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Work-Family Conflict and Working Conditions in Western Europe


This article explores the influence of working conditions on work-family conflict (WFC) among married/cohabiting employees across seven European countries. Using data from the European Social Survey, the paper first investigates the role of working conditions relative to household level characteristics in mediating work-family conflict at the individual level. It then considers whether perceived conflict is lower in countries with coordinated production regimes and where social policy is more supportive of combining paid work and care demands. For men the lowest rates of WFC occurred in Denmark, Sweden and Norway, so for men there was a distinct ‘Nordic’ effect consistent with the welfare and production regime expectations. For women, we find paradoxically that ‘raw’ levels of work-family conflict are particularly high in France, Denmark and Sweden where supports for reconciling work and family life are high. Our models show that the high conflict among French women can be explained by household composition factors and so is due to higher levels of family pressures. Higher levels of conflict among Danish and Swedish women appear to be associated with their longer hours of work. Work conditions are found to play a larger role than family characteristics in accounting for work-family conflict, both in the country level models and in the pooled models. While this partly reflects our focus on the spillover of work into family life, it is notable that family characteristics have little effect in mediating work pressures. The results suggest that a policy emphasis on improving work conditions is likely to have major leverage in reducing work-family conflict.

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  1. 1.

    We use raw score versions of variables throughout.

  2. 2.

    Details of effects within countries are available in the Appendix, Table 7.

  3. 3.

    The alpha for the scale is .73 for the pooled sample and ranges from .68 in Sweden to .79 in Germany.

  4. 4.

    The alpha is .40 for the pooled sample and ranges from .32 in Germany to .45 in the UK, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands. This is low by conventional standards.

  5. 5.

    Details of these country models are available in Appendix Tables 7 and 8.

  6. 6.

    The coefficient for the interaction between hours of work and partner employed is .005, the main effect of working hours remains significant and also has a coefficient of .005.

  7. 7.

    The participation model included country, age, age squared, years of education and number of children. See Appendix Table 9.

  8. 8.

    The mean work pressure score for female employees in Norway is 2.86 compared to 3.02 in Britain.

  9. 9.

    In this meta analysis of 61 studies, Byron found that work variables have a stronger effect on work to family interference than family to work interference. However, family variables did not have a consistently stronger relationship with family to work interference (2005, p183).


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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 are most grateful to Frances McGinnity, Chris Whelan and Nadia Steiber for their insightful and constructive comments on earlier drafts of this paper. We would also like to thank the other members of the EQUALSOC workshop held in Dublin in October 2007 for their helpful contributions on the paper.

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Correspondence to Duncan Gallie.



See Tables 6, 7, 8, 9.

Table 6 Details of work condition and family indicators
Table 7 Country level models of work-family conflict
Table 8 Country models of work-family conflict by gender
Table 9 Heckman selection model: women

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Gallie, D., Russell, H. Work-Family Conflict and Working Conditions in Western Europe. Soc Indic Res 93, 445–467 (2009).

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  • Family and work
  • Work-life balance
  • Work conditions
  • European Social Survey
  • Job pressure