This paper proposes an index to measure the possibilities individuals have to balance their work and life spheres. Using data for 26 European countries, and principal components analysis, we compute the National Work–Life Balance Index© as a combination of five dimensions: Time/Schedule, Work, Family, Health, and Policy. We find that Northern and Central European countries, such as Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, and Sweden have a higher value of the National Work–Life Balance Index©, compared to Southern and Western European countries, such as Spain, Greece, Portugal, Latvia, and Bulgaria. These results are consistent with existing literature showing that there is a lower proportion of individuals reporting difficulty balancing their work and household responsibilities in Northern countries, compared to other European countries. To the extent that international data becomes comparable, the National Work–Life Balance Index© may help to guide public policies aimed at improving the work–life balance of individuals in countries that are comparatively worse off in this respect.
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Prior research has shown the existence of both family-to-work conflict (FWC) and work-to-family conflict (WFC). In this paper we do not focus on this difference, and we refer to the work–life balance that could go either way. See Hill et al. (2001), Grzywacz and Carlson (2007) and McGinnity and Whelan (2009) for a review of the concept of work–life balance and its measurement.
The inclusion of subjective indicators may be problematic as they may be endogenous to the Index. We have alternatively computed the Index including the variables “Level of difficulty to concentrate at work due to family responsibilities”, “Level of tiredness to do household chores”, “Level of stress due to work–life balance”, and “Satisfaction with life” as they may be endogenous. Information on these variables is obtained from EUROFOUND (2012) and results are available upon request. After computing the five components and the Index, the variables “Level of difficulty to concentrate at work due to family responsibilities”, “Level of tiredness to do household chores”, and “Level of stress due to work–life balance” have a negative correlation (e.g., −0.6351, −0.4798 and −0.6447 respectively) with the component “Health”, while the question “Satisfaction with life” has a positive correlation (e.g., 0.5641) with this component.
We have not analyzed the internal consistency of the component “Health” given that the 2 variables included in that component come from the same survey (EUROFOUND 2012a, b) and refer to the distribution of time of the sample. When we alternatively include subjective variables as described in footnote 2, the internal consistency of the component “Health” is α = 0.80, while the internal consistency of the Index is α = 0.74.
It may appear surprising that higher participation in child care activities is related to a lower work–life balance, while a higher participation in chores is related to a higher work–life balance. The intuition here is that while outsourced chore activities may be of equal or better quality than activities done by the individuals, parents may be more reluctant to outsource childcare activities (Guryan et al. 2008) as childcare by parents has been shown to be very important in child development (Leibowitz 1972, 1974, 1977). Thus, while individuals may have a certain degree of choice for chores activities, it may not be the case for childcare activities. Consequently, higher participation in chores may indicate that individuals have more available time and thus they devote more time to these activities because they want to, which is related to a lower conflict between work and household responsibilities. However, parents may feel that childcare is their responsibility as they have to do these child care activities, and thus higher participation in childcare activities imposes more restrictions on their daily lives, leading to higher participation in these activities being related to a higher conflict between work and family life.
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This paper was partially written while José María Fernández-Crehuet was Visiting Fellow at CTUR in the Department of Sociology of the University of Oxford (UK), to which he would like to express his thanks for the hospitality and facilities provided. This paper has benefited from funding from the Spanish Ministry of Economics (Project ECO2012-34828).
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Fernandez-Crehuet, J.M., Gimenez-Nadal, J.I. & Reyes Recio, L.E. The National Work–Life Balance Index©: The European Case. Soc Indic Res 128, 341–359 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-015-1034-2
- National Work–Life Balance Index©
- Principal components analysis