catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

God's advice on work and family

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It’s nearly a month until our religious leaders offer us their Christmas criticism of shallowness and materialism, but Anglicare is getting in early to tick us off for sacrificing relationships to the pursuit of money. These days, however, proclamation that money is the root of all evil won’t do. Instead of sermons, they offer us surveys.

According to the survey, carried out by Edith Cowan University, the National Church Life Survey Research and Anglicare, workplace pressure appears to cool marital intimacy. Forty-five per cent of respondents reported that work always or often conflicted with their home life.

The report’s authors say its findings support church fears that the Federal Government’s new industrial laws will damage family life.

This survey result is roughly consistent with other polls on the same subject – though it puts a bit of spin on subjective perceptions of the work-family trade-off. For example, a Saulwick Poll in 2004 found in response to the statement that ‘the pressures of my job make it difficult to maintain a fully satisfying intimate relationship’ that only 7% agreed that this was the case ‘very often’, with another 10% agreeing that it was true ‘quite often’, with the 22% saying ‘sometimes’ taking us up to 39%, just 6 percentage points short of the NCLSR. The year before, the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes offered the proposition that ‘my hours of work interfere with my family and personal life’, with which 10% agreed strongly, and 30% agreed, again coming out at around 40% perceiving some conflict between work and relationships.

While these time-use conflicts cause some angst, there is little evidence that overall they are having much of a negative effect on relationships. The HILDA survey (pdf) is finding slightly higher satisfaction with relationships with partners and children among fathers who work longer hours, according to both the father’s self-report and the partner’s report. A 2001 article in Australian Social Monitor using the Australian component of the International Social Science Survey similarly found slightly higher satisfaction with marriage and children among men working long hours, though slightly less marital satsifaction for women working long hours. Data from the Australian Life Course Survey of 1996 (pdf) also found no negative link between work hours and relationship satisfaction, though for low-income men time stress was linked to lower life satisfaction. A recent article in the Journal of Sociology, also using HILDA data, found that people with bachelor degrees, who work longer-than-average hours, have a lower chance of experiencing a marriage breakdown than people with lesser qualifications.

Why does the evidence not accord with the intuition? One reason, I think, is that there is a big difference between wanting more time with the family and not having enough to time to maintain relationships. While 40% see work-family conflict, this is much larger number than the the 23.4% of workers putting in more than 50 hours a week, the usual definition of ‘long’ working hours. Indeed, when I cross-tabulated AuSSA results on perceptions of long hours and actual hours worked some people working well short of normal full-time hours nevertheless felt conflict. We also need to take into account that long hours are not necessarily occurring every week, though a paper by Mark Wooden also using HILDA data did find 54% of people working long hours in the first wave also working long hours in the third wave of data collection.

Another reason is that long hours are often associated with high income, which helps eliminate one common source of tension in relationships. It may also allow these families to outsource dreary chores, so that their actual together leisure time is not as far behind that of families with shorter working hours as we may first suppose.

People like Clive Hamilton with his Well-being Manifesto want to ban long hours. The less coercive Dr Andrew Cameron of Moore Theological College suggests that:

“They might also need to ask God for moral courage to resist more extreme workplace demands.”

But the evidence suggests that people manage without Clive’s or God’s help. Both HILDA and an earlier ABS survey find surprisingly high satisfaction with hours among those working long hours. This is a case in which the trade-offs are so individual that we cannot possibly arrive at any sensible rule, whether legal or religious. Over a life cycle, both work and relationships are very important. But only individuals can determine what time to give to each at any point in that life cycle.


Written by Admin

November 28, 2005 at 7:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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