Author:Perrone-McGovern, Kristin M.
Position::Contextual Influences on Work and Family Roles: Gender, Culture, and Socioeconomic Factors

Contextual factors can profoundly influence career development and work-family interface. Lent, Brown, and Hackett (2000) asserted that contextual influences to career development could be both objectively defined and open to individual interpretation. They encouraged career development theorists to consider both the objective characteristics of the environment and individuals' perceptions of their environment. Lent and colleagues also discussed how both distal or background contextual factors and proximal or contemporary factors should be considered. In our article, we examine work-family interface within the context of gender roles, cultural background, current economic conditions, workplace environment, and generational status. We also discuss contextual perceptions and values, such as gender egalitarianism and humane orientation. We believe that Lent et al.'s theory of career development can be applied to the combination and interface of both work and family roles. This is consistent with Schultheiss's (2007) relational approach to career development, which describes the interaction between career and other life roles within a larger societal context. In other words, the work role cannot be fully understood in isolation; rather, it is important to consider the interrelatedness of roles. Gender roles, too, must be considered in an interrelated manner.

When women began occupying a greater share of the workforce, researchers focused on how women were managing work and family roles and virtually ignored how men's roles were also changing (Spiker-Miller & Kees, 1995). However, both men and women are concerned with effectively combining work and family roles (Perrone, Wright, & Jackson, 2009). For example, Barnett, Brennan, and Marshall (1994) studied 180 men and women in dual-earner couples in the United States who were employed full time. They found that men in their sample valued their parenting role as much as the women in their sample. Barnett and colleagues also took into account occupational prestige, salary, and household income. Kwon and Roy (2007) conducted a qualitative study with 19 working-class fathers in South Korea who ranged in age from 28 to 48 and had at least one child under the age of 12. Their interviews revealed that most Korean fathers considered their family role to be central to their identity. The authors asserted that it has become more culturally and socially acceptable for Korean fathers to be involved in their children's lives than was traditional for Korean fathers in the past. Work and family roles are in transition, and generational differences can be observed.

Generational Factors and Work-Family Interface

Generation Y

For Generation Y, born between 1980 and 2000 and also known as millennials, the boundary between work and other life roles may be fluid, permeable, or nonexistent. They may enjoy greater flexibility at their workplace, but may also be expected to be available around the clock throughout the week, including on evenings and weekends. Advances in communication technology have helped shape this workplace trend (e.g., cell phones, e-mail, text messaging), along with increased geographic mobility. There is significant empirical evidence for the younger generation's shift in values, goals, and expectations for balancing work and family roles. For example, on the basis of interviews conducted with 120 women and men between the ages of 18 and 32, Gerson (2010) found that most women and men desired to avoid the extremes of spending too much time either at work or at home. Gender differences were present as women reported more concerns regarding family obligations undermining work prospects, whereas men reported greater concern that work obligations would interfere with family time (Gerson, 2010). Both reported the desire to strike an equitable balance between life roles. Furthermore, young men and women seem to be redefining what qualities are desirable in a long-term partner. Gerson found that many women described an ideal male partner as one who would be active in caretaking and many men described their ideal female partner as one who would achieve financial and career success. These relationship patterns seem to accompany the desire to combine life roles in ways that do not fit into traditional gender stereotypes (Gerson, 2010).

Generational and Cultural Factors

When comparing generations across two cultures, Murphy, Gordon, and Anderson (2004) discovered cross-cultural generational similarities and differences between individuals from the United States and Japan. For example, values related to family security, health/happiness, honesty, and responsibility were among the top live values across all the generations in both cultures. Both cultural groups had self-respect among their top five values for individuals over the age of 40, but neither cultural group had self-respect among the top live values for individuals between the ages ot 18 and 25. Individuals ages 31-39 from both countries ranked the value of loyalty in the top five; however, the other generations did not. In comparing cross-cultural differences, Murphy et al. (2004) found that individuals from the United States placed higher values on a comfortable life, family security, freedom, salvation, and self-respect than did individuals from Japan, who highly valued an exciting life, a sense of accomplishment, a world at peace, a world of beauty, health/happiness, pleasure, true friendship, and wisdom.


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