URC

Investigating Role Strain and Stress in Dual-Earner and Single-Earner Families

Anna Kate Humphrey
Susan Brown
Jennifer Bell
Dekeiba Lee
Sheri Lokken Worthy*

Mississippi State University


Introduction

Today’s society is busier than ever. Parents, in particular, are responsible for many different roles in their fast-paced lifestyles. These responsibilities range from child caregiving, to household maintenance, to working outside the home. Some of the roles are unavoidable, while others might be leisure or volunteer activities that cause extra strain. The problem this study investigates is the unnecessary stress parents experience due to the number of roles they choose or those in which they are required to engage. The aim of this study was to determine if the number of roles persons have relates to their stress level, if dual-earner families experience more stress than single-earner families, and if women experience more stress due to role strain than men.

Review of Related Literature

There are many roles involved in being a parent. Today’s parents are not only parents, they wear a variety of other hats: employees, employers, volunteers, friends, spouses, siblings. This large number of responsibilities contributes to the hassles they encounter in an average day. Common sense would indicate that the more roles a person plays, the more stress they will encounter; therefore, the purpose of this study was to determine whether the number of roles a parent assumes is related to the level of stress they experience.

Role Theory

Role theory suggests that the maintenance of multiple roles across work and family institutions is a source of strain (Voydonoff 1987, 1988). Role strain has been defined as "a transactional process reflecting an imbalance between demands and the resources available to cope with those demands” (Scharlach, 2001). This role strain is a direct result of taking on a number of responsibilities and not being able to successfully balance them. Although some stress can be positive (i.e., it can be stimulating and increase alertness), too much will ultimately affect quality of life (Altamirano, 2001). It is true that all people experience stress; research has shown there are instances that cause some people to experience an increased level of stress compared to others.

Multiple Roles

Brazelton (1988) explains, “As women and men begin to face squarely the unforeseen anxieties of dividing the self into two important roles – one geared toward the family, the other toward the working world – the pressures are enormous and largely uncharted by past generations.” A common problem for adults in today’s society is increased responsibilities from work and family. With the addition of children to the family, caregiving responsibilities increase dramatically. Parents are responsible for caring for the children’s best interests, education, wellness, housecleaning, clothing care, food preparation, and financial management.

The stress experienced by caregivers results from multiple roles, such as: child care, employment, and possibly caring for elderly parents. These roles are usually more stressful due to the increased number of demanding situations (Stull, Bowman, & Smerglia, 1994). Although not all people will face the task of caring for their parents, the majority of U.S. families who will eventually take on this role can expect to do so at the same time they are pursuing a career (Lechner, 1993). Employed caregivers state that they experience more stress in the areas of work, family, and health than employees without such responsibilities. Consequently, 9 to 22% actually quit their jobs, whereas others think of reducing the activities of caregiving (Lechner, 1993). This information leads to the study’s first hypothesis: The number of roles that parents assume directly correlates with the stress they experience.

A contrary finding was published in Prevention magazine. Loecher (2002) concluded that persons who juggle various roles experience decreased levels of depression and anxiousness, as well as fewer problems with their health. These people may have extra income, easing financial stress, and social support from work colleagues.

Dual-Earner Families versus Single-Earner Families

Parents today juggle multiple roles including work. A mother contributing to the family income increases this juggling process because of less time to care for the home and children. A dual income can benefit families by easing their financial burdens, but can also cause them more financial trouble because of the need to pay for child care, household cleaning costs, yard care, and other needs. A dual-earner family can have increased stress if these services are not contracted out but assumed by the working parents when they return home at the end of a workday.

Approximately 60 percent of wives contribute to family incomes (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2004). The days are past when men are working and bringing home all that is needed for a fully functioning family. Women are now fending for themselves, and the financial strains of our current society are encouraging them to help bring home the bacon. Another contributing factor in dividing time between family and work are the increased demands of work (Jacobs & Winslow, 2004). The standard of a 40-hour work week that was established 60 years ago is no longer true today. Longer hours and a faster pace are expected of many workers today (Jacobs & Winslow, 2004).

The dual-earner situation increases the need for child-care services as well as the stress of a mother’s evening when she returns home. The family’s need for the mother to care for the children, cook dinner, do the laundry, clean the house, and help with homework does not usually change just because she now works outside of the home 40 hours each week. A single-income family, which is usually considered a husband working outside the home and wife caring for the home and children, may experience less stress because of less role strain by both parties involved. This information supports the second hypothesis: Dual-earner families experience more stress than single-earner families.

Conversely, research by Meeks, Arnkoff, Glass, and Notarius (1986) did not support their prediction that dual-earner households experience more hassles than their single-earner counterparts. Hassles are related but not equal to roles; therefore, this evidence describes aspects of the previous stated hypothesis but not its entirety.

Gender and Stress

Stress is one of the many factors that affect men and women differently. The genetic make-up of men versus women makes them react differently to situations, and women rate some events as more stressful than men. Zimmerman, Haddock, Current, and Ziemba (2003) state that wives contribute more to child care than husbands, and wives also help more with the family organization. In general, women have a broader range of everyday tasks to complete than men. Men tend to have more specialized areas and are able to stay in their comfort zone.

According to Matud (2004) there are two distinct hypotheses on the subject of male and female stress: the role-constraint hypothesis and the socialization hypothesis. They are focused on the topics of traditional roles and differences in coping between the two sexes. Matud’s study found that women experience a higher level of chronic stress and minor daily stressors. In addition, women also felt more negative about the life events of the past two years; this information is also supported by Bekker, Dejong, Zijlstra, and Von Landeghem (2000). These researchers’ work with men and women with children and careers versus men and women with careers and no children concluded that the most stressed individual in this case is the mother with both children and a career. This information leads to our third hypothesis: Females experience more stress due to role strain than males.

Summary

Parents are the ultimate multi-taskers, comforters, and educators. These roles have everything and nothing to do with each other. Raising a family can be one of the most challenging tasks a person faces. That parents are busy persons is inevitable, but the stress they experience can be handled if the roles they assume are examined and placed in order of priority.

The circumstances of being dual or single income and being male or female relate to the fact that all these accumulated roles cause stress. Dual-earner families rely on tired and over-worked mothers who come home to their second job of the day. These mothers are stressed with extra role burdens. A woman’s stress could be cut in half if she could choose either career or family. With this cut in stress there could also be an increase in quality of work that is completed. This idea of extra role burdens also explains how women are proven to have a higher level of daily stress. The extensive list of roles they assume over men speaks for itself. The work of Stull, Bowman, and Smerglia (1994) explains it clearly and precisely when saying that caregivers, who include all parents, experience stress due to the multiple roles they must assume.

In this study, three research questions were investigated. The questions were a) Do parents who take on multiple roles experience more stress? b) Do parents who are a part of a dual-earner family as opposed to those in a single-earner family experience more stress? and c) Do male or female parents experience more stress?

Methodology
Participants

Parents at two child-care centers on the campus of a southeastern university were asked to participate in this research. Both parents of the children were given the opportunity to contribute. This included 55 children at the first child care center with 110 surveys dispersed (50% response rate) and 36 children at the second child care center with 72 surveys dispersed (50% response rate). The surveys from the first child-care center were answered by parents of children from six weeks of age to five years of age, whereas the second child care center serves only children who are three and four years old.

Instrument

Each parent was given an informed consent letter and survey instrument. The letter notified each participant about the research, the purpose of it, and risks and benefits they might receive by contributing. The participants were given anonymity because there was no requirement for their signature. The survey consisted of 51 questions.

All stress questions were based on a 7-point likert scale. Typical stress was measured by asking “How would you rate your typical stress level?” Work stress was measured by the question, “How much of your stress is work-related?” Home stress was based on “How much of your stress is due to your responsibilities at home?” Finally, relationship stress was determined by asking, “Do you feel stress affects your relationship with your spouse? Skip question if single parent.”

The number of roles for each parent was calculated by adding which roles parents indicated they had sole responsibility: cooking, cleaning up after meals, doing laundry, shopping (groceries, household necessities), transporting children, house cleaning, child caregiving, disciplining, taking out trash, working in yard, doing/scheduling home repairs, servicing vehicle, paying bills, working outside the home for money, making decisions, elderly caregiving, volunteering in the church, volunteering in the community, participating in school parental activities, and other. The response was not included if the parent indicated it was a shared responsibility.

Procedure

The approval for this research was obtained on October 31, 2005, by the Institutional Review Board with IRB Docket number 05-290. The surveys were then delivered to the child-care centers on November 1, 2005. At both locations two surveys (one for each parent) were placed in each child’s box. Each parent received a survey with an informed consent cover letter. It was estimated that the survey would take approximately 10 minutes to complete and was then to be placed back in the provided manila envelope. These packets were to be sealed and returned to the center director by November 4, 2005. Each center had signs posted to remind parents of this deadline.

Data Analysis

SPSS version 11.5 was used for all analyses. A Pearson’s correlation was used to investigate whether the number of parental roles assumed is related to the level of stress experienced (hypothesis 1). A two-sample t-test was performed to determine if dual-earner families experienced more perceived stress than single income families (hypothesis 2). A two-sample t-test was also performed to determine if women experience more perceived stress due to role strain than men (hypothesis 3).

Results and Conclusions

A description of the sample is shown in Table 1. Respondents were from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, educational levels, and incomes. Of the 60 parents who responded to the survey by the deadline, five were single parents and three had neither spouse currently employed. These respondents were dropped from the analyses leaving a sample size of 52.

Table 1

Sample Description

_________________________________________________________________________

Dual-Earner
n = 36

Single-Earner
n = 16

Total
N = 52

_________________________________________________________________________

Gender
  Male
  Female
  n/a

 

 
13
22
1

 

 
7
9

 
20
31
1

 

Ethnicity
  Caucasian
  African American
  Asian American
  Hispanic/Latino
  Other
  n/a

 

 
28
3
3
1
0
1

 
7
0
6
0
3

 
35
3
9
1
3
1

Education Level
  High School or GED
  Some College
  College Diploma
  Any Higher Degree
  n/a

 

 
0
7
13
15
1

 
2
1
4
9

 
2
8
17
24
1

Annual Household Income
  < $10,000
 $10,000 – $19,999
 $20,000 – $29,999
 $30,000 – $39,999
 $40,000 – $49,999
 $50,000 – $74,999
 $75,000 - $99,999
 > $100,000
 n/a

 
 
3
1
3
6
12
5
4
2

 
 
3
2
3
3
1
4
0

 
0
6
3
6
9
13
9
4
2

_________________________________________________________________________

The role responsibilities of men and women in dual-earner families and two-parent one-earner families were gender specific for both groups. The women in this sample were more likely to cook, clean, do laundry, shop, and care for children while the men in the sample were more likely to take out the trash, do yard work, and do repairs. There was no difference in role responsibilities, however, between dual-earner families and single-earner families.

The first hypothesis that the number of roles parents assume directly correlates with the stress they experience was not supported. The number of roles was not significantly related to a parent’s typical stress level, work-related stress, relationship-related stress, or home-related stress. The number of roles and home-related stress approached significance (r = .242, p = .08), indicating some relationship between the number of roles for which a parent is responsible and the level of stress related to responsibilities in the home.

The second hypothesis, that dual-earner families experience more stress than single-earner families, did find some supporting data. As noted in Table 2, dual-earner families had higher mean levels of all types of stress. However, only the difference between dual-earner and single-earner relationship stress was significantly different (p = .015).

Table 2

Stress Comparisons in Dual- and Single-Earner Families

________________________________________________

n

M

SD

p-value

________________________________________________

Typical Stress
  Dual earner
  Single earner

 

 
36
16

 
4.69
3.31

 
1.41
1.74

 
.406

Work Stress
  Dual earner
  Single earner

 

 
36
16

 
4.33
3.63

 
1.42
2.41

 
.237

Home Stress
  Dual earner
  Single earner

 

 
36
16

 
3.72
3.38

 
1.45
1.45

 
.429

Relationship Stress  
  Dual earner
  Single earner

 
36
16

 
4.72
3.31

 
1.70
2.18

 
.015

________________________________________________

The third hypothesis, that women experience more stress due to role strain than men, was also not supported. This study showed that the level of stress between men and women was not significantly different. Men reported a higher level of work stress while women reported being responsible for more roles (Table 3), but the difference was not significant.

Table 3

Male Stress versus Female Stress

_________________________________________________________________________

n

M

SD

p-value

_________________________________________________________________________

Typical Stress
  Men
  Women

 

 
20
31

 
4.75
4.42

 
1.29
1.65

 
.452

Work Stress
  Men
  Women

 

 
20
31


4.65
3.71


1.63
2.12


.098

Home Stress
  Men
  Women

 


20
31


3.50
3.61


1.05
1.63


.784

Relationship Stress
  Men
  Women

 


20
31


4.65
4.16


1.63
2.08


.379

Number of Roles
  Men
  Women


20
31


3.95
4.48


1.99
3.27


.516

_________________________________________________________________________

One of the limitations of this study was that the sample was 60 parents; 52 surveys were used for these analyses. These parents were all from two child development centers in a small university community. Also, in some cases, two parents from one family filled out separate surveys, which were likely to be correlated.

However, the participants did come from a variety of backgrounds and income levels ranging from university faculty and staff members to students. If this study could have included surveys completed by more participants from a variety of geographic locations, the results may have shown more significant differences.

Implications

It is interesting to note that the dual-earner families in this sample did have more relationship stress than their single-earner counterparts. It is also interesting that men indicated experiencing more work-related stress and women reported higher levels of home-related stress, although not significantly different. These two factors could exacerbate relationship stress. Although previous studies have shown that women, especially those who work and are parenting young children, have increased roles and stress, that finding was not supported by this research. It is possible that individuals have differing perceptions of the stress they are experiencing. As noted by previous researchers, some parents may thrive with more roles of responsibility while others may become debilitated by the stress (Loecher, 2002; Meeks, et al., 1986). Further research needs to be conducted investigating the relationship between role strain and stress on parents at different stages of the life cycle.


References

Altamirano, C. (2001, September). Stressed. Hispanic, 14, 86.

Bekker, M. H. J., Dejong, P. F., Zijlstra, F. A. H., & Von Landeghem, B. A. J. (2000). Combining care and work: Health and stress effects in male and female academics. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 7, 28-43. Retrieved September 20, 2005 from Academic Search Elite.

Brazelton, T. B. (1988). Stress for families today. Infant Mental Health Journal, 9, 65-71. Retrieved September 14, 2005 from PsycINFO.

Jacobs, J. A., & Winslow, S. E. (2004). Overworked faculty: Job stresses and family demands. Annals of the American Academy of Political & Social Science, 596, 104-129. Retrieved on September 22, 2005 from PsycINFO.

Lechner, V. M. (1993). Support systems and stress reduction among workers caring for dependent parents. National Association of Social Workers, Inc, 38, 461-469. Retrieved September 10, 2005 from PsycINFO.

Loecher, B. (2002, April). Benefits of a balancing act. Prevention, 54, 48.

Matud, M. P. (2004). Gender differences in stress and coping styles. Personality and Individual Differences, 37, 1401-1415. Retrieved September 28, 2005 from SocINDEX.

Meeks, S., Arnkoff, D. B., Glass, C. R., & Notarius, C. I. (1986). Wives’ employment status, hassles, communication, and relational efficacy: Intra-versus extra-relationship factors and marital adjustment. Family Relations, 34, 249-255. Retrieved on September 22, 2005 from PsycINFO.

Scharlach, A. E. (2001). Role strain among working parents: Implications for workplace and community. Community, Work, and Family, 4, 215-227. Retrieved September 20, 2005 from Academic Search Premiere.

Stull, D. E., Bowman, K., & Smerglia, V. (1994). Women in the middle. Family Relations, 43, 319-324. Retrieved September 13, 2005 from SocINDEX. U.S. Bureau of the Census. (2004). Annual Demographic Survey. FINC-01. Selected Characteristics of Families by Total Money Income in 2004. Retrieved June 1, 2006 from ttp://pubdb3.census.gov/macro/032005/faminc/new01_001.htm

Voydanoff, P. (1988). Work role characteristics, family structure demands, and work/family conflict. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 50, 749-761.

Voydanoff, P. (1987). Work and Family Life. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Zimmerman, T. S., Haddock, S. A., Current, L. R., & Ziemba, S. (2003). Intimate partnership: Foundation to the successful balance of family and work. American Journal of Family Therapy, 31, 107-124. Retrieved September 22, 2005 from PsycINFO.



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