisfaction and less work–family conflict.

Specificity Versus Diffusion

Specificity versus diffusion refers to the level at which social constructs are viewed. For instance, countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, and Switzerland are more specific, meaning they divide constructs into separate segments. Therefore, work–family roles may be viewed as independent from one another (Powell et al., 2009). Countries that are more diffuse, including China, Venezuela, and Spain, view work–family roles as less compartmentalized and more integrated. Cheung and Halpern's (2010) study on workers from Hong Kong, China, and the United States revealed that across cultures, role integration was significantly related to successful work–family balance. This supports the hypothesis of Powell et al. (2009) that diffuse cultures, as compared to specific cultures, would enjoy stronger relationships and greater work-to-family and family-to-work enrichment.

Gender Egalitarianism

Gender egalitarianism refers to a society's minimization of differences between gender roles and its promotion of gender equality (Powell et al., 2009). Westman (2005) found that differences in the societal role of gender between cultures influenced crossover stress. Crossover stress was defined as stress from one spouse affecting the other. Westman pointed out the following as factors that mediate the effects of culture on gender and gender on the crossover process: individualistic and collectivistic cultures, feminine and masculine cultures, common stressors like finances or some variable that would bring stress to both partners, and empathy between spouses. Peus and Traut-Mattausch (2008) compared German and American women's perception of their ability to balance work and family roles. The researchers found that German women reported greater problems with work–family conflict than did American women. This may be because of the cultural differences between gender roles and gender equality; German cultural attitudes were negative toward working mothers, and there appeared to be greater gender egalitarianism for U.S. participants.

Interaction of Gender and Culture

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Generational Factors and Work–Family Interface
  4. International and Cultural Influences on Work–Family Interface
  5. Interaction of Gender and Culture
  6. Practice Implications
  7. References

In a collaborative international study, researchers surveyed 3,397 participants from the following 18 countries: Australia, Brazil, Belgium, China, Colombia, Estonia, Hong Kong, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Romania, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States (Spector et al., 2005). In this study, participants from Taiwan and Hong Kong reported the highest levels of work–family conflict, whereas participants from the United Kingdom and Australia reported the lowest levels of work–family conflict. Participants from Colombia and Spain reported working the greatest number of hours per week (M = 52.7 and M = 52.3, respectively), and participants from the Ukraine reported working the lowest number of hours per week (M = 40.0). Participants from Portugal and Mexico had the greatest number of children, and participants from the United States and Hong Kong had the fewest number of children.

Participants completed self-report surveys measuring job satisfaction, mental well-being, and physical well-being. In terms of overall well-being (including self-ratings of both mental and physical well-being), participants from Mexico, Sweden, and the United States reported the highest levels of well-being, and participants from the United Kingdom and Hong Kong reported the lowest levels of well-being. A correlation between work hours and work–family conflict was significant only for participants from the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia. A correlation between the number of children and work–family pressure was negatively related for participants from Hong Kong and positively related for participants from Australia, the United States, Romania, and Sweden. These findings illustrate the many potential differences that can be found across cultures.

However, even across vastly different cultures, striking similarities have been found regarding gender roles. For example, the cross-cultural applicability of a model of work–family conflict and work satisfaction (Frone, Russell, & Cooper, 1992) was tested with workers from 48 different countries (Hill, Yang, Hawkins, & Ferris, 2004). The researchers found that work–family conflict was higher for women than for men across all cultures and work–family interface was related to job satisfaction for both genders and all cultures. Similarly, Innstrand, Langballe, Falkum, Espnes, and Aasland (2009) studied workers from eight different occupational groups in Norway, including lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers, clergy, bus drivers, and information technology workers (N = 3,313), and found that women spent more time participating in family activities and had greater work–family conflict than did men. Mortazavi, Pedhiwala, Shafiro, and Hammer (2009) studied workers from the United States (n = 192), Ukraine (n = 130), and Iran (n = 154) and found that women from all three countries reported more stress at home than did men, and men from all three countries reported more stress at work than did women.

Practice Implications

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Generational Factors and Work–Family Interface
  4. International and Cultural Influences on Work–Family Interface
  5. Interaction of Gender and Culture
  6. Practice Implications
  7. References

Given the generational shifts in career and life values (Beutell & Wittig-Berman, 2008; Wray-Lake et al., 2011), it is worthwhile for career counselors or career development practitioners to explore values, expectations, and resources with clients to clarify immediate and distant goals for work and family roles. Multiple factors influence how individuals manage their time and energy, so keeping an open, creative mind will be essential for working with clients of all ages and cultural backgrounds. An exploration of what clients value about various roles could provide insight into what specific aspects may bring them balance and satisfaction. For example, it could be helpful to ask clients about their expectations for themselves and their partners within each life role, and to inquire about clients’ sense of purpose and satisfaction with their lifestyle.

Regardless of generational status, the strongest predictors of work–family conflict are derived from mental health and job pressure (Beutell & Wittig-Berman, 2008). Therefore, career development practitioners should continue to monitor their clients’ mental health and pressure from their work roles, which aligns with the importance of considering career issues in the context of personal counseling (Robitschek & DeBell, 2002). Additionally, the need to assess individuals’ values from different generations may also be important for career development practitioners. However, values related to family security, health/happiness, honesty, and responsibility were universal across generations (Murphy et al., 2004), which may offer a good starting point for practitioners to discuss their clients’ values related to work and family.

The appropriateness of including members of clients’ social support systems during career counseling sessions could be considered from both an individual and a systemic perspective. Hartung, Fouad, Leong, and Hardin (2010) suggested using person-centered vocational interventions with people from individualistic cultures and group-centered interventions for people from collectivistic cultures. Spector et al. (2007) noted that organizations in collectivist countries may provide support for care and economic support for older parents, whereas organizations in individualistic countries may focus on child care resources. Accordingly, career development practitioners could help clients investigate available resources.

In addition, clients’ cultural backgrounds and upbringing are essential to consider throughout the career counseling process. The effects of work–family conflict may be experienced more negatively for clients from individualistic cultures than for those from collectivistic cultures (Spector et al., 2007). Furthermore, countries such as China, Venezuela, and Spain view work–family roles as more integrated, whereas the United Kingdom, Australia, and Switzerland tend to view work–family roles as more separate from one another (Powell et al., 2009). Thus, taking into account various cultural differences may offer a more complete understanding of how work–family conflict is experienced and viewed for clients, which may help guide career development practitioners with their treatment and utilization of more specific interventions that are culturally appropriate.

At the organizational level, career development practitioners should advocate for family-friendly work policy implementations. Hill et al. (2004) suggested reducing job-related travel by methods such as video conferencing to reduce work–family conflict and also concluded that job flexibility (e.g., location, timing of work) reduces work–family conflict for both men and women across different countries. However, career development practitioners should keep in mind that individuals from Anglo countries tend to report more flexible work arrangements than do people working for organizations within Asian and Latin American countries (Masuda et al., 2012). Organizational change is not always possible, and depending on an individual's cultural background, practitioners must consider cultural differences when advocating for their client. Additionally, to help guide career counseling practice, researchers should continue to conduct studies in this area using more culturally and internationally diverse samples to provide a better understanding of the similarities and differences in work–family interface across cultures.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Generational Factors and Work–Family Interface
  4. International and Cultural Influences on Work–Family Interface
  5. Interaction of Gender and Culture
  6. Practice Implications
  7. References
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