Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 26, Issue 6, pp 1734–1745 | Cite as

Bringing Work Home: Gender and Parenting Correlates of Work-Family Guilt among Parents of Toddlers

  • Jessica L. BorelliEmail author
  • S. Katherine Nelson-Coffey
  • Laura M. River
  • Sarah A. Birken
  • Corinne Moss-Racusin
Original Paper


Anecdotal evidence abounds suggesting that as compared to fathers, mothers report greater guilt regarding the negative impact of work on family (WIF-guilt), yet shockingly few quantitative studies have evaluated gender differences or correlates of WIF-guilt. In five studies, we provide an in-depth exploration of parents’ feelings of guilt regarding perceived negative impacts on their children that arise from addressing work over familial responsibilities. We accomplish the following: (1) examine the validity of a novel self-report questionnaire of WIF-guilt (Work-Interfering-With-Family Guilt Scale [WIFGS]), (2) assess gender differences in WIF-guilt in parents of young children (ages 1–3), as well as whether these differences are moderated by WIF-conflict and work demand (number of hours worked), and (3) examine whether higher WIF-guilt predicts more permissive parenting. WIFGS scores were predictably associated with related psychological constructs. Mothers reported significantly higher levels of WIF-guilt than fathers. These effects were enhanced among mothers with high WIF-conflict and a high number of working hours. Consistent with anecdotal accounts and theory, WIF-guilt was associated with higher parenting permissiveness. Results provide directions for additional research on parents’ emotional experiences.


Work-family guilt Work-family conflict Parenting Toddlers Emotion 


Author Contributions

J.B. designed the study, conducted the analyses, and wrote the paper; S.K.N. designed the study, contributed to analyses and writing; L.R. designed the study, executed the study, contributed to analyses and writing; S.B. helped with study design, collaborated with writing; C.M.R. provided guidance regarding study design and writing.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study prior to the commencement of their participation.

Supplementary material

10826_2017_693_MOESM1_ESM.docx (79 kb)
Supplementary Information


  1. Arnold, D. S., O’Leary, S. G., Wolff, L. S., & Acker, M. M. (1993). The parenting scale: A measure of dysfunctional parenting in discipline situations. Psychological Assessment, 5(2), 137–144. doi: 10.1037//1040-3590.5.2.137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aycan, Z., & Eskin, M. (2005). Relative contributions of childcare, spousal support, and organizational support in reducing work-family conflict for men and women: The case of Turkey. Sex Roles, 53(7–8), 453–471. doi: 10.1007/s11199-00507134-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baumeister, R. F., Stillwell, A. M., & Heatherton, T. F. (1994). Guilt: An interpersonal approach. Psychological Bulletin, 115(2), 243–267. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.115.2.243.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Benetti-McQuoid, J., & Bursik, K. (2005). Individual differences in experiences of and responses to guilt and shame: Examining the lenses of gender and gender role. Sex Roles, 53(1–2), 133–142. doi: 10.1007/s11199-005-4287-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bianchi, S. M., Robinson, J. P., & Milkie, M. A. (2006). Changing rhythms of American family life. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  6. Borelli, J.L., Burkhart, M., Rasmussen, H.F., Brody, R., & Sbarra, D.A. (2017). Secure base scripts explain the association between attachment avoidance and emotion-related constructs in parents of young children. Infant Mental Health Journal. doi: 10.1002/imhj.21632.
  7. Borelli, J. L., Nelson, S. K., River, L. M., Birken, S. A., & Moss-Racusin, C. (2017). Gender differences in work-family guilt in parents of young children. Sex Roles, 76(5), 356–368. doi: 10.1007/s11199-016-0579-0.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Borelli, J. L., Nelson-Coffey, S. K., & River, L. M. (2014a). The work-interfering-with-family guilt scale. Claremont, CA: Pomona College. Unpublished document.Google Scholar
  9. Borelli, J. L., Nelson, S. K., & River, L. M. (2014b). Pomona work and family assessment. Claremont, CA: Pomona College. Unpublished document.Google Scholar
  10. Buhrmester, M., Kwang, T., & Gosling, S. D. (2011). Amazon’s mechanical turk a new source of inexpensive, yet high-quality, data? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(1), 3–5. doi: 10.1177/1745691610393980.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Casler, K., Bickel, L., & Hackett, E. (2013). Separate but equal? A comparison of participants and data gathered via Amazon’s MTurk, social media, and face-to-face behavioral testing. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(6), 2156–2160. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2013.05.009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cohen, T. R., Panter, A. T., & Turan, N. (2013). Predicting counterproductive work behavior from guilt proneness. Journal of Business Ethics, 114(1), 45–53. doi: 10.1007/s10551-012-1326-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cohen, T. R., Wolf, S. T., Panter, A. T., & Insko, C. A. (2011). Introducing the GASP scale: A new measure of guilt and shame proneness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(5), 947–966. doi: 10.1037/a0022641.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Efthim, P. W., Kenny, M. E., & Mahalik, J. R. (2001). Gender role stress in relation to shame, guilt, and externalization. Journal of Counseling and Development, 79(4), 430–438. doi: 10.1002/j.1556-6676.2001.tb01990.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fraley, R. C., Waller, N. G., & Brennan, K. A. (2000). An item response theory analysis of self-report measures of adult attachment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(2), 350–365. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.78.2.350.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Frone, M. R., Yardley, J. K., & Markel, K. S. (1997). Developing and testing an integrative model of the work-family interface. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 50(2), 145–167. doi: 10.1006/jvbe.1996.1577.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Good, J. J., & Sanchez, D. T. (2010). Doing gender for different reasons: Why gender norm conformity positively and negatively predicts self-esteem. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 34(2), 203–214. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.2010.01562.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Greenhaus, J. H., & Beutell, N. J. (1985). Sources of conflict between work and family roles. Academy of Management Review, 10(1), 76–88. doi: 10.5465/AMR.1985.4277352.Google Scholar
  19. Guerrero-Witt, M., & Wood, W. (2010). Self-regulation of gendered behavior in everyday life. Sex Roles, 62(9–10), 635–646. doi: 10.1007/s11199-010-9761-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hayes, A. F. (2012). PROCESS: A versatile computational tool for observed variable mediation, moderation, and conditional process modeling [White paper]. Retrieved from
  21. Hayghe, H. (1990). Family members in the work force. Monthly Labor Review, 113(3), 14–19.Google Scholar
  22. Hochschild, A. R., & Machung, A. (1989). The second shift: Working parents and the revolution at home. New York, NY: Viking.Google Scholar
  23. Jones, J. D., Cassidy, J., & Shaver, P. R. (2015). Parents’ self-reported attachment styles: A review of links with parenting behaviors, emotions, and cognitions Personality and Social Psychology Review, 19(1), 44–76. doi: 10.1177/1088868314541858.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Kim-Prieto, C., Diener, E., Tamir, M., Scollon, C., & Diener, M. (2005). Integrating the diverse definitions of happiness: A time-sequential framework of subjective well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6(3), 261–300. doi: 10.1007/s10902-005-7226-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kroenke, K., & Spitzer, R. L. (2002). The PHQ-9: A new depression diagnostic and severity measure. Psychiatric Annals, 32(9), 509–515. doi: 10.3928/0048-5713-20020901-06.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Livingston, B. A., & Judge, T. A. (2008). Emotional responses to work-family conflict: An examination of gender role orientation among working men and women. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93(1), 207–216. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.93.1.207.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Lopez, F. G., Gover, M. R., Leskela, J., Sauer, E. M., Schirmer, L., & Wyssmann, J. (1997). Attachment styles, shame, guilt, and collaborative problem‐solving orientations. Personal Relationships, 4(2), 187–199. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-6811.1997.tb00138.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Martin, A., Rief, W., Klaiberg, A., & Braehler, E. (2006). Validity of the brief patient health questionnaire mood scale (PHQ-9) in the general population. General Hospital Psychiatry, 28(1), 71–77. doi: 10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2005.07.003.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Martínez, P., Carrasco, M. J., Aza, G., Blanco, A., & Espinar, I. (2011). Family gender role and guilt in spanish dual-earner families. Sex Roles, 65(11–12), 813–826. doi: 10.1007/s11199-011-0031-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mickelson, K. D., Chong, A., & Don, B. (2013). To thine own self be true: Impact of gender role and attitude mismatch on new mothers’ mental health. In J. Marich (Ed.). Psychology of women: diverse perspectives from the modern world (pp. 1–16). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers.Google Scholar
  31. Milkie, M. A., Nomaguchi, K. M., & Denny, K. E. (2015). Does the amount of time mothers spend with children or adolescents matter? Journal of Marriage and Family, 77(2), 355–372. doi: 10.1111/jomf.12170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Milkie, M. A., & Peltola, P. (1999). Playing all the roles: Gender and the work-family balancing Act. Journal of Marriage and Family, 61(2), 476–490. doi: 10.2307/353763.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Nelson, S. K., Layous, K., Cole, S. W., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2017). Are fathers (but not mothers) happier than their childless peers? Gender moderates the association between parenthood, psychological need satisfaction, and stress. Manuscript under review.Google Scholar
  34. Netemeyer, R. G., Boles, J. S., & McMurrian, R. (1996). Development and validation of work–family conflict and family–work conflict scales. Journal of Applied Psychology, 81(4), 400–410. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.81.4.400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Nomaguchi, K. M., Milkie, M. A., & Bianchi, S. M. (2005). Time strains and psychological well-being do dual-earner mothers and fathers differ? Journal of Family Issues, 26(6), 756–792. doi: 10.1177/0192513X05277524.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Open Science Collaboration. (2015). Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science. Science, 349(6251), aac4716–aac4716. doi: 10.1126/science.aac4716.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pennebaker, J. W., Francis, M. E., & Booth, R. J. (2001). Linguistic inquiry and word count (LIWC): LIWC2001. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  38. Querido, J. G., Warner, T. D., & Eyberg, S. M. (2002). Parenting styles and child behavior in African American families of preschool children. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 31(2), 272–277. doi: 10.1207/153744202753604548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rosenthal, R. (1995). Writing meta-analytic reviews. Psychological Bulletin, 118(2), 183–192. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.118.2.183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Rosenthal, R., & Rosnow, R. L. (2008). Essentials of behavioral research: Methods and data analysis. 3rd edn. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  41. Sasaki, T., Hazen, N. L., & Swann, W. J. (2010). The supermom trap: Do involved dads erode moms’ self-competence? Personal Relationships, 17(1), 71–79. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-6811.2010.01253.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Shapiro, L. J., & Stewart, S. E. (2011). Pathological guilt: A persistent yet overlooked treatment factor in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, 23(1), 63–70.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Sibley, C. G., Fischer, R., & Liu, J. H. (2005). Reliability and validity of the revised experiences in close relationships (ECR-R) self-report measure of adult romantic attachment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31(11), 1524–1536. doi: 10.1177/0146167205276865.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Spitzer, R. L., Kroenke, K., Williams, J. B., & Löwe, B. (2006). A brief measure for assessing generalized anxiety disorder: The GAD-7. Archives of Internal Medicine, 166(10), 1092–1097. doi: 10.1001/archinte.166.10.1092.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Tangney, J. P. (2003). Self-relevant emotions. In M. R. Leary, J. P. Tangney (Eds.), Handbook of self and identity (pp. 384–400). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  46. Watson, D., & Clark, L.A. (1994). The PANAS-X: Manual for the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule-Expanded Form. Unpublished manuscript, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jessica L. Borelli
    • 1
    Email author
  • S. Katherine Nelson-Coffey
    • 2
  • Laura M. River
    • 1
  • Sarah A. Birken
    • 3
  • Corinne Moss-Racusin
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Psychology and Social BehaviorUniversity of California, IrvineIrvineUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologySewanee: The University of the SouthSewaneeUSA
  3. 3.Department of Health Policy and ManagementUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologySkidmore CollegeSaratoga SpringsUSA

Personalised recommendations