Gender Differences in Work-Family Guilt in Parents of Young Children


The transition to parenthood is a watershed moment for most parents, introducing the possibility of intra-individual and interpersonal growth or decline. Given the increasing number of dual-earner couples in the United States, new parents’ attitudes towards employment (as well as the ways in which they balance employment and personal demands) may have an impact on their overall well-being. Based on anecdotal accounts, guilt about the conflict between employment and family (termed work-family guilt) appears particularly pervasive among U.S. mothers of young children; specifically, mothers, but not fathers, express high levels of a subtype of work-family guilt, that pertains to the negative impact their work has on their families (termed work-interfering-with-family guilt). However, little research within psychology has explicitly examined this phenomenon, and to our knowledge, no quantitative study has investigated gender differences in work-family guilt among U.S. parents of young children. In a cross-sectional, correlational study involving 255 parents of toddlers from the greater Southern California area, we coded parents’ narrative responses to a series of open-ended questions regarding employment and family for the presence of work-family guilt and work-interfering-with-family guilt (in the form of guilt about the negative impact of employment on children). Mothers had significantly higher work-family guilt and work-interfering-with-family guilt relative to fathers. We discuss our findings in terms of theory on gender roles, as well as the questions they generate for future areas of investigation.

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Correspondence to Jessica L. Borelli.

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No external funding was used to support this project. Internal grants from Pomona College (including the Hahn Teaching with Technology grant) funded the work. Prior to data collection, we obtained approval from the Institutional Review Board at Pomona College. All participants provided informed consent prior to participating in the study.

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Borelli, J.L., Nelson, S.K., River, L.M. et al. Gender Differences in Work-Family Guilt in Parents of Young Children. Sex Roles 76, 356–368 (2017).

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  • Work-family guilt
  • Gender differences
  • Parenthood
  • Family work relationship
  • Employment status