Sacrificing career for childcare can lead to unhappiness in marriage, study findsReleased on October 20, 2003
Contact: Donna Desrochers 781-736-4204
If you're thinking of reducing your hours at work to spend more time with the kids, you might want to consider the results of a new study from Brandeis University. Sacrificing your career to meet such family needs can wreak havoc on your marriage, according to researchers at the Women's Studies Research Center, whose findings are published in the November issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family.
The study, conducted by the Community, Families and Work Program (CWFP), interviewed more than 100 women physicians who reduced their work hours to spend more time at home with children. The couples decided the husband would continue to focus on his career - working fulltime, often in excess of 60 hours a week. In an effort to better understand the interdependence of working couples, the study also interviewed the women's husbands, making it one of the few studies to survey both partners of working couples.
Researchers Karen Gareis and Rosalind Chait Barnett came up with some surprising, paradoxical findings. While the couples achieved the desired effect of one partner devoting more time for childcare, the sacrifices made to the wives' careers and the impact on their marriages seemed to be more than either partner bargained for. The study found the happier the men were with their full-time schedules, the unhappier the women were with their marriages. And while the husbands enjoyed thriving careers, they too reported distress when their wives were unhappy with their work schedules. The cutting edge study gives a clearer picture of the effect of career decisions on marital harmony, illustrating how one partner's career satisfaction may serve to amplify what the other is giving up: a sense of achievement in one's own professional life.
These are "the hidden cost of cutting back at work," according to Gareis, lead author of the report.
"It's always assumed that when a working couple has a child someone has to cut back at work and that it's always the mother: no one questions if that's problematic."
So, think twice before sacrificing your career, says Barnett, CFWP executive director. "It may help with child care, but it may cause other problems."
Perhaps the answer is a more flexible arrangement shared by both partners, she adds, so that one spouse is not bearing more of the burden of family responsibilities than the other.
Ultimately, says Barnett, employers will need to develop policies to reflect the changing needs of families in which both partners have invested in their careers.
Such couples will become increasingly common, note the authors, as women continue to achieve high-level status in the workforce.
For more information about the study or to arrange interviews with the researchers, please contact Donna Desrochers at 781-736-4204.
About the researchers
Karen C. Gareis, Ph.D., is a Program Director of the Community, Families and Work Program at Brandeis University's Women's Studies Research Center, where she directs several studies of work and family issues.
Rosalind Chait Barnett, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Community, Families and Work Program at Brandeis University's Women's Studies Research Center, where she is the principal investigator for several studies of work and family issues.
Robert T. Brennan, Ed.D., teaches graduate-level statistics courses at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education and acts as a statistical consultant on a number of research projects at Harvard University and elsewhere.