Overworked Couples Have Worst Life Quality

January 22, 1999

Working Couples Burdened By Time At Work Say Their Lives Are Beset By Stress, Conflict And Overload, Cornell Sociologist Reports

ANAHEIM, CALIF. -- Marriage partners who feel burdened by their hours at work report the lowest quality of life among working couples, according to a new Cornell University study.

These couples tend to experience more conflict between work and personal life, more stress, and more feelings of overload as well as lack of control and mastery of their lives than other working couples. And those partners with very demanding jobs are, by far, at the highest risk for low life quality, according to Cornell sociologist Phyllis Moen. "The fact is that in contemporary working-couple households, at least one spouse typically puts in long hours (more than 45 hours a week)," said Moen.

Presenting her findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting today (Jan. 22), Moen said: "Married working couples who are launching young families are the ones who tend to work the longest hours and, therefore, report the lowest quality of life among working couples." This suggests, she said, that it's not only parenting but also job responsibilities and expectations "that make these years of career building especially trying."

On the other hand, marriage partners who both work full-time (but not longer) report the highest quality of life. Part-time work by one or both spouses is not linked to higher life quality, possibly because of the nature of part-time work that is available, she said.

Moen is director of the Cornell Employment and Family Careers Institute, which is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. She spoke during a panel session called "The Time Squeeze: Work/Family Strategies in the Next Century," which she organized. She also is the Ferris Family Professor of Life Course Studies at Cornell.

Moen worked with Yan Yu, assistant professor of anthropology/sociology at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Mich., to analyze data on 1,679 working couples at eight life stages from the 1992 National Study of the Changing Workforce. She sought to evaluate the work arrangements of working couples to determine which partners reaped the highest quality of life.

"What matters most for life quality, we've found, is not only work hours, but also having a supportive supervisor," Moen said.

Surprisingly, marriages in which the husband is a professional and the working wife is not, also rated high in the life-quality area, Moen said.

"This should not be surprising, given that the workplace as well as society is geared for the traditional breadwinner model, that is, having only one spouse -- typically the husband -- heavily invested in their jobs. This outdated structure pigeonholes workers as if they were without family responsibilities or other non-work personal involvements," she added.

Among Moen's other findings:

-- Working couples with children at home are most likely to have one spouse -- typically the husband -- working more than 45 hours a week, while the other spouse works full time.

-- Marriages in which both partners are professionals or managers report the highest conflict between work and personal life, stress and overload, especially the female partner.

-- Men working in professional positions or as managers report more stress, conflict and burnout than non-professional men.

-- Both men and women who are launching and establishing their careers, whether they have children or not, report high levels of stress, overload and conflict between work and personal life.

The study was supported, in part, by the Sloan foundation and the National Institute on Aging.
The Cornell researcher mentioned in this release can be contacted through the Cornell News Service until January 19. During the AAAS meeting, the researcher can be reached through David Brand, Cornell Senior Science Editor, at the Anaheim Hilton Hotel, 714-750-4321, Fax 714-740-4460, or in the AAAS Newsroom, Anaheim Hilton, Fourth Floor.

Related World Wide Web sites: The following sites provide additional information on this news release. Some might not be part of the Cornell University community, and Cornell has no control over their content or availability.

Phyllis Moen's home pagehttp://www.human.cornel l.edu/hd/faculty/moen.html

Cornell University College of Human Ecology:http://www.human.cornell.edu/hd/

Cornell Employment and Family Careers Institute: http://www.human.cornell.e du/blcc/cci/cci.html

The Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center: http://www.human.cornell.edu/blcc/

Cornell University

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