Social Indicators Research

, Volume 93, Issue 3, pp 489–508 | Cite as

Work-Life Conflict and Social Inequality in Western Europe



Recent debates on time-use suggest that there is an inverse relationship between time poverty and income poverty (Aguiar and Hurst in Q J Econ C(3):969–1006, 2007), with Hammermesh and Lee (Rev Econ Stat 89(2):374–383, 2007) suggesting much time poverty is ‘yuppie kvetch’ or ‘complaining’. Gershuny (Soc Res Int Q Soc Sci 72(2):287–314, 2005) argues that busyness is the ‘badge of honour’: being busy is now a positive, privileged position and it is high status people who work long hours and feel busy. Is this also true of work-life conflict? This paper explores the relationship between work-life tension and social inequality, as measured by social class, drawing on evidence from the European Social Survey. To what extent is work-life conflict a problem of the (comparatively) rich and privileged professional/managerial classes, and is this true across European countries? The countries selected offer a range of institutional and policy configurations to maximise variation. Using regression modelling of an index of subjective work-life conflict, we find that in all the countries under study, work-life conflict is higher among professionals than non-professionals. Part of this is explained by the fact that professionals work longer hours and experience more work pressure than other social classes, though the effect remains even after accounting for these factors. While levels of work-life conflict vary across the countries studied, country variation in class differences is modest. We consider other explanations of why professionals report higher work-life conflict and the implications of our findings for debates on social inequality.


Work-life conflict Work-life balance Social class European social survey Comparative research 


  1. Abrahamson, P. (2007). Reconciliation of work and family life in Europe: A case study of Denmark, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice, 9(2), 193–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aguiar, M., & Hurst, E. (2007). Measuring trends in leisure: The allocation of time over five decades. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 122(3), 969–1006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Atkinson, A. B. (1998). Poverty in Europe. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.Google Scholar
  4. Becker, G. (1965). A theory of the allocation of time. Economic Journal, 75, 493–517.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bianchi, S., Robinson, J., & Milkie, M. (2006). Changing rhythms of American family life. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  6. Bittman, M. (2004). Parenting and employment: What time-use surveys show. In N. Folbre & M. Bittman (Eds.), Family time. The Social Organization of Care. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  7. Cousins, C., & Tang, N. (2004). Working time and work and family conflict in The Netherlands, Sweden and the UK. Work, Employment & Society, 18(3), 531.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Crompton, R., Lewis, S., & Lyonette, C. (2007). Women, men, work and family in Europe. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Crompton, R., & Lyonette, C. (2006). Work-life ‘balance’ in Europe. Acta Sociologica, 49(4), 379–393.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Daly, M. (2000). The gender division of welfare: The impact of the British and German welfare states. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Dex, S., & Bond, S. (2005). ‘Measuring work-life balance and its covariates’. Work, Employment and Society, 19(3), 627–637.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Erikson, R., & Goldthorpe, J. (1993). The constant flux: A study of class mobility in industrial societies. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  13. Esping-Andersen, G. (1990). The three worlds of welfare capitalism. Oxford: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  14. Esping-Andersen, G. (1999). Social foundations of postindustrial economies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fagan, C. (2003). Working-time preferences and work-life balance in the EU: Some policy considerations for enhancing the quality of life. Dublin: European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions.Google Scholar
  16. Fagnani, J., & Letablier, M. (2004). Work and family life balance: The impact of the 35-hour laws in France. Work, Employment & Society, 18(3), 551–572.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fine-Davis, M., Fagnani, J., Giovannnini, L., & Clarke, H. (2002). Fathers and mothers: Dilemmas of the work-life balance. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  18. Gallie, D., & Paugam, S. (2000). Welfare regimes and the experience of unemployment in Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Gershuny, J. (2005). Busyness as the badge of honor for the new superordinate working class. Social Research: An International Quarterly of Social Sciences, 72(2), 287–314.Google Scholar
  20. Gershuny, J. (2000). Changing times. Work and leisure in post-industrial society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Goldthorpe, J. (2000). Social class and the differentiation of employment contracts. In J. H. Goldthorpe (Ed.), On sociology: Numbers, narratives and the integration of research and theory (pp. 206–229). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Goodin, R. E., Headey, B., Muffels, R., & Dirven, H. J. (1999). The real worlds of welfare capitalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Gornick, J. C., & Meyers, M. K. (2003). Families that work—Policies for reconciling parenthood and employment. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  24. Greenhaus, J., Collins, K., & Shaw, L. (2003). The relation between work-family balance and quality of life. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 63(3), 510–531.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Greenhaus, J. H. and Singh, R. (2003) Work-family linkages, a Sloan work and family encyclopedia entry.
  26. Hall, P. A., & Soskice, D. (Eds.) (2001). Varieties of capitalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Hammermesh, D. S., & Lee, J. (2007). Stressed out on four continents: Time crunch or yuppie kvetch? Review of Economics and Statistics, 89(2), 374–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jacobs, J. A., & Gerson, K. (2004). The time divide: Work, family and gender inequality. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Jowell, R., Roberts, C., Fitzgerald, R., & Eva, G. (2007). Measuring attitudes cross-nationally. Lessons from the European social survey. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  30. Lewis, J. (1992). Gender and the development of welfare regimes. Journal of European Social Policy, 3, 159–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. MacInnes, J. (2006). Work-life balance in Europe: A response to the baby bust or reward for the baby boomers? European Societies, 8(2), 223–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. McGinnity, F., & McManus, P. (2007). Paying the price for reconciling work and family life: Comparing the wage penalty for mother's part-time work in Britain, Germany and the United States. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis on ‘Work-Family Reconciliation Policies in High-Employment Economies: Policy Designs and their Consequences’, edited by Janet Gornick. Vol. 9, No. 2.Google Scholar
  33. OECD. (2001). Balancing work and family life: Helping parents into paid employment. In OECD (Ed.), OECD employment outlook (pp. 129–166). Paris: OECD.Google Scholar
  34. O’Connell, P. J., McGinnity, F., & Russell, H. (2003). Working time flexibility in Ireland. In J. O’Reilly (Ed.), Regulating working time transitions in Europe. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  35. O’Reilly, J. (2003). Introduction. In J. O’Reilly (Ed.), Regulating working time transitions in Europe. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  36. Paugam, S. (1998). Poverty and social exclusion. A sociological view. In Y. Meny & M. Rhodes (Eds.), The future of European welfare. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  37. Plantenga, J., & Remery, C. (2005). Reconciliation of work and private life: A comparative review of thirty European countries. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, European Commission.Google Scholar
  38. Robinson, J. P., & Godbey, G. (1997). Time for life: The surprising ways Americans use their time. USA: Pennsylvania State University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Scherer, S., & Steiber, N. (2007). Work and family conflict? the impact of work demands on family life. In D. Gallie (Ed.), Employment regimes and the quality of working life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Schneider, B., & Waite, L. (2005). Being together, working apart: Dual-earner families and work-life balance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Schor, J. (1991). The overworked American: The unexpected decline of leisure. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  42. Shavit, Y., & Müller, W. (1998). In Y. Shavit & W. Müller (Eds.), From school to work. A comparative study of qualification and occupations in thirteen countries. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Strandh, M., & Nordenmark, N. (2006). The interference of paid work with household demands in different social policy contexts: perceived work-household conflict in Sweden, the UK, The Netherlands, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. The British Journal of Sociology., 57(4), 597–617.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Taylor-Gooby, P. (2008). The new welfare state settlement in Europe. European Societies, 10(1), 3–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Tomlinson, J. (2007). Employment regulation, welfare and gender regimes: A comparative analysis of women’s working-time patterns and work-life balance in the UK and the US. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 18(3), 401–415.Google Scholar
  46. Van der Lippe, T., Jager, A., & Kops, Y. (2006). Combination pressure: The paid work-family balance of men and women in European countries. Acta Sociologica, 49(3), 303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. White, M., Hill, S., McGovern, P., Mills, C., & Smeaton, D. (2003). ‘High-performance’ management practices, working hours and work-life balance. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 41(2), 175–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Economic and Social Research InstituteDublin 2Ireland

Personalised recommendations