Test Your Perceptions vs. Work+Life Reality–NSCW Implications

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“The National Study of the Changing Workforce is here!  The National Study of the Changing Workforce is here!”  Yes, that’s how I responded when I received the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW). Ever since I worked at Families and Work Institute, the NSCW has been one of my favorite pieces of research (yes, I have favorite pieces of research).  Not only does the NSCW offer a very accurate snapshot of the prevailing work+life reality in a given period of time.  But, more importantly, it gives us an opportunity to step back and see if the way we are collectively talking about and thinking about work and life matches reality.  In my opinion, it doesn’t.

My recent conversation with a female MBA student at one of the top business schools provides a perfect example.  She called to interview me for the student newspaper and wanted some tips for women MBAs about how to manage their work and life after they got out of school.  My first tip—“Realize that managing work and life isn’t just an issue for women.  In fact, men report higher levels of work-life conflict.”  Not surprisingly, she responded, “What? Really?” It wasn’t until I showed her the results of the NSCW, and she confirmed the findings with male MBA students that she began to understand how outdated her assumptions were.

Here are other highlights from the NSCW that together create a snapshot of today’s work-life reality.  As you read, ask yourself, does the picture below inform the way:
•    I think about and talk about work-life issues (even if different than my own circumstances)?
•    My manager/employer thinks about, talks about, and addresses work-life issues?
•    The media presents work-life issues?
•    The government addresses work-life issues?

Reality #1: Women and men under 29 years old are equally likely to want jobs with greater responsibility, which was not the case in the past when men were more likely to report wanting more responsibility.

Reality #2: Women under 29 years old with children are no less likely than women without children to want jobs with more responsibility, which was not the case in the past when women with children were less likely to want jobs with more responsibility.

Reality #3: Women’s labor force participation continues to increase, with 71% of mothers with children under the age of 18 working in 2007.  In 2005-2006, women earned a majority of all bachelor’s degrees (58%) and master’s degrees (60%).

Reality #4: 79% of married employees are part of a dual-earner couple (up from 66% in 1977).  In 2008, women contributed 44% of the annual dual-earner family income, up from 39% in 1997, which makes the loss of their jobs even more detrimental.

Reality #5: For the first time in 2008, the percentage of men and women who agree with the statement that “it’s better for all involved if the man earns the money and the woman takes care of the home and children” was inconsequential and not significantly different (42% of men and 39% of women in 2008, versus 74% of men and 52% of women in 1977).

Reality #6: In 2008, 73% of respondents either strongly or somewhat agreed that “a mother who works outside the home can have just as good a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work,” a big increase from 58% in 1977. Interestingly, even though a majority of men agreed with the statement in 2008 (67%), they do still lag behind the women (80%).

Reality #7: Employed fathers are spending significantly more time with their children under 13 than they did in 1977, with millennial fathers reporting the biggest increase.  Men are also:
•    Taking more responsibility for the care of the children (49% say they take more or equal share of care in 2008, versus 41% in 1992)
•    Doing more or an equal share of the cooking (56% of men in 2008, versus 34% in 1992)
•    Doing more or an equal share of the house cleaning (53% of men in 2008 versus 40% in 1992).

Reality #8: Not surprisingly, “Men’s reported level of work-life conflict has risen significantly from 34% in 1977 to 45% in 2008, while women’s work-life conflict has increased less dramatically and not significantly: from 34% in 1977 to 39% in 2008.” And the level of conflict is even higher for dual-earner fathers, with 59% experiencing some or a lot of conflict in 2008, versus 45% of dual-earner mothers.

What did you think?  Does the reality outlined above inform the way:
•    You think about and talk about work-life issues?
•    Your manager/employer thinks about, talks about, and addresses work-life issues?
•    The media presents work-life issues?
•    The government addresses work-life issues?

I think we have a long way to go before the perceptions and the debate related to work-life issues on all of these levels matches reality.  Hopefully, the NSCW will help close the gap. What do you think?

A couple of interesting work-life resources/opportunities:

  1. Work & Family Life is a monthly, cost-effective magazine that companies and organizations can distribute to their employees.  Work & Family Life is full of great work-life related information (click here to view a recent issue).  For more information contact the publisher, Dr. Susan Ginsburg at workfam@aol.com or 1-800-278-2579
  2. Are you a mom interested in sharing what it was like to transition from working woman to working mom?  FWO Consulting is conducting a national online survey of moms to learn more about this often challenging change.  To learn more about FWO and the survey, go to http://www.fwoconsulting.com/.   Another resource for women transitioning to motherhood is provided by Rachel Egan at Maternity Transitions www.rachelegan.com.