‘Live to Work’ or ‘Work to Live’? A Qualitative Study of Gender and Work–life Balance among Men and Women in Mid-life


*Carol Emslie, Medical Research Council Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, 4 Lilybank Gardens, Glasgow, G12 8RZ, UK, e-mail: C.Emslie@sphsu.mrc.ac.uk


Many contemporary studies of ‘work–life balance’ either ignore gender or take it for granted. We conducted semi-structured interviews with men and women in mid-life (aged 50 to 52 years) in order to compare their experiences of work–life balance. Our data suggest that gender remains embedded in the ways that respondents negotiate home and work life. The women discussed their current problems juggling a variety of roles (despite having no young children at home), while men confined their discussion of such conflicts to the past, when their children were young. However, diversity among men (some of whom ‘worked to live’ while others ‘lived to work’) and women (some of whom constructed themselves in relation to their families, while others positioned themselves as ‘independent women’) was apparent, as were some commonalities between men and women (both men and women constructed themselves as ‘pragmatic workers’). We suggest ways in which gender-neutral theories of work–life balance may be extended.