People less happy about work-family balance with short working hours

One might expect that when a government legislates shorter working hours, or when a country has shorter working hours on average than others, that people living there would feel that their work-family balance was better. But they don’t.

Legislating for working hours appears to have no impact at all on average levels of work to family interference as reported by both men and women, parents and non-parents alike.

In fact, in countries with shorter average working hours for men and women, people report more work to family interference.

The researchers, Dr Leah Ruppanner at the University of Melbourne in Australia and Professor David J Maume at Cincinnati University in the USA, studied data from 25- to 50-year-olds from 32 countries*. They propose as an explanation the idea of “raised expectations”. Countries with shorter working hours see much debate and awareness about work/life balance, which may fuel higher expectations—leading to greater disappointment when reality is compared to what actually happens.

Of course, at the individual level, when both men and women work more, they report more work to life interference, but the averages among countries vary.

The researchers also found that in more individualistic countries, where people are expected to look after themselves to a greater extent (e.g., UK, USA), people are less happy about work interfering in family life.

* Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United States

Header photo: Ran Allen. Creative Commons.


Ruppanner L & Maume DJ (2016), Shorter work hours and work-to-family interference: Surprising findings from 32 countries, Social Forces 95.2