The Family Crisis: How Work is Overtaking the Household

Andrea: My personal life is falling apart.

Nigel: That's what happens when you start doing well at work. Let me know when your entire life goes up in smoke; that means it's time for a promotion.

-The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

What is family? In Australia the concept of family originates from pre-industrial England where family is an institution with a nuclear structure; that is, it consists of a mother, a father and legitimate children living together (Jureidini and Poole, 2003, pp.261). Over time the sociological definition has shifted and family is now viewed as being a socially constructed institution to which the individual feels connected through kinship (Jureidini and Poole, 2003, pp.260) and where primary socialisation is experienced (Gilding, 1997, pp.22). Traditionally, families were structured around the patriarchal 'breadwinner' model, where the husband was responsible for financial stability and the wife was responsible for maintaining domestic order (Grint, 2005, pp.193). However, due to changes in social policy that were established in the 1900's women are increasingly participating in the work force. In the article Workaholics: Love What They Do, Hate To Be Them (2008), Horin acknowledges that Australian society has become entrenched in a cycle of consumption and work, which is causing family relations to disintegrate. Should women be blamed for the high level of divorce rates? Should the capitalist society or patriarchal social structure be to blame? This essay will critically evaluate the connections between work and family; why people are working harder and how this affects family dynamics.

According to Jureidini and Poole (2003, pp.282) work can be defined as an activity that is assumed by an individual for the purpose of providing goods or services whether or not pay is received. In recent years, especially in countries like Australia, the amount of time that people spend working has increased dramatically. For instance, since 1985 and 2001 the proportion of people working more than 45 hours a week has risen by 8% (Pocock, 2003, pp.22). Not only are people working overtime (often without compensation), they are also spending increasing amounts of time traveling to and back from the work place, working weekends and unsocial hours (Pocock, 2003, pp.23). According to Horin (1999), women as especially victims of this work intensification as their labour efforts do end with paid work but continue at home through domestic labour and child care. The reasons for this gender inequality will be addressed later.

Why are people working so intensely? Australia is characterized as having a consumer culture; people are buying bigger and better products in an economy that reflects rising prices and many are spending beyond their means (Pocock, 2003, pp.44). Particularly middle income earners are suffering from personal debt and are pressured to earn more in order to keep up with their expenses. Financial insecurity is also a highlighted in today's accelerated pace of economic change, putting pressure on employees to invest their time in work for potential future threats (Wallulis, 1998, pp.6). The risk of unemployment, pressures on life planning and fear of making mistakes are felt individually by both men and women, causing people to become increasingly career driven (Wallulis, 1998, pp.7). This individualisation is characterized by a capitalistic process that places people within the constrains of the labour market where they become dependent on education, consumption, welfare state regulations and the labour market itself (Wallulis, 1998, pp.5).

Individualisation is a major feature of contemporary capitalist society in which women must independently establish their own means of security on pain of permanent disadvantage (Wallulis, 1998, pp.6). Individual pay schemes and commitment pressures from the work place have placed a strain on family stability. In many cases women are having fewer children or waiting longer (Crompton, 2002, pp.538). This is largely a result of gender inequality in a patriarchal society where women are placed at a disadvantage (Connell, 1987, pp.183). Although many women work intensively, they are still expected to take the responsibility for household work (Crompton, 2002, pp.539). As a result women are mostly represented through casual or part time work in order to attempt to balance (paid) work and family duties. These types of jobs are normally more flexible in nature compared to full time work which husbands typically employ and thus women are expected to work around their partners' schedules (Crompton, 2002, pp.554).

According to Hamik (2000, pp.158) there are three main groups of women; home-centered, adaptive and work-centered. Home centered women are essentially 'housewives' and make up 20% of the female population. They depend on their husbands for financial support and spend most of their time in unpaid domestic labour. In contrast, work-centered women invest their time in the pursuit of career and education, have fewer children and delegate household work to others (Hamik, 2000, pp.164). Adaptive women are a majority. They acquire flexible work in order to modify their goals and activity in response to social and economic changes and to spend time in family pursuits. This was exemplified in the 1997 when the drop in women working full time numbered 23,000 due to low interest rates and more flexible industrial relations (Sutherland, 1997). Adaptive women act to boost family income, sometimes limiting the amount of children they have and offering some domestic work to the husband. These women have the most intense work schedules and responsibilities (Hamik, 2000, pp.167).

It is reasonable to assume that the family conflicts occur mostly within dual-income families. People have often placed the blame of household conflict on women's participation in the work force; however it can also be argued that the conflict can be blamed on men's lack of participation in domestic labour. According to Flood (2003, -xi), many fathers and husbands believe that they could do more work in the home and spend more time looking after children but due to economic, social and policy constraints they find it difficult to get involved. This highlights the idea that people behave according to the roles that are assigned to them by society (Gilding, 1997, pp.11). The internalization of roles is known as identity theory. It involves the development of core identities through role performance stimulated by cultural ideologies and social learning. The notion of 'deep ideologies' of gender explains why women continue to take responsibility of household despite their involvement in paid work and why men limit their involvement in the domestic sector (Glass, accessed 16/09/08). In a study titled 'How Australians Use Their Time' by the Bureau of Statistics in 1998, it was found that Women spend 16% of their time on domestic work while men spend 7% (Dale, 1998).

Despite accorded social roles, women are feeling the pressures of their workload and often desire their husbands help. In an interview, a woman named Linda explained that as a result of her husband's lack of helpfulness in the house she felt too tired to pay proper attention to domestic duties leaving rooms unclean and children anxious (Hochschild, 1997, pp.39). Linda went on to explain that as the stress at home builds she often replaces her time at home with her time at work by arriving early and leaving later. Work offers challenges, positive feedback, control structure and social ties (Hochschild, 1997, pp.41). It is thus not surprising that Castells (1996, pp.439) concludes that work has become "the nucleus of people's lives" when social time is often structured around paid working time. In the simple words of Horin (1999), families are falling apart. Not only families, but people's entire social lives. Time has become a precious commodity with the concept of 'quality time' emphasising exposing the pressures between work and family (Hochschild, 1997, pp.50).

Pocock (2003, pp.23) explains that broad intensification results in dysfunctional behaviour at home causing stress and arguments and further decreasing quality time spent between family members. Between 1984 and 2003 dual income families increased by 62% and less than a third of couples depend on a male breadwinner (Pocock, 2003, pp.31). With the added emotional cost of domestic responsibilities women are even more exhausted and sexual intimacy has suffered in Australia as a result. Communication breakdowns occur, people spend less time with friends and parents miss out on their children's' school and sports events (Pocock, 2003, pp.107-142). This is especially evident in families with work-centered and professional women who resent domestic labour because it restricts employment opportunities. These women are more likely to purchase help and care when they can afford it but it is normally the elite class who are able to afford to send their children to boarding schools or hire nannies (Connell, 1987, pp.121-125).

In the United Kingdom Times Newspaper a woman wrote an article response about parents who send their children to boarding school (McGregor, 2004, accessed 17/09/08). In the response she wrote about how her husband and herself did not have time to look after their sons and that boarding school was "the next best thing", describing her children as being important projects. But a majority of parents cannot afford to send their children away to school and many do not like to. Studies have deduced that children who grow up with busy parents are at more risk of unhealthy social development and are more likely to have unsuccessful adult lives (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, accessed 17/09/08). However the real issue is not what to do with the children but how better to organise time to create a home and work balance. According to Crompton (2002, pp.554), Australia needs more effective policies that can allow for effective paid leave, an egalitarian system of income distribution and better child care facilities.

In conclusion, the capitalistic and individualistic nature of contemporary Australian society is placing a heavy strain of the lives of dual-income families. This is largely a result of a persisting patriarchal culture and a lack of government policies that allow mothers to be able to effectively bring up their children. A move toward an egalitarian social consciousness and changes in income distribution and social attitude is needed to solve the current family crises.


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