The current study investigates how descriptive and prescriptive gender norms that communicate work and family identities to be (in)compatible with gender identities limit or enhance young men and women’s family and career aspirations. Results show that young adults (N = 445) perceived gender norms to assign greater compatibility between female and family identities and male and work identities than vice versa and that young men and women mirror their aspirations to this traditional division of tasks. Spill-over effects of norms across life domains and cross-over effects of norms across gender-groups indicated that young women, more than young men, aimed to ‘have it all’: mirroring their career ambitions to a male career model while keeping their family aspirations high. Moreover, young women opposed traditional role divisions in the family domain by decreasing their family aspirations in the face of norms of lower family involvement or higher career involvement of men. Conversely, in line with traditional gender roles, young men showed lower family aspirations in the face of strong male career norms; and showed increases in their career aspirations when perceiving women to take up more family roles. Young men’s family aspirations were, however, more influenced by new norms prescribing men to invest more in their family, suggesting opportunities for change. Together, these findings show that through social norms, young adults’ gender identity affects aspirations for how to manage the co-presence of their work and family identities. Altering these norms may provide leverage for change to allow both men and women to combine their multiple identities in an enriching way.
Marital Conflict and Household Chores
This greater involvement of women in household chorus and increased family to work conflict may lead to an increase of MC. In this line, Pittman et al. (1996) provide evidence for this idea by showing that the contribution of women to household chores is higher on the days when their husbands express higher levels of work stress; in these cases, women must subtract energy and time from work due to their husbands’ increased work stress. However, men do not adjust their contribution to household chores when their wives bring their work stress home. Research on family processes shows that stressed couples show a high level of negative interactions and conflicts. Thus, increased stress associated with WFC and its correlative frustration leads individuals to initiate or exacerbate their sequence of negative interaction with the partner (Westman and Etzion, 2005; Huffman et al., 2017). This negative interaction may be understood as product both of social undermining which consist in behaviors that involve rejection, criticism and negative attitude toward the couple (Vinokur and Van Ryn, 1993) and hostile marital interactions (Matthews et al., 1996), which aims to express hostility toward the partner or MCs.
Focusing on the conflict between the partners and their relationship with household chores, it has shown how increasing distress and frustration generated by the WFC tends to impair the interaction with the partner (Westman and Etzion, 2005). This can result in increased tension between the partners due to the transfer of stress from work to family by men and their lesser involvement in household chores, which would generate an increase in MC and, therefore, an increase of conflict in the family, especially in women due to unequal distribution of household chores.
Home-work interaction has been the focus of a wide range of scientific literature during the past decades. It is generally accepted that both the family and the work scope affect each other in a different way. However, it was not studied in which degree the own and the partner’s involvement in family issues affect different kind of work-home conflict from a gender point of view. Thus, the aim of this study was to check whether the unequal involvement in household chores between men and women is associated with increased WFC in women, and explain it in terms integrating the knowledge of gender studies.
First, results confirm inequality because it indicates that the involvement of women in household chores is, on average, more than double the involvement of their male partners. In addition, men are more involved in traditionally masculine household chores (i.e., home repairs and family management), and women are more involved in traditionally feminine chores (i.e., childcare or shopping). Symmetrically, the subject’s perception of the partner implication confirms this difference: women perception of their men partner involvement in household chores much less than men perception of their woman partner involvement. Therefore, hypotheses 1 and 2 of our study are confirmed.
Secondly, we checked if those unequal involvements relate differently to men and women on different ways of WF interaction. We found that the greater involvement of women in household chores does not affect the level of WFC differentially in men and women, so hypothesis 3 is not met. This gender inequality in the distribution of household chores and child care does not imply a higher level of WFC in women compared to men. Rather the opposite happens: when more involved are both men and women in household chores, lower is the WFC. Although the hypothesis 3 is not corroborated, it should be noted that when the involvement of women in household chores is high, their level of FC increases; when men’s involvement increases, their level of WC increases, which in some way supports hypothesis 3. That is, the high involvement in household chores has negative consequences in the family sphere for women and in the workplace for men, possibly because of the greater respective importance that women give to family and men to work, as it poses the traditional gender role model.
In addition to this, results show that when the involvement of women in household chores is high, their levels of WC and FC are similar, i.e., it equally affects both areas. When this involvement is low, FC is lower than the WC. However, among men, WC is always greater than the WC regardless of their involvement in household chores. Furthermore, when the conflict with the partner for household chores is high, women report a higher FC but not a higher WC, whereas in man this conflict does not affect neither the FC nor the WC.
However, in the case of women, MC affects conflict-related WC and FC and WFC, so hypothesis 4 is fully corroborated. This is very interesting because although hypothesis 3 is not met, however, the conflict with the partner due to this inequality in the distribution of housework seems to generate this WFC. That is, it would not be the greatest involvement in household chores itself that might cause and increase WFC in women, but the conflict with their partner which might produce it.
These results may be related to the absence of perception of injustice in the relationships regarding to inequality in the distribution of domestic and family responsibilities between men and women, so that in many cases women neither do perceive injustice in their relationships nor are dissatisfied. Following the review of Yago and Martínez (2009), it has repeatedly shown that the perception of an unequal distribution of housework between men and women does not necessarily lead to a perception of unfairness. This perception of justice on the division of domestic work and the ideology of traditional gender that supports it explain why gender inequalities remain in the family sphere mediating the relationship between the perception of injustice and perceived quality of the relationship. In fact, when women are more socially and emotionally independent from their partners, they are more likely to consider unfair the inequality in the distribution of household chores.
The perception of injustice is a mediating factor between an unequal distribution of domestic work and the perceived quality of the relationship; the relationship may be perceived as satisfactory although the sharing of responsibilities is not equal if it is not perceived unfair (Yago and Martínez, 2009). However, these results were mediated by gender ideology so this unequal distribution do not generate distress in the more traditional women whereas it does in women with an equal gender ideology.
In this line, a study of Ogolsky et al. (2014) shows that the discrepancies at a cognitive level between men and women with regard to equality in household chores affect the quality of the relationship in the sphere of the couple in a greater way to women than in men. However, when this inequality is manifested in a behavioral level, it does not seem to affect the quality of the relationship in women. That is, the real inequality does not affect the quality of the relationship in women, but it does at the cognitive level.
The involvement of the couple in household chores is related to an increased WFC, although it does not affect the WC or the FC separately by gender, but affects the WFC globally: it increases similarly in men and women when the couple’s involvement is high. This indicates that the WFC is affected by the involvement of the partner in household chores, but not for the involvement of the subject in them, which would affect to a segmented FC and WC. These results do not prove the hypothesis 3, but can indicate that the model of traditional gender roles does not serve to satisfactorily explain the influence of the division of household tasks and the effect of gender inequality in the WFC, as both in the case of men and women more involved in household chores generate that their female and male partners feel an increased WFC.
Men’s and women’s perceptions of their partners’ involvement in household chores contribute significantly to the perception of WFC; their own involvement also contributes significantly to FC, but negatively, which means that the more involved their partner is in the household chores, the greater their WFC.
Although our study seems to show that gender is an important variable in the involvement in household chores, and that gender inequality and the model of traditional gender roles is still valid in our western society, it also seems to suggest that increased WFC due to a high involvement in household chores is not exclusive to men but also occurs in women. This could be an indicator of a change in the model of traditional gender roles that began in the 80s, where new generations equate the importance of work and family spheres in the cases of both men and women.
In fact, results of some recent research (Shockley et al., 2017) indicate that men and women appear to be more similar than different in their WFC experiences; gender differences in WFC appear to generally be small, regardless of which specific subgroups are examined, and when there is meaningful variation in the magnitude of gender differences in WFC the key factors that determine this variation is currently not well understood.
From this point of view, several alternative models other than the conflict perspective might explain these results. This tis the case of models such as the synergy between work and family, positive balance, work-family facilitation, or work-family enrichment (Beutell and Wittig-Berman, 2008; Lapierre et al., 2017), which would better understand the effect of gender on the individual’s relationship between work and family.
The use of this new model integrative approach is justified by the social changes that characterize the values of the new generations, Gen Xers (born between 80 and 2000 population). They seem to consider that both work and family are equally important in their life, and try to find the most appropriate way to reconcile both aspects (Beutell and Wittig-Berman, 2008), giving less importance to presentism at work and being supporters of flexibility. This understanding of the work is based, in addition to the facilities provided the digital revolution and technologies for work, making workers less dependent of a particular physical space and a fixed schedule to perform their work, together with the values of personal autonomy and responsibility that are shared by this new generation. This facilitates that people can now have more time to devote to other areas of their life within the scope of non-work such as family or leisure, with a progressively greater importance in their social identity.
From this point of view, research on work and family interaction has evolved from the study of isolated variables within the conflict and segmentation models toward more complex models that try to understand from the boundary theory, and the models of facilitation and synergy, how transitions are made from one scope to the other, and how they integrate with each other. They do not consider them as separate domains but as something unitary and unbreakable within the life of people. In the same way, an approach that takes into account the gender ideology is progressively being imposed, since it is inseparable from the relationship between work and the family from a cultural point of view.