Get access

What's in a Name? ‘Work and Family’ or ‘Work and Life’ Balance Policies in the UK since 1997 and the Implications for the Pursuit of Gender Equality


  • *

    The authors are grateful for support from ESRC grant number RES 225-25-2001.

Address for correspondence: Jane Lewis, Department of Social Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton St, London WC2A 2AE. Email:


Since 1997, Labour has developed a wide range of policies on childcare services, care leaves and flexible working hours. In 2000, the term ‘work-life balance’ was introduced and has been used by Government Departments and by the academic community with very little discussion of its meaning vis à vis the use of ‘family-friendly’ policies, or the promotion of ‘work and family balance’. We explore the introduction of the term work-life balance, the reasons for it, and its significance at the policy level, especially in terms of its implications for the pursuit of gender equality. We find that at the policy level, its use was more a matter of strategic framing than substantive change. Nevertheless, because of the UK Government's largely gender-neutral approach to the whole policy field, it is important to make explicit the tensions in the continuing use of the term work-life balance, particularly in relation to the achievement of gender equality.

Get access to the full text of this article