Duty and Responsibility: Understanding Work-Family Conflict for Multigenerational Households

Katie Matthew

Advisor: Shannon N Davis, PhD, Mason Korea

Committee Members: Joseph Scimecca , Elizangela J Storelli

Online Location, Online
April 16, 2021, 03:00 PM to 05:00 PM


Work and family, as two enduring institutions, have often been at odds with one another and have caused internal conflict for individuals. The economic and social stress resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new attention to a patchwork system many families have created in order to meet competing demands of family and work. While much attention has been paid to work structures, less is known about extended, multigenerational family structures and how work-family conflict may vary across different households. I consider these households through both role conflict theory and conservation of resources theory lenses to gain insights for the individual’s experiences with conflict between their work and family demands and to understand how household structures may serve to alleviate some of that conflict. My dissertation contributes to contemporary work-family discourse by addressing three problems: whether there are differential experiences of work-family conflict for individuals in multigenerational households and two-generation households; the extent to which obligation for caregiving and a responsibility to provide financial support to the family shape work-family conflict; and the extent to which external economic stresses contribute to work-family conflict.

To do this, I performed secondary data analysis of the 2002-2018 General Social Survey, selecting 2,406 respondents in two- and three-generation households who were earning income at the time of data collection. I conducted binary logistic regression analysis to model work-to-family and family-to-work conflict by including household type, individual demographics, personal attitudes of obligation, and level of financial responsibility to determine how each impact the likelihood of higher work-family conflict. I also categorized respondents as pre- and post-2008 to determine any trends as a result of the 2008 recession. I found that those in multigenerational households reported higher family-to-work conflict but not work-to-family conflict. Both work-to-family and family-to-work conflict differed significantly by race and gender; responsibility to provide financially was the most significant indicator of both work-to-family and family-to-work conflict. Responsibility also mediated the effects of race and gender on conflict, and I found no difference in conflict between household types once I accounted for financial responsibility. The percentage of multigenerational households in the US rose after 2008, and I found individuals post-2008 were less likely to experience family-to-work conflict than those pre-2008.  Viewing this trend in the current global crisis, households are likely to continue to expand to provide private safety nets in many of the same ways from the previous recession. This study contributes to the public discourse on work-family conflict by presenting a work and family focused approach rooted in contemporary household living arrangements to highlight the spillover effects of changes families make as they try to minimize the effects of shocks in one sphere on other parts of their lives, and how social inequalities may or may not exacerbate the effects of these shocks.