Two-Incomers Want Less, Housewives More

January 22, 1999

ANAHEIM, CALIF. -- Although many of America's dual-income couples wish they could work less, they are working more hours than ever. Why? Because today's workplace offers outdated "all or nothing" jobs, says a Cornell University sociologist who studies the time-squeeze of married couples.

Only about 10 percent of couples prefer the traditional breadwinner/full-time housewife family model, yet 25 percent of couples end up fitting this mold. The reason is largely because wives can't find the part-time opportunities they would like, according to Marin Clarkberg, assistant professor of sociology at Cornell. On the other hand, while about only 14 percent of couples say they prefer both spouses to work full-time, twice that number actually do.

Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting today (Friday, Jan. 22), Clarkberg noted: "One-third of married women want to work less. But many of the 25 percent of married women who are not employed want to work more. They stay out of the labor force, however, because of the all-or-nothing nature of the workplace.

"Women who do enter the job market are shoe-horned into men's templates of forty-plus- hour jobs, which works against women and cheats family life."

Not surprisingly, Clarkberg found that twice as many men as women are content with how much they work. "Although about two-fifths of men work more than they would prefer, the adjustment is a small one, and men tend to relatively painlessly slip into the standard role of full-time employee," she said. "Women, on the other hand, tend to want a more middling number of work hours and are caught between a rock and a hard place and must choose either to stay home full-time or work the very long hours that many jobs demand."

The researcher also found that one in six couples wish both partners could work part-time, yet only one in 50 couples actually do.

Clarkberg analyzed work-hour preferences and work-hour behavior of a representative sample of 4,554 married couples, including retired couples, surveyed first in 1987-88 and then again in 1993-94 for the National Study of Families and Households. She sought to determine how much married couples work and whether they succeed in moving toward their ideal work schedule or not.

Among her other findings:

-- Only 8 percent of husbands surveyed worked part-time.

-- Women in full-time, dual-earner marriages were most likely to say they worked too many hours. Women working part-time, or full-time working women with husbands working part-time, were much less likely to feel squeezed for time.

-- Men showed different patterns. Husbands whose wives did not work were more likely than men in dual-earner marriages to report they worked more than they preferred. Indeed, men in full-time, dual-earner marriages were among the least likely to feel overworked.

-- Women, but not men, with young children felt time-squeezed. It was the mothers of young children, not the fathers, who said they would prefer to work fewer hours.

The study was supported, in part, by the Cornell Employment and Family Careers Institute, an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation center for the study of working families.
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.

Marin Clarkberg's home page: pages/mec30/

Cornell Department of Sociology:

Cornell University

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