Theoretically, we have attempted to challenge the work–family literature's existing conceptualization of family identity, by considering how care and career may both be encapsulated in individuals' view of their family roles. Care and career both influence the sense of meaning individual employees derive from being a family member and, ultimately, impact couple-level family-related decisions regarding family and work circumstances (Greenhaus & Powell, 2012). Furthermore, we proposed a framework of dual-earner couples that goes beyond constraint-based factors to account for meaningful individual differences, namely family identity (Greenhaus & Powell, 2012; Powell & Greenhaus, 2012). In the following sub-sections, we present ideas for a research agenda to more fully define care- and career-based family identities and to understand their societal-level implications. We also consider ways in which work and family research at the couple level of analysis, particularly using our updated dual-earner couple typology, could be expanded.
We believe our work follows suit with recent calls to discontinue the examination of work and family as separate spheres, particularly when many work decisions are realistically impacted by family factors (Greenhaus & Powell, 2012; Kossek et al., 2011). In this vein, family and work should not be viewed as a zero-sum game. Rather, the salience of one's family identity may actually drive behavior and motivation in the workplace. We as scholars must challenge our thinking about the different ways in which family identities are construed and how we capture these meanings in our research. Rather than simply assume that an employee who is involved in caregiving behavior identifies more with family than an employee who spends more time at the office, we should consider that career-focused activities might actually be helping the latter employee fulfill his or her role as an involved family member. Behaviors such as working long hours, taking new geographic assignments, and working toward promotions may all be ways in which men and women fulfill their perceived obligations to their families (Greenhaus & Powell, 2012).
To begin, future research should address construct domain development. In this paper, we suggest that care-based family identities are likely defined in terms of emotionally and physically tending to family members' needs and that career-based family identities are defined in terms of breadwinning and professional role modeling. Yet, the content domain of both construals of family identity is likely larger. For example, care-based family identity may be construed in ways such as being a protector, a leader, and/or a spiritual guide. Ultimately, such construct domain development should be addressed in scale development work.
Additionally, future research should more richly explore the multiple ways and processes by which individuals construe their family identity. In particular, insights into how different construals of family identity emerge (Aryee & Luk, 1996) and the impact of such identities on decision-making, at work and at home, are needed. Specifically, research should explore its formation and effects on work–family decisions from an emergent, quasi state-trait-based approach (Bielby, 1992). As we have acknowledged earlier, the work and family literature is robust in constraints-based explanations of work–family decisions, acknowledging that today's economic pressures and family demographics combine to explain an employee's work decisions—in a rather momentary, state-like fashion. From a trait-based perspective, however, it may be likely that care- and career-based family identities are formed in our earlier years, based upon parents' modeling of career achievement or perhaps parents' economic necessity. Cultural values and beliefs including differences in individualism/collectivism also likely play a critical role in the construction and maintenance of self-definitions of what it means to be a good family member (Yang et al., 2000). This early socialization could inform the care- and/or career-based family identities individuals develop upon adulthood and the decisions we negotiate with our partners. Hence, studies designed to uncover the additional incremental variance explained in family identity by rather stable values of care and/or career, beyond constraints-based behavior, would be helpful in mapping the emergence and development of individual family identity construals.
From the opposite causal direction, future research could also consider how engagement in particular behaviors and actions impacts shifts in partners' construals of their family identities. Drawing upon theories of symbolic structural interactionism (e.g., Stryker, 1980), action can inform identity. For example, do family-related work decisions such as taking caregiving leave foment care-based family identities? At the organizational context level, does working in a company that offers paid caregiving leave mean that employees, through taking leave, will actually strengthen the degree to which they define family identity in terms of care? Conversely, when care-based work–family policies like paid family leave are not available from an employer, employees may be motivated to make career-based decisions such as working overtime to pay for nannies or in-home nursing. Such decisions may amplify a career-based family identity. This is likely an emergent, multivariate decision involving individual-level (“How do I define who I am as a family member?”), couple-level (“What is my partner's construal of his or her family identity?”), organizational-level (“What policies are available?”), and even societal-level (“Will I be judged harshly by others if I work longer hours?”) contextual factors. Because of these various contributing factors and the need for employees to reflect back on when and why decisions were made, interviews may be the most appropriate research methodology to employ to untangle the strength and potential interactions of various contextual factors. In particular, qualitative in-depth interviews and possibly observations of employees (including those with and without children and at all life stages) could reveal the process by which family identities emerge in individuals and across couples, the different meanings and behaviors that are attached to such identities, and the process of negotiating work-based choices at the couple level.
Expanding on earlier discussions about contextual influences on FRWD (Greenhaus & Powell, 2012), societal-level values likely impact construals of one's family identity in terms of career, especially for women. Future research could examine lingering social sanctions of women, for example, by members of the previous generation or those with more conservative social values, for behavior enacted to reinforce career-based family identity construals. As an example, research might test whether women who primarily construe their family identity in terms of career (e.g., women in non-traditional or outsourced couple types) are viewed as less responsible or moral, as compared with women who enact care-based roles. Research by Cuddy, Fiske, and Glick (2004) found that women who were perceived to engage less in homemaking roles were seen by others as competent but also cold. Career-wise, perceptions of their competence were a boon, but being viewed as cold meant they were less likeable interpersonally. Furthermore, the overarching cultural values that are present within the society in which the couple type resides should not be ignored, as it likely determines the social sanctions that one or both partners may face. For example, are “outsourced” couples viewed more harshly in cultures high in femininity, where care is of the utmost concern (Hofstede, 1998; Hofstede & Bond, 1984)?
While such punitive judgments of career women have likely decreased over time, we suggest two specific research questions in this regard. First, we suggest context matters. It may be that when others who would judge harshly a woman with a strong career-based family identity know that, at the couple level, the male partner is attending to care-based family needs, social sanctions for these women may be less. That is, others' knowledge that someone is indeed “minding the ship” home-wise may mean that negative judgments are suppressed. Second, the just-world hypothesis (e.g., Lerner & Miller, 1978) tells us that people want to believe things are “getting better” for career women, and research has done a good job of documenting women's increased representation in certain formerly male-dominated jobs and industries, like insurance and banking (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013; Statistics Canada, 2010). But where systematic research is sorely needed is in how biases against career women have become subtle and perhaps more insidious (Meyerson & Fletcher, 2000). Do women experience a catch-22 when it comes to care and career? That is, when a male partner in a dual-earner couple takes primary responsibility for minding the home care-wise, as in the non-traditional couple type, are women sanctioned for their career focus at the expense of care? As for the other situation, where women's primary family identity involves care, research has illustrated that caregiving roles are a mismatch with women's perceived suitability for leadership roles (“think leader, think male”; Shein, 1973, 1975) (Hoobler, Wayne, & Lemmon, 2009). For women, there may be social and career sanctions for actions related to both care- and career-based family identities.
While we are not the first to call for a couple level of analysis in work–family research as a way of more realistically modeling family demographic contextual factors that in part determine employees' attitudes, stress and well-being, and work and nonwork decisions (cf. Cullen et al., 2009; Greenhaus & Powell, 2012), a main contribution of this manuscript is to understand family-related work decisions from a couple level of analysis in a way that moves scholars beyond traditional, gendered conceptualizations of family identities. In our framework, both men and women within dual-earner couples are acknowledged to (i) have family identities but also (ii) construe their family identities in ways that encompass behaviors related to career, care, or both. Our approach acknowledges the greater extent to which contemporary males espouse family roles as compared with males of previous generations. This should contribute to the breakdown of stereotypes for men who wish to use work–family policies that may have previously been socially sanctioned, such as caregiving leaves (Kroggel, 2004). For women, this typology may lessen the extent to which they are assumed to be primarily focused on caregiving roles. Because humans are cognitive misers, we often rely on shortcuts in processing information about one another, and traditional, gendered assumptions related to employees' ordering of work and family identities still situate women as more strongly committed to family versus work (cf. Hoobler et al., 2009). Our framework cautions managers not to default to gendered assumptions about who will provide family care but instead to look toward individual-level identities within dual-earner couples.
Returning to our research agenda, a critical extension of our couple-level framework is to test the link between care- and/or career-based family identity construals, in the various couple combinations, and actual family-related work decisions. Quantitative studies may use cluster analysis to group dual-earner couples into the five couple types we have specified here, to explore the predictive value of these types in explaining women's and men's within-couple FRWD. We also suggest that since our framework is static in nature, there is merit in exploring a more dynamic evolution of this typology. That is, returning to our earlier ideas on identity emergence, as couples' family constraints (Mainiero & Sullivan, 2005) and perhaps identities change over time, do their emphases on career and care shift? Moreover, do couples move between couple types? For example, when children leave the nest, does less time spent in domestic helping mean one or both partners' care-based family identities will shift to career-based family identities, for example, saving a nest egg for retirement income? Or, as another example, do situations in which a family member becomes terminally ill enhance care-based family identities?
Our couples-based framework could also be used in future research as a contextual qualifier of what we as scholars think we know about women's career choices. One example lies in testing the rather sensational, popular press idea that women's values and identities do not match with those of the contemporary business world—the idea that there is an “opt-out revolution” afoot, where women are eschewing the business world and top management jobs (Belkin, 2003). Instead of testing whether this phenomenon is happening by simply measuring women's values and competing priorities, couple-level family identities may be a better predictor of, for example, women's and men's managerial aspirations, organizational turnover, job and industry vocational choices, and other career-focused, family-related work decisions.
It should be noted that in delineating our couple types, we earlier referred to couples' identities as either (i) symmetrical, where both partners share the same care and/or career-based construal of their family identities, or (ii) asymmetrical, where one partner's primary family identity construal stands in contrast to the other's primary family identity construal. This discussion of symmetry versus asymmetry in couple types bears mentioning in regard to the work–family balancing act, harmony in the relationship, and individual well-being. As far as asymmetry, early work–family research acknowledged that the traditional perspective on making dual-earner households work was that one partner's role needed to fit with the other's in a compensatory fashion. This “divide and conquer” approach to dual-earner couplehood meant one partner was primarily devoted to career in order to provide the monetary and other resources necessary to run the home, while the other partner was working but making choices with a central focus on caring for the home and its occupants, such as downshifting to work part-time or reduced hours. Yogev and Brett (1985) highlighted that the “divide and conquer,” that is, asymmetric couple, would experience marital harmony because the clear division between partners' roles and responsibilities served as a guiding beacon for decision- and sense-making. As far as symmetrical couples (e.g., both high in care or both high in career), we offer that the key component to navigating the work–family balancing act is that partners must know their own and their partner's family identity. While in both symmetrical and asymmetrical couple types, FRWD should be made with individual partners' identity construals in mind, rather than, for example, based on gender expectations or earning potential, this is especially true for symmetrical couples. In “family first” couples, successful partnerships may result when partners consciously alternate between who takes family leave or who works part-time. In sum, our framework of couples-level identity construals should be considered alongside earlier research on the division of labor in dual-earner couples: It is not only who shoulders the behavioral burden of care and/or career that makes for successful partnerships and individual well-being, as earlier work may suggest, but whether these behaviors fit with both partners' family identity needs that is important.
Another relevant direction for future research is to test “identity versus constraint” considerations. In the front end of the manuscript, we documented the more commonly offered influences for work–family decisions, for example, family demographic, economic, and social value factors—that is, constraints (Greenhaus & Powell, 2012). To these constraining factors, this manuscript has argued for the influence of care- and career-based family identities on family-related work decisions. As our anonymous reviewers suggested, these constraining factors undoubtedly shape family-related decisions and also identity formation, for example, via the symbolic structural interactionism arguments advanced earlier. Research is needed to model the host of constraining influences on work–family decisions, while also including family identity to examine the incremental variance in decisions explained by this individual-level variable. In this way, the relative predictive power of family identity can be tested alongside the more commonly proffered, broader, contextual constraints. The idea is that some family-related work decisions must be made to satisfy, for example, immediate, economic necessity, yet others are driven by deeper, individual-level values and needs.
Returning to our self-verification theory predictions, future research studies should also investigate how men and women behaviorally and psychologically cope when they are not able to meet the perceived self-expectations of a salient family role. Such research may warrant special attention focused on the unique needs of low-wage workers and the barriers they face in terms of gaining access to benefits and managing the work–family interface (Glass & Finley, 2002; Lambert, 1999). For example, low-income women in family-first or traditional couple structures may strongly construe their family identity in terms of care but may have to spend greater time at work (vs. home) because of financial constraints and, as such, may not be able to fulfill perceived role expectations (Crompton & Lyonette, 2008). Or, when employees who construe their family role in terms of care do not have access to paid caregiving leaves, they may shift identities (i.e., to a more career-based focus), advocate for change, or switch employers in pursuit of the work–family policies they desire.