Managers find it hard to care

July 23, 2001

Managers find it far more difficult to juggle a successful career with caring responsibilities than professional workers such as doctors. A new ESRC-funded cross-national study of bankers and doctors in Britain, France and Norway points to the need for further policies to help employees of both sexes achieve a satisfactory work/life balance.

Professor Rosemary Crompton, a researcher from City University, London, believes that both Equal Opportunities Policies and 'affirmative action' policies are helping women achieve equality in the workplace. "Our study shows that we might now usefully shift the focus away from 'women' as such and instead address the broader issue of how caring responsibilities might be combined with employment," she argues.

Achieving a work/life balance is harder for managers than professional workers even in countries such as Norway that are well known for their 'family-friendly' policies. This study shows that many women bankers, if they had children at all, limited themselves to one only. In contrast, women doctors had more children (65 per cent of women doctors had two or more children compared to 37 per cent of women bankers). Moreover, the male doctors surveyed also had more children than male bankers.

"All bankers, male and female, emphasised the difficulty of achieving individual success alongside substantial caring responsibilities - even in 'family friendly' Norway," Dr Crompton says. Of the small number of men interviewed who had assumed major caring responsibilities for their children, all reported that their careers had taken second place to their family life.

"Clearly the general argument relating to the possibility of flexibly combining professional employment with family life applies to men, as well as women," suggests Professor Crompton. "And perhaps the major contrast in debates relating to gender and careers should not be between masculine and feminine career paths, but rather between 'carer' and 'non-carer' careerists and how to combine a career with caring."

The difference highlighted by the study between the experience of doctors and managers is due to the nature of professional qualifications. "Whereas professional qualifications bestow a 'licence to practice' which can be used flexibly over employment and family lives, managerial careers are subject to organisational constraints that hinder such flexibility," she explains.

Doctors, then, who have substantial occupational power can devise their own ways of combining employment with family life. But employees even at the middle to higher levels of the occupational structure in market-driven jobs such as banking, find it more difficult. "As managers of both sexes face similar difficulties and since society's caring needs are unlikely to be met simply by the re-domestication of women, then policymakers need to address the issue of how caring can be combined with employment," she advises.

One possible policy initiative would be to give both men and women the option of working part-time as a right if they have caring responsibilities, and not leave the decision to an employer's discretion. The lesson from Norway is that 'family-friendly' policies must force private companies into action. "What we see even in Norway is that family friendly benefits are very well taken up in the state sector, but not in the highly competitive atmosphere of private companies. What we need is policies which regulate the behaviour of private companies," she concludes.
For further information, contact Professor Rosemary Crompton Department of Sociology, City University, London. Tel: 020-7477-8507 Email:

Or, contact Lilian El-Doufani or Lesley Lilley in ESRC External Relations. Tel: 017-93-413-032 or 413-119.


1. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It has a track record of providing high-quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and government. The ESRC invests around £46 million every year in social science research. At any time, its range of funding schemes may be supporting 2,000 researchers within academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences, thereby nurturing the researchers of tomorrow. The ESRC website address is

2. REGARD is the ESRC's bibliographic database accessible via the World Wide Web. It provides a key source of information on ESRC social science research awards and all associated publications and products. The website can be found at

Economic & Social Research Council

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