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.
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Since the late 1980s the Irish path has somewhat diverged from the British model: note the corporatist-style solidaristic agreements between the social partners and government (O’Connell et al., 2003).
For details on the data, see http://www.europeansocialsurvey.org. Tests were conducted on the results with an index which uses all four questions and also an index which uses three questions but excludes missing cases on any of the items. Results are reported in the results section.
The Cronbach’s alpha for individual countries varies from 0.63 for France to 0.74 for Ireland.
See White et al. (2003) for an alternative measure using principal components analysis.
Note that work pressure, like work-life conflict, is a subjective indicator. We may be slightly overestimating the effect of work pressure if we are picking up an unmeasured underlying anxiety, however the extent of this is not possible to quantify with this data.
When we replicate the analysis using an alternative 4-item index which includes the question ‘How often do you find that your partner or family gets fed up with the pressure of your job’, we find no difference in the pattern of class effects.
The only difference being the exclusion of the housework stress variable as there were some problems with missing cases, particularly for Spain. The sample size is now greater than in Table 3.
We also estimated these models on a sample of couples only. The findings are almost identical to those reported, with three exceptions. In Denmark, Spain and Ireland the difference between professionals and non-professionals is less for couples than for all employees.
We check whether estimating separate country models instead of a pooled model with interaction terms has any impact on our findings. Patterns of country variation are very similar indeed. The only difference of note is the findings for Ireland. In Ireland, the effect of having children has a greater positive impact on work-life conflict in the separate country model, and the difference between professionals and non-professionals is lower, once we properly account for the presence of children.
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This paper was produced as part of the economic change, quality of life and social cohesion (EQUALSOC) network of excellence, funded by the European Commission (DG Research) as part of the sixth framework programme. See editors’ introduction for further details. The authors wish to thank all the project participants for their helpful input, and in particular, Vanessa Gash, for her comments on an early draft. Thanks also to Helen Russell, for sharing her programmes for manipulating ESS data. This paper received constructive comments when presented at the RC28 Spring Meeting in Florence, May 2008: the authors are also grateful to the referees of Social Indicators Research for their helpful comments and criticisms. Special thanks to Chris Whelan for his insightful comments, and his engagement as editor of the paper.
See Tables 4 and 5.
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McGinnity, F., Calvert, E. Work-Life Conflict and Social Inequality in Western Europe. Soc Indic Res 93, 489–508 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-008-9433-2
- Work-life conflict
- Work-life balance
- Social class
- European social survey
- Comparative research