Is Self-Employment a Good Option? Gender, Parents and the Work-Family Interface

Abstract

Self-employment is a career decision that is likely to be influenced by the gendered dynamics of work and care for parents of young children. We test a theoretical model investigating the effect a transition into self-employment (compared to staying organizationally-employed) has on the work-family interface (work-to-family, family-to-work conflicts and work-family enrichment), exploring the key mechanisms of job autonomy, flexibility and work hours for mothers and fathers. We theorize gender differences in this model which we test using national, cohort data of Australian parents’ employment transitions over 5 time points (2004–2012), with n = 4165 observations from mothers and n = 5059 from fathers. For fathers, self-employment yielded longer work hours, higher work-family conflicts, but lower family-work conflicts, and enhanced enrichment. For mothers, self-employment heralded fewer work hours, lower work-family conflicts, but higher family-work conflicts. Job autonomy was enhanced, and positive for those transitioning into self-employment. While flexibility was positive for fathers, it was not so for mothers, eroding benefits. Results suggest that moving into self-employment ties fathers to ‘breadwinning’ (long hours); and mothers to fitting work more squarely around children’s care needs. Self-employment may entrench gender inequities in paid work opportunities, bringing caution to the current view of self-employment as a ‘solution’ to the work-family dilemma.

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Acknowledgements

This article uses unit record data from Growing Up in Australia, the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. The study is conducted in partnership between the Australian Government Department of Social Services (DSS); the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS); and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The findings and views reported are those of the authors and should not be attributed to DSS, AIFS or the ABS. AC and JN were additionally supported through the Australian Communities Foundation Transition to Contemporary Parenthood Program, Judith Lumley Centre, La Trobe University.

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AC and JN were additionally supported through the Australian Communities Foundation Transition to Contemporary Parenthood Program, Judith Lumley Centre, La Trobe University.

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Correspondence to Amanda Cooklin.

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The current study draws on five waves of data from working mothers and fathers of young children in Growing up in Australia, the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). LSAC (ongoing) is approved by the Australian Institute of Family Studies Ethics Committee biennially.

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The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

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Dinh, H., Martin, A., Leach, L. et al. Is Self-Employment a Good Option? Gender, Parents and the Work-Family Interface. Sex Roles (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-020-01195-1

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Keywords

  • Self-employment
  • Work-family conflict
  • Parents
  • Work-family enrichment
  • Job control
  • Flexible work
  • Occupational health
  • Work and family