Study: Legacy of Parental Relations Loom Over Work-Life Balance Decisions

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Oct 30, 2017

While we might like to think of our decisions regarding work-life balance as our own, a recent study based on 148 in-depth interviews with 78 parents at global accounting and law firms found that parental upbringing has a major influence on how we work, according to the Harvard Business Review. The study, published in the journal Human Relations, in looked specifically at working parents between the age of 30 and 50 in middle or senior management roles, with the same number of male and female subjects. 

The majority of the men interviewed for the study grew up with fathers who worked very long hours as the sole breadwinners for their family. It was found that most of the men interviewed had internalized this model and had similar work-life balance patterns. Having grown up seeing their fathers work such long hours, these men viewed this kind of work pattern as normal, and were able to rationalize it even if it had negative consequences for their family life. This was the case even when they specifically wanted to make more time for their family than their own fathers did, but the men reported that they had drifted into the same kinds of schedule.

While women generally were not affected by their father's schedule, the study found that their mothers had a similar effect. If they had mothers who worked very long hours, even at the expense of family, the study found that they were more likely to work long hours themselves. Similar to men, this was found to be the case even when they deliberately set out to avoid repeating the patterns their mothers set. 

However even when breaking patterns, parental upbringing still loomed large. The study found a smaller number of people who successfully did the opposite of what their parents did. For women in this smaller group, it was found that whether or not their mother had a career was a major driver on their own decisions. Those raised by mothers who reluctantly gave up their careers to be a stay-at-home parent said they wanted to value their careers to avoid being in the same situation; conversely, those in this group raised by working mothers made efforts to achieve better work-life balance for their own children.  Overall, the study said that this rejection of parental models was usually in reaction to a major event like someone close to them dying or getting sick. 

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