Comparing Work-Life Conflict in Europe: Evidence from the European Social Survey


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Comparing Work-Life Conflict in Europe: Evidence
from the European Social Survey
Frances McGinnity Æ Christopher T. Whelan
Accepted: 21 December 2008 / Published online: 6 February 2009
Ó Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009
1 Introduction
This special issue compares work-life conflict in Europe using the European Social Survey:
this introductory article attempts to provide a synthesis of the issue. It sets the scene for the
papers that follow, discussing the concept of work-life conflict and its measurement. It
considers previous research and approaches, before considering the themes of individual
articles. All the articles, and this editorial essay, draw on the valuable insights of an
excellent team of reviewers.
Reconciling work and family commitments has become a critical issue in European
societies, against a backdrop of globalization and rapid technological change, an ageing
population and concerns over labour market participation and falling fertility (OECD 2001;
Jacobs and Gerson 2004). Within the European union the ‘reconciliation of work and
family’ has become a core concern for policy and encouraged national-level debate and
policy intervention. As an indicator of quality of life, work-life balance has gained both
academic and policy currency. Work-life conflict has a potentially detrimental impact on
personal effectiveness, marital relations, child–parent relationships and even child devel-
opment (Gornick and Meyers 2003). It has also been linked to decreased job and life
satisfaction as well as stress-related outcomes including psychological strain, anxiety and
depression, exhaustion and alcohol abuse (Allen et al. 2000).
The increased focus on work-life conflict is associated not only with a greater emphasis
on quality of life but also with emerging challenges to long-standing welfare state
arrangements. The increasing salience of human capital, adaptability and flexibility has
F. McGinnity (&)
Economic and Social Research Institute, Whitaker Square, Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin 2,
C. T. Whelan
UCD School of Sociology, Newman Building, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland
A list of reviewers’ names is provided in Appendix 2, in recognition of their contribution.
Soc Indic Res (2009) 93:433–444
DOI 10.1007/s11205-008-9437-y
focused attention on the need to reconcile investment in children with sustained labour
force participation and human capital accumulation over the life cycle (Bovenberg 2007).
Attention has increasingly focused on the distinction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ social risks.
Taylor-Gooby (2004) notes that the latter are associated with care responsibilities primarily
at the stage of family building, and extend demand for state intervention into areas of life
that had been seen as private from an old risks perspective.
Under the traditional male breadwinner model competing demands in the employment
and family sphere were managed by a division of labour between the sexes, whereby men
were primarily responsible for paid employment and women were primarily responsible for
caring. The growth in female employment and dual-earner families, the rise in lone parent
families and the ageing population mean that an increasing number of EU citizens now
have to combine both employment roles and caring responsibilities in relation to both
children and older people. Currently, most fathers are employed full-time and most
mothers work for pay: many parents are struggling to find employment arrangements that
are economically viable, beneficial to children, and equitable (Gornick 2007). Increased
time pressures and strains are also thought to arise within the workplace. While the
direction of long-term trends in the hours of work is debated, there is considerable evi-
dence of increased work intensity throughout Europe (Thirion et al. 2007).
Yet while many EU countries share common features, there are also differences.
Common problems generate hybrid responses conditioned by pre-existing institutional
arrangements but shaped also by the kind of learning experiences that the EU seeks to
promote through the Open method of coordination (Ferrera and Rhodes 2000; Surender
2004). The shape and nature of employment is different: for example in some countries
part-time work is common, in others, it represents a small proportion of employment. In
some countries, mothers’ and fathers’ employment rates are rather similar, in others they
vary enormously. Policies vary too: for example the way in which working patterns are
structured by regulation and employers—working hours, annual leave entitlement, avail-
ability of flexible working arrangements. Family leave rights and benefits and support for
childcare, as well as the overall tax-benefit regime also vary (Gornick 2007). Gender role
attitudes differ, particularly regarding support for maternal employment (Lueck 2006).
Many countries in the newly enlarged EU had decades of communist family and
employment policies, in contrast to the democracies, albeit in differing forms, of the West.
All of these factors may influence individuals’ ability to combine work and non-work
The existence of so much variability, against a backdrop of commonality, motivates this
special issue. In this collection of articles we wish to investigate if and how work-life
conflict varies cross-nationally. In evaluating the conclusions of individual articles it is
necessary to take into account that in commenting on cross-country differences some
authors wish to control for factors that others choose to include in their estimates of
country effects. The precise meaning of country effects is thus dependent on the specific
questions that authors have sought to address. Overall our focus is less on variation in
levels of work-life conflict but rather on the manner in which processes and factors
associated with work-life conflict vary across countries. To investigate this question, all the
articles use a high-quality data source with identical indicators for each country, the
European social survey (ESS), which has a specially designed module on work-life balance
and is cross-nationally representative. This special module on family, work and well-being
(2004) is particularly well suited to examining country variation in work-family balance in
a wide range of countries, for many of whom this topic has not been previously investi-
gated. Articles focus on a range of themes and select varying numbers of countries for the
434 F. McGinnity, C. T. Whelan
analysis but they are all comparative, and all use ESS data. The special issue offers readers
new insights into the interface between work and family life in the new European union,
touching on recent changes in forms of employment and family forms, changes in work
intensity, upskilling, debates on time poverty and busyness, on social class, on social
comparison, job allocation, gender and motherhood wage penalties and gender differences
in the distribution of paid and unpaid labour.
2 Work Life Conflict: Concepts and Measurement
Work-life balance is the term which has gained popularity, and is in many ways a favourite
formula in today’s literature about the (post) modern working world, though as some
authors note, a concern with the interaction between paid work and other domains of life is
not new (Lewis et al. 2007). While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, we
prefer work-life conflict to work-life balance, as it draws attention to the challenges,
tensions and trade-offs which may be associated with combining work and family life. The
focus is on the trade-offs and the central idea is that meeting demands in one domain
makes it difficult to meet obligations in the other (Felstead et al. 2002; Steiber 2007; for a
discussion of definitions see Greenhaus and Singh 2003). Such conflict can take two forms:
from work to family and from family to work, although work tends to affect family more
than vice versa (Byron 2005). This special issue incorporates concern with both work-to-
life and life-to-work issues but with a somewhat greater emphasis on the former. Some
authors limit the focus to ‘work-family conflict’, considering just couples or parents, some
consider all employees, and broaden the concept to consider conflict with other aspects of
life, not just family or partner, for which the most appropriate term is ‘work-to-life’.
appeal of the concept in research terms is that it allows a wider understanding of non-work
concerns to be encompassed in employment research.
The concept of work-life conflict is not without limitations. The term has been criticised
as being a fashionable term with a short shelf-life (Hildebrandt and Littig 2006). Others
argue that the concept assumes clearly defined spheres of work and life, while the dis-
tinction between work and non-work activities is not unproblematic, as much time-use
research shows (Hildebrandt and Littig 2006; Gershuny 2000). In employing the concept it
is important to keep in mind the limits to our understanding posed by the fact that work-life
conflict is observed only for those in employment, and those with very high work-life
conflict may have exited the labour market. A final limitation is that the focus here is on
current work-family tensions and there may well be other current and future ‘costs’ that
cannot be addressed within this issue. For instance, some households may have minimised
conflict at the cost of postponed or limited family formation. Similarly there may be longer
term labour market costs of reconciling work and family life, for instance with respect to
wages and career development.
Work-life conflict has been measured in a number of ways. Some authors take
‘objective’ indicators of conflict by assuming, say, that part-time work is an indicator of
low work-life conflict (e.g., McGinnity and McManus 2007 and other articles in this
special issue) or they assume that high paid work hours are inimical to work-life balance
As MacInnes (2006) notes, there is continual tension in both the academic literature and policy discus-
sions as to whether the work-life conflict refers to just parents (hence ‘work-family conflict’) or to all adults;
whether ‘life’ refers to caring, or leisure or both (see MacInnes 2006, for a discussion).
Comparing Work-life Conflict in Europe 435
(Gornick and Meyers 2003). Writers from a time-use perspective usually add paid and
unpaid work hours (e.g., Bittman 2004).
A more common approach to work-life conflict focuses on the assessment of the
individual. This perspective assumes that work-life conflict is primarily subjective, and
allows for variability in responses to the objective conditions arising from difference in
resources, energy, motivations and expectations. The respondent’s definition of the situ-
ation comes to play an important role. Some papers in this issue use a subjective index of
work-life conflict as the dependent variable (Russell and Gallie; McGinnity and Calvert;
Kasearu) or single items (Steiber); others use a broader measure of life satisfaction (Boye)
or a series of measures combining both (Scherer).
Yet a crucial point to recognise about subjective indicators of work-life balance or life
satisfaction is that they reflect the interaction between people’s situation and their
expectations (Fahey et al. 2003). Expectations may adapt to the situation. Objective
indicators (i.e., poverty) often do not correlate well with subjective counterparts (i.e., life
satisfaction). Recent research looks at liveability and comparison (reference group) theo-
ries, notions of threshold effects, or the impact of relative versus absolute differences in
objective variables (Veenhoven 1996). People evaluate their objective standards by
comparing their actual situation to reference points. This can be their past situation, the
situation of people similar to themselves or their notion of what is reasonable or practical
in current circumstances. That said, establishing reference groups can be very challenging,
as discussed in a paper by Katarina Boye in this volume.
We use both subjective and objective indicators, adopting a sociological perspective
that focusing entirely on one or the other would miss an important part of the reality we are
trying to capture (Fahey et al. 2003). Our focus is on the relationship between reported
satisfaction/work-life balance and resources, conditions and workload, and the factors
mediating that relationship.
3 Research on Work-Life Conflict
Recent research on the topic has adopted a number of different approaches. Studies have
focused on theoretical issues (Guest 2002; Voydanoff 2004), single country studies
(Fagnani and Letablier 2004; Kinnunen and Mauno 2004), middle class couples (Schneider
and Waite 2005); occupational groups (Greenhaus et al. 2003) and organisational and
sectoral case studies (Perrons 2003; White et al. 2003). Organisational, occupational and
sectoral case studies give depth and insight into processes and practices at the firm level,
but findings may be sensitive to the choice of cases. This is also true of Schneider and
Waite’s (2005) innovative study of work-life balance among middle class couples. It is rich
in data sources and methods but limited to dual-earning middle class US couples. It is
difficult to generalise from single country studies, as they do nothing to establish whether
the processes are generalisable across countries: post-hoc comparisons are affected by
differences in approach, samples and measurement.
Cross-national comparative research on the level and determinants of work-life conflict
is in its infancy. The studies that do exist have stressed the importance of considering the
full range of mediating institutional-level factors (Crompton and Lyonette 2006; Scherer
and Steiber 2007). These include welfare regime and the extent of reconciliation or
‘family-friendly’ policies such as the availability of parental leave, the right to flexible
working arrangements, and the costs and coverage of childcare provision (Strandh and
Nordenmark 2006; Van der Lippe et al. 2006; Gornick 2007). A recent special issue
436 F. McGinnity, C. T. Whelan
investigates the effect of policies on work-life balance from a theoretical/policy perspec-
tive (Gornick 2006). A forthcoming one considers the role of choice and constraint in
achieving work-life balance in different contexts using a variety of approaches, mostly case
studies (Gregory and Milner 2009).
The special issue edited by Janet Gornick uses a wide variety of comparative data
sources and approaches. The European working conditions surveys (EWCS), conducted by
the European foundation of working and living conditions provides excellent comparative
evidence on the whole range of European countries (e.g., Thirion et al. 2007) but are not
suited to exploring gender attitudes and arrangements in the domestic sphere, and the
question on work-life conflict consists of a single item limited to working time.
What does the ESS offer? The ESS is an academically-driven social survey designed to
chart and explain the interaction between Europe’s changing institutions and the attitudes,
beliefs and behaviour patterns of its diverse populations. Its three main aims are to:
produce rigorous data about people’s underlying values within and between European
nations; to rectify longstanding deficits in the rigour and equivalence of comparative
quantitative research, especially in attitude surveys, and to develop and gain acceptance for
social indicators, in addition to economic indicators of societal progress (Jowell et al.
2007). The survey covers over 30 countries and employs rigorous survey methodologies.
The ESS is among the first social science projects to receive funding to support its
infrastructure and in 2005 was awarded Europe’s top annual science award, the Descartes
prize ‘for excellence in collaborative social research’.
The ESS special module on family, work and well-being (2004) was specifically
designed to make possible an analysis of the impact of policy variation and the manner in
which it affects work-family balance in a wide range of countries, in many of whom this
topic has not been previously investigated. Questions in the special module cover topics
such as work-family conflict and work-family spillover; work pressure, autonomy, pay and
conditions of work; unpaid work, division of household labour and childcare. The data
offers a unique opportunity to examine work-life conflict in Europe.
The specific work-life conflict indicators, used in a variety of papers, either in com-
bination as a composite index or individually, are the following: How often do you keep
worrying about work problems when you are not working?’ How often do you feel too
tired after work to enjoy the things you would like to do at home?’ How often do you find
that your job prevents you from giving the time you want to your partner or family? and
How often do you find that your partner or family gets fed up with the pressure of your
These indicators are standard in the literature and widely used, though they do share
with general work-life conflict debates a lack of clarity as to whether the issue at stake is
work-life conflict, or work-family conflict, and whether life refers to caring or leisure or
both (see MacInnes 2006 on this debate). This point is echoed by Pichler (2008), specif-
ically referring to ESS data, when he argues that the work dimensions of work-life conflict
in such indicators are more clearly conceptualised than the life indicators. More conceptual
work may be needed on the meaning of ‘life’ in work-life conflict debates, in tandem with
increased development of the ‘life’ indicators for survey research on work-life conflict. A
The question from the third and fourth working conditions surveys is: ‘Do your working hours fit in with
your family or social commitments outside work?’.
The fieldwork has been funded through the European Commission’s fifth and sixth Framework Pro-
gramme, the European Science Foundation and national funding bodies in each country.
A fifth question ‘How often do you find it difficult to concentrate on work because of your family?’ refers
to family-to-work conflict, but is not used in any of the papers.
Comparing Work-life Conflict in Europe 437
linked critique is that the wordings of the work-life balance indicators lay too much
emphasis on work as the probable explanation of work-life conflict or lack of time (Pichler
2008). However, the benefit of this wording is that the source of the problem is clearly
identified. Other, more general formulations would offer considerably less clarity.
European social survey response rates in general were high, with about half the
countries achieving the target response rate of 70% (see appendix Table 1 for details).
Great efforts were made in the ESS to ensure equivalence of questions across countries/
languages, which is crucial, given how sensitive attitudinal questions can be to question
wording (Jowell et al. 2007).
The key strengths of the ESS are its cross-national representativeness and equivalence.
It constitutes the outstanding source of data for European comparative research on work-
life balance. Such data will never have the depth or nuance of qualitative studies, the
detailed context of company case studies or of individuals’ own accounts of balancing
work and family life. Crucially the data is cross-sectional, so inferences about causality or
conclusions about change over time are not possible. The articles in this volume seek to
exploit the strengths of the ESS data.
4 Overview of the Papers
This special issue comprises papers covering a wide range of themes and approaches. The
number of countries in each paper varies from 5 to 25: individual papers justify the
selection of countries on the basis of their research question. Authors draw on a variety of
different accounts of institutional and labour market variation, and a variety of theoretical
perspectives. What the papers share is an overall comparative strategy which investigates
the processes of interest and then asks do these differ across countries.
In the context of work intensification debates, Duncan Gallie and Helen Russell, in the
first article in the volume, explore the influence of working conditions on work-life conflict
in seven West European countries—Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, The Nether-
lands, UK and France. They find that working conditions have a strong influence on the
level of work-family conflict, measured as a composite index, in all seven countries. Work
pressure has the most negative impact and the authors conclude that the marked rise in
levels of work pressure in European countries since the early 1990s has contributed sub-
stantially to greater strain in managing work and family life. Rising skills levels in these
countries may also have contributed, given that higher skill levels are associated with
heightened work-life conflict.
Male employees in northern European societies display the lowest level of work-family
conflict, a finding the authors attribute to shorter working hours and greater flexibility in
assigning those hours. For female employees, no distinct pattern emerges and the authors
argue that the origins of work-life conflict in the workplace may partly explain this. In the
Scandanavian countries, where care/parental supports facilitate high employment among
women, this is associated with longer working hours and higher levels of work pressure. In
Britain and The Netherlands, family pressures are reduced due to the fact that many
mothers work part-time.
Another criticism is that work-life conflict is not well correlated with more general indicators of life
satisfaction (Pichler 2008). Yet a number of studies find that work-life conflict measured in a rather different
way, for example, as time stress, has a significant but modest association with work-life conflict (McGinnity
and Russell 2007).
438 F. McGinnity, C. T. Whelan
Three papers address different debates in the work-life conflict literature. Nadia Steiber
argues that it is useful to distinguish time-based and strain-based conflict, and uses the ESS
indicators to do so in her contribution, which is based on 23 countries. She also distin-
guishes the impact of work demands, like long work hours, unpredictable work hours,
evening/night/weekend work, from work resources like skill, time autonomy, job auton-
omy (control) and career prospects. The expectation is that work demands should
exacerbate work-life conflict, while work resources will reduce it.
In general Steiber finds interesting gender differences in the factors associated with
work-life conflict. Work demands such as long, unsocial and unpredictable working hours
as well as work pressure increase work-life conflict, for both men and women. However,
caring responsibilities increase time-based conflict for women only, while job insecurity
increases strain-based conflict for men only. Using 23 countries allows Steiber to apply
multi-level modelling to ESS data to formally model cross-country variation. Focusing on
a sample of dual-earner couples, she finds that country effects are small. She thus con-
cludes that the experience of work-family conflict appears to be only weakly moderated by
institutional or cultural effects.
The next paper considers the supposition that work-life conflict is all part of a new
West European culture of ‘busyness’ (e.g., Strandh and Nordenmark 2006). Drawing on
debates from the time-use literature that busyness is a privileged position (Gershuny
2005) and that much time poverty is ‘yuppie kvetch’ or complaining (Hammermesh and
Lee 2007), Frances McGinnity and Emma Calvert explore the relationship between work-
life conflict and social inequality in eight West European countries: Germany, France,
Spain, UK, Ireland, The Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden. To what extent is work-life
conflict a problem of the rich and privileged professional classes, and is this true across
The authors find higher work-life conflict among the professional classes in all eight
countries. Some 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, though class differ-
ences in work-life conflict are weakest in Sweden. The authors reflect on other
explanations of why work-life conflict is higher among higher earners, and the policy
implications of their findings, given recent European debates on why welfare states cannot
afford to lose high-skilled female labour if they are to enhance competitiveness and
reduce poverty.
As noted above, work-life conflict may in part be influenced by social comparison. In
her paper, Katarina Boye uses ESS data to explore some more subjective elements of
satisfaction in 25 countries. She examines whether social comparison affects the associ-
ation between work and well-being, using the ESS to construct reference groups on the
basis of country, sex and presence and age of children. The idea is that, for example,
differences in hours of paid and unpaid work relative to key comparison groups may have
an impact over and above absolute hours. She also explores the extent to which the
relationship between hours and well-being varies between men and women, and the extent
to which it is mediated by gender role attitudes.
In general she finds that while men’s well-being appears to be unaffected by hours of
paid work and housework, women’s well-being increases with paid working hours and
decreases with increased housework hours. Gender role attitudes do not appear to play a
significant role in mediating the association between hours worked and well-being.
However, within-country reference groups do appear to have some influence on women in
Comparing Work-life Conflict in Europe 439
relation to housework: compared to women in the same family situation, women who do
less housework report higher well-being.
Two other papers focus on changing employment forms (temporary contract) and
changing family forms (cohabitation) and their association with work-life conflict.
One changing form of employment which has received much attention in both aca-
demic and policy circles in Europe is temporary or fixed-term contracts (OECD 2002).
Work has proliferated in recent years on the labour market and wage impact of these
contracts, but much less is known about the ‘social consequences’ of fixed-term contracts,
and their impact of quality of life. In her contribution, Stefani Scherer investigates the
impact of having a fixed-term contract on the interface between work and family life in
16 West European countries. Scherer takes a broader view of the interface than simply
work-life conflict, and outcomes investigated include fertility plans, job worries, life
satisfaction, income worries and health problems, in addition to work-life conflict
The author finds that fixed-term contract employment is associated with negative effects
for a range of social and family outcomes and these differences are partly but not fully
explained by either working conditions or subjective job insecurity. The range of diffi-
culties that arise include lower work satisfaction, lack of time for one’s family, household
income problems, family conflicts and child birth planning. Thus, Scherer argues, tem-
porary contracts do not seem to facilitate the reconciliation of work and family life, but
rather exacerbate levels of conflict, dissatisfaction and economic pressure. Overall, insti-
tutions such as the welfare state are important in shaping subjective indicators of individual
and family life, though they only marginally affect the social consequences of non-stable
A changing social form which has received particular attention in the US, to a much
lesser extent in Europe, is cohabitation. Taking a selection of countries where cohabitation
has a very different history and social significance, Kairi Kasearu considers whether work-
life conflict differs between married and cohabiting couples and how this varies in five
countries—Britain, Sweden, Germany, Estonia and Slovenia.
Work-life conflict, measured as a composite index, is somewhat lower for cohabiting
men than married men, though there are no differences between married and cohabiting
women. Kasearu finds that variation across couple type is completely explained by
differences in socio-demographic characteristics, working conditions and attitudes. The
exception is Sweden, where cohabiting women experience higher work-life conflict,
even controlling for these factors, and the author considers why the Swedish case might
be different. The key message is that cohabiting itself has no impact. The
author suggests that cohabitation may be more similar to marriage in European than in
the US.
The final two papers focus on wages and how they are related to work-family con-
cerns. Vanessa Gash investigates how ongoing difficulties in work-family reconciliation
result in inferior labour market outcomes for mothers, relative to women with no children.
She finds mothers occupy an inferior market segment and earn a wage penalty in most of
the six countries studied: Finland, Denmark, West Germany, France, The Netherlands,
and The UK. Nonetheless, she finds strong institutional effects: in countries unsupportive
of working motherhood, working mothers are more likely to occupy disadvantageous
labour market positions relative to non-mothers, and incur a higher wage penalty. The
United Kingdom and West Germany provide the least support for working mothers as
440 F. McGinnity, C. T. Whelan
well as the largest penalties to motherhood. Using ESS data, Gash explores two expla-
nations for mothers’ lower pay: that mothers trade wages for favourable, family-friendly
working conditions and that they differ attitudinally from non-mothers, and that these
‘attitudes’ warrant less pay. She finds some evidence of mothers accepting lower paid
jobs in Britain, a country with a high motherhood wage penalty, but no support for it in
the other countries. She also finds no evidence that mothers differ attitudinally to non-
Javier Polavieja develops a rational action model of job allocation and explores its
consequences for wages. He argues that the division of housework, job-specialisation
requirements and imperfect information generate an incentive structure for individuals,
which leads to gender differences in job allocation and wages. These incentives can be
influenced by ‘macro level’ welfare policies and services, which may reduce the eco-
nomic pay-offs of a traditional gender division of labour. Polavieja tests this model using
ESS data on couples in 12 countries, fully exploiting the wide range of theoretically
relevant variables on the dataset. The key finding is that gender differences in job spe-
cialisation and housework can explain the effect of occupational sex-composition on
wages, even after accounting for gender differences in sex-role attitudes and personality
The paper then investigates how incentive structures vary across welfare regime clus-
ters: Polavieja finds that the association between housework and earnings is much weaker
in societies with higher levels of decommodification (state/social policy allows indepen-
dence from the market) and defamilization (state/social policy allows independence from
the family), particularly the Scandanavian welfare cluster, to a lesser extent the post-
communist cluster.
The literature on work-life conflict is growing rapidly in volume and complexity. This
collection of articles aims to contribute to these exciting developments on a number of
fronts: by broadening the range of countries considered; by using a wide range of quan-
titative indicators associated with work-life conflict from an excellent, dedicated survey
and by assessing the impact of the changing nature of work on the interface between work
and life. The findings from this volume suggest that work-life conflict is more than just a
fashionable term or a passing fad. It touches on core issues relating to the changing nature
of work and the role it plays in people’s lives. Viewing individuals as simply ‘workers’ is
no longer an option for employers and governments. If EU governments are serious about
achieving high employment economies without compromising fertility, i.e., the ability of
those societies to reproduce themselves, work-life conflict is likely to stay on the agenda
for many years to come.
Acknowledgments This special issue is the result of a collaborative research project among members 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 (
The network has provided the opportunity and resources for the authors to meet on a regular basis to
discuss underlying issues and comment upon each others work. The articles are all based on the European
social survey (ESS), and we are very grateful to Roger Jowell and his colleagues for implementing and
providing this excellent data source ( We are also grateful to the 18
reviewers, whose insightful and critical comments have improved this volume immensely. Their names are
listed in Appendix 2 in recognition of their contribution. Thanks also to Alex Michalos, the editor of Social
Indicators Research, for his support of our project, and to Chiara Saraceno for the idea of compiling a
special issue. Thanks too to Javier Polavieja, Nadia Steiber and Helen Russell for their comments on this
introduction, and a special thanks to Emma Calvert for her enthusiastic assistance in putting the collection
Comparing Work-life Conflict in Europe 441
Appendix 1
See Table 1.
Table 1 ESS 2004 response rates by country
Country Achieved interviews Response rate (%)
Austria 2,256 62.4
Belgium 1,778 61.2
Czech Republic 3,026 55.3
Denmark 1,487 64.2
Estonia 1,989 79.1
Finland 2,022 70.7
France 1,806 43.6
Germany 2,870 51
Greece 2,406 78.8
Hungary 1,498 65.9
Iceland 579 51.3
Ireland 2,286 62.5
Italy 1,529 59.3
Luxembourg 1,635 50.1
The Netherlands 1,881 64.3
Norway 1,760 66.2
Poland 1,716 73.7
Portugal 2,052 71.2
Slovakia 1,512 62.7
Slovenia 1,442 70.2
Spain 1,663 54.9
Sweden 1,948 65.4
Switzerland 2,141 48.6
Turkey 1,856 50.7
Ukraine 2,031 66.6
United Kingdom 1,897 50.6
442 F. McGinnity, C. T. Whelan
Appendix 2: List of Reviewers
Mick Cunningham, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA, USA.
Shirley Dex, Institute of Education, London, England.
Jaap Dronkers, European University Institute, Florence, Italy.
Ann Zofie Duvander, Institute of Sociology, Stockholm University, Sweden.
Colette Fagan, University of Manchester, Manchester, England.
Tony Fahey, University College, Dublin, Ireland.
Duncan Gallie, Nuffield College, Oxford, England.
Jonathan Gershuny, University of Oxford, England.
Janet Gornick, Baruch College, City University of New York, New York, USA.
Steffen Hillmert, University of Tuebingen, Germany.
Kathleen Kiernan, University of York, York, England.
Richard Layte, Economic and Social Research Institute, Dublin, Ireland.
Patricia McManus, Indiana University, Bloomington IN, USA.
Magnus Nermo, Swedish Institute for Social Research, Stockholm, Sweden.
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... Prior research shows that a shift in role balance may result in negative effects within the family. For example, work-life conflict has been regarded as a work-related stressor, and is known to have a potentially negative impact on personal effectiveness, marital relations, parent-child relationships and even child development [4]. It has also been linked to decreased job and life satisfaction, as well as stress-related outcomes, such as psychological disorders, exhaustion and alcohol abuse [5]. ...
... Given the growing number of dual career households [8,9], and the awareness of adverse effects that work-family conflict has on men and women [3][4][5], institutional initiatives promoted to support the reconciliation of work and family have increased rapidly in recent years [9][10][11]. However, many such initiatives tend to target mothers with young children, due to an increase in women's labor force participation and quest for economic and social equality [9,10]. ...
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Evidence on the effectiveness of workplace interventions for improving working conditions on the health and wellbeing of fathers is scarce. We reviewed studies on the effectiveness of various workplace interventions designed to improve working conditions for the health and wellbeing of employed fathers and their families. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and quasi-randomized controlled trials of workplace interventions applied to employees with the aim of improving working conditions of employed parents, compared with no intervention, other active arms, placebo, wait list, or usual practice were included. Studies involving only women were excluded. An electronic search of the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, ERIC and SSCI was done for eligible studies. Studies were screened against predetermined criteria and assessment of risk of bias done using the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions for RCTs and the Risk of Bias Assessment tool for Non-randomized Studies for non-RCTs. Of the 8229 records identified, 19 reports were included in this review: 14 reports from five RCTs and five reports from two quasi-RCT studies. The studies were conducted in four different countries among working populations from various sectors. Studies addressing issues related to improving working conditions of fathers alone were lacking. All included studies assessed intervention effects on various health-related outcomes, the most common being sleep disturbances and mental health outcomes. Interventions administered yielded positive effects on various health outcomes across all seven studies. All included studies had methodological limitations, while study designs and methodologies lacked comparability. Consequently, a narrative synthesis of evidence is provided. Based on our findings, providing workplace interventions for improving working conditions may improve some aspects of the health and wellbeing of employed parents, including fathers.
... This thesis address questions on work-life balance against a backdrop of globalization, and profound and ongoing social construct and workplace change. Indeed, the inflow of women into the labor force in the late 1960s, the increasing prevalence of dual-earner couples request for equal opportunities between men and women during the 1990s (Lewis, 2006), the increasing value placed by society on work-based achievement (Lewis, 2003), intensification of work (Guest, 2002), technological change and aging population (McGinnity and Whelan, 2009) has changed the nature of work-life balance significantly. ...
This thesis explores the relationship between work-life balance policies and life satisfaction in the Netherlands – more specifically, the effect of parental leave schemes, informal care provision, and work hours’ mismatches on workers’ subjective well-being. The general problematic of this thesis is formulated as follows; how do work-life conflict and related policies affect life satisfaction in the Netherlands ? The thesis has for purpose to contribute to the literature on work-life balance and subjective well-being. This thesis focuses on the Dutch workers in the early 21st century, using data from the Longitudinal Internet Study for social sciences (LISS). The empirical analysis aims to identify correlational relationships (chapters 1 and 3) and causal linkage (chapter 2) in order to answer the research question. Human well-being is evaluated from a subjective perspective. The validity of this approach is recognized by the scientific community nowadays.
... An action to promote an aspect of gender equality can undermine (and implicitly devalue) other areas of equality (Acker, 1990(Acker, , 2000(Acker, , 2006(Acker, , 2009(Acker, , 2012. A common example is the management of interplay between job and domestic work: the women's increasing participation in the labor market does not constitute actual work equality without redistribution of domestic work and equal gender pay (Kan, Sullivan, & Gershuny, 2011;Lewis, 1992;McGinnity & Whelan, 2009). So, there are many dimensions of gender equality and care must be taken into account to ensure an organic understanding of it. ...
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A previous work of Schwartz and Rubel-Lifschitz (2009, highlighted the association between human values and gender equality. However, gender equality is not a monolith. Indeed, it is a multidimensional phenomenon. We started from this multidimensionality to understand how the relative importance of human values varies through the different dimensions of Gender Equality Index (GEI)—namely work, money, knowledge, time, power, and health. We have designed a cross-national study based on secondary data analysis from international databases (i.e., European Social Survey [ESS] and GEI). Through the Bayesian correlational analysis of 18 European countries, findings revealed that 1) universalism, benevolence and self-direction are strongly and positively correlated to gender equality; 2) security, power and achievement are strongly and negatively correlated to equality while 3) conformity, tradition, stimulation, and hedonism have weak/non-significant correlation coefficients with gender equality. Relevance to cultural values and ideologies that support social equality are discussed. Furthermore, we find that some values are related to certain specific gender equality dimensions. Our results provide a more fine-grained analysis compared to previous findings, by outlining a more complex scenario.
... Many studies indicate that over the last decades the male-breadwinner model in Europe has been declining, while the dual-earner model gains momentum (Gornick & Meyers, 2009;McGinnity & Whelan, 2009;Ochsner & Szalma, 2017). However, there is evidence that more equal participation of women in the labour market has neither changed people's perceptions of gender equality significantly nor has it improved much the way un-paid work, such as housework, is divided among couples within households (Grunow & Evertsson, 2016, 2019Hofacker & König, 2013;Ochsner & Szalma, 2017;Steiber, 2009;Wallace, 2017). ...
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The current article aims to explain the interrelationships between the educational attainment of individuals living in households with heterosexual partners, their work–life balance (WLB) and the macro-economic climate of the country they live in, using data from the European Social Survey. WLB is a complex concept, as it is not only determined by factors related to someone’s employment or domestic work and childcare responsibilities, but also by decisions informed by personal experiences and circumstances, subjective perceptions and preferences. Moreover, in households with cohabiting partners, this decision-making process involves certain compromises where financial incentives, interests, gender and power dynamics play an important role. Since educational attainment is positively related to labour market outcomes, such as employment and wages, while at the same time more women are participating in education and the labour market, the gender conflict on the division of work and time within households intensifies and traditional gender roles are challenged. WLB is at the heart of this conflict operating as a mechanism through which division of work and time is reconciled on the individual and household level. Results from the current article reveal great heterogeneity between the 17 European countries examined. Perhaps surprisingly, educational attainment can have a detrimental effect on the WLB of spouses and cohabiting partners, especially for women whose level of WLB seems also more sensitive to fluctuations of the macro-economic climate of the country they live in. However, there is an indication that when an economy goes into recession, higher education has a cushioning effect on female’s WLB compared to relatively better economic times.
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The purpose of this study was to explore the relationship between work-family interference (WIF), organizational and occupational turnover intentions. Further, it was investigated if the relationships are mediated by ‘psychological contract breach’ (PCB) concerning ‘work-family balance obligations’. A study was completed by gathering data using a self-administered survey from employees working in the Pakistani Banking industry (n=359). The results indicate that WIF is positively linked to organizational and occupational turnover intentions. Results of mediation analyses showed a significant indirect effect of WIF, via PCB, on occupational turnover intentions but not on organizational turnover intentions. This study provides insight into the mechanisms through which WIF affects employee turnover intentions. Moreover, this study adds to psychological contract theory by revealing insight into the particular sub of work-family content of work-family balance obligations.
Conference Paper
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Solo or ‘freelance’ self-employment is becoming a more popular form of self-employment in the labour market. In some jurisdictions such as the UK, this growth is being attributed to rising numbers of women – and women with children in particular - seeking the flexibility and autonomy of freelance work as a response to shortages of flexibility in wage-and-salaried employment. Yet little is known about how these trends might be occurring in Ireland and who might be represented in this small but growing cohort of workers. This research uses Labour Force Survey data to explore trends in female solo self-employment in Ireland between 2003 and 2019 and key variables are drawn upon to develop a profile of this underexplored labour market group. The analysis highlights that while growth in solo self-employment rates has been slow and numbers still relatively small, it is increasingly made up of highly educated and professional women in relatively high-paid sectors opting for flexible working arrangements.
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This encyclopedia entry summarises key findings on factors associated with work-life conflict in Europe from a body of research, mainly using large representative surveys, over the past 20 years. It also reflects on the policy implications of these findings,
This article aims at analysing how subjective work-family conflict is experienced by different self-employed men and women in comparison to employees and informal workers in Europe. Firstly, it focuses on how job-related resources and demands characterise traditional and emerging types of self-employment affecting the perception of work-family conflict. Secondly, it explores both gender-related institutional and societal dimensions, by analysing how the conflict is differently mediated by reconciliation policies and by the degree of gender equality in society. Based on the 6th European Working Condition Survey, findings show that self-employment is a hybrid area of work which, depending on its characteristics, can be more similar to entrepreneurial, dependent or informal work. As for the work-family conflict, the study indicates that self-employment can only mitigate it in the case of ‘dependent self-employment’, a work arrangement which, however, while facilitating the reconciliation of work and family, poses significant problems in terms of quality of the working conditions, especially in the case of women. Genuine forms of self-employment seem instead to represent a source of conflict, and to suffer the lack of gender equality in different European societies and labour markets.
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EU policymakers recognise that improving working conditions is crucial to achieving a better quality of work, greater productivity and increased employment – the Lisbon objectives. In this context, the Foundation’s European Working Conditions Surveys, conducted every five years, have been providing a valuable insight into key aspects of work since 1990. This report analyses the findings of the fourth European Working Conditions Survey, carried out in autumn 2005 across 31 countries, including the 27 EU Member States. Based on workers’ responses, it paints a broad and varied picture of the physical, intellectual and psychological dimensions of work and its impact on personal fulfilment and work-life balance.
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The challenges arising from low employment rates, an ageing population, changing family structures and social exclusion have pushed 'quality of life' issues to the front of the EU social policy agenda. The Foundation has launched an initiative to improve the monitoring and reporting of living conditions and quality of life in Europe. The first step was to develop a conceptual framework that would be appropriate for the Foundation's mission to meet information needs of policy-makers among public authorities and social partners, specifically at EU level. This report examines key concepts, research and policy developments related to quality of life. It identifies gaps in information and develops a strategy for monitoring. It recommends focusing on a limited number of life domains and analysing the linkages between them, with time use regarded as a crucial aspect of the interrelationships. The conclusions prepare the way for a new survey of quality of life in 28 European countries. This survey will enable the Foundation to describe and analyse trends on a comparative basis and to identify emerging issues for future EU policy.
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Is it sufficient to reduce working time to improve the work and family balance? This article attempts to answer this question by analyzing the impact of the French law reducing the working week to 35 hours on the daily life, as perceived by parents with a young child under six years old. Six out of ten respondents reported a positive impact of the reduction on their work/family balance. Their judgment is dependent on the organization of work, whether it is regular and based on standard working hours or irregular schedules. It is also correlated to the negotiation process in the workplace. Inequalities between workers are revealed: between those employed in sheltered economic sectors and ‘family-friendly’ companies, and those who have to accept unsocial or flexible hours of work in exchange of a reduction of their working time.The article concludes that the 35-hours law has widened the gap between these two groups of workers irrespective of gender and professional status.
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One of the aims of social indicator research is to develop a comprehensive measure of quality-of-life in nations that is analogous to GNP in economic indicator research. For that purpose, several multi dimensional indexes have been proposed. In addition to economic performance, these also acknowledge the nation's success in matters like schooling and social equality. The most current indicator of this type is the 'Human Development Index'. In this approach QOL is measured by input; the degree to which society provides conditions deemed beneficial. The basic problem is that one never knows to what extent the cherished provisions are really good for people. An alternative is measuring QOL in nations by output, and consider how well people actually flourish. This 'apparent' QOL can be measured by the degree to which citizens live long and happily. This conception is operationalized by combining registration based estimates of length-of-life, with survey data on appreciation-of-life. Life-expectancy in years is multiplied by average happiness on a 0-1 scale. The product is named 'Happy Life-Expectancy' (HLE), and can be interpreted as the number of years the average citizen in a country lives happily at a certain time. HLE was assessed in 48 nations in the early 1990's. It appears to be highest in North-West European nations (about 60) and lowest in Africa (below 35). HLE scores are higher in nations that are most affluent, free, educated, and harmonious. Together, these country-characteristics explain 70% of the statistical variance in HLE. HLE is not significantly related to unemployment, state welfare and income equality, nor to religiousness and trust in institutions. HLE does not differ either with military dominance and population pressure. The conclusion is that HLE qualifies as the envisioned comprehensive social indicator. It has both clear substantive meaning (happy life-years) and a theoretical significance (ultimate output measure). HLE differentiates well. Its correlations fit most assumptions about required input, but also challenge some. The indicator is likely to have political appeal.
This chapter examines difficulties of reconciling work and family demands in six European countries; looks at divergences in experiences among different sectors of the workforce, different family types, and household employment patterns; and gauges the extent to which such experiences are mediated by different institutional structures. It considers the extent to which successful conciliation between paid work and family life may be facilitated by ‘family-friendly’ social and employment policy and explores alternative explanations of cross-country variations. See
There has been considerable rethinking on the part of governments when it comes to social policy, in particular, about the relationships between the labour market, the family, and the state, and about the role of the state and the nature of governance. Very little of the post-war welfare settlement remains unquestioned, whether the nature of the risk addressed; the nature of entitlements and the form of conditionality to be applied; or the best means of making provision. This chapter outlines these welfare state changes and discusses possible explanations for them including political pragmatism, rapid structural change and the role of political ideas. It argues that whether referred to as 'Third Way' or not, many similarities in the welfare reforms adopted by industrialized welfare states can be identified. The chapter offers an examination of the US, the UK, and Australian cases to argue that in order to understand why an explicit discourse of policy reconfiguration and reform was actively embraced in some countries but avoided in others, an analysis of the impact of both the political history and constraints of institutional structures is necessary.