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Past 40, men become a lot more sensitive to work-family conflict, new study finds

March 1, 2002

For more information, contact: Benjamin Haimowitz,

"I had personal reasons…I had issues in my family that were more important to me…I had had a clear imbalance in my priorities in life, and I had neglected some things that needed to be dealt with."

When Jeffrey Skilling explained his abrupt departure from Enron in those terms recently to a U.S. Senate committee, the words may have had a familiar ring to New York basketball fans.Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said much the same when he quit a few months earlier at the age of 39.

Although neither Senators nor Knick fans appeared to give much credence to those explanations, a new study finds that men do, in fact, become significantly more sensitive to work-family conflict as they get older.

The study, in the April/May 2002 issue of the Academy of Management Journal, suggests that, "whereas women's career satisfaction is negatively affected by work-family conflict throughout their lives, men show such adverse effects only in later career, when they're 40 and older."

"Men are more likely [than women] to sacrifice relationships for the sake of their careers in early career," write the authors, Luis L. Martins and John F. Veiga of the University of Connecticut and Kimberly A. Eddleston of Northeastern University. "In later career when many individuals plateau…they may be less tolerant of work-family conflict. At such a time, working long hours or traveling extensively may hardly seem worth the price."

The new research, examining the effect of work-family conflict on career satisfaction, is based on data from 975 managers. MBA students who had jobs volunteered to distribute surveys to as many as 10 managers or professionals in their companies and to ask them to complete the questionnaires anonymously and return them to the investigators.

The 975 respondents, from over 100 companies in 26 industries, were about evenly divided by gender. Men and women were, on average, about the same age, 36. Women were less likely to be married (60% vs. 69%) and more likely to have no children (44% vs. 33%). Although total family income was about the same for men and women, the women earned on average about $7,000 less per year ($54,000 vs. $61,000).

The study sought to determine how various factors affect the relationship between work-family conflict and career satisfaction. Career satisfaction was measured by three questions: 1) whether respondents were, in general, satisfied with their career status; 2) whether they were satisfied with their present job; and 3) whether they felt their progress toward promotion was satisfactory.

Work-family conflict was also assessed by three questions: 1) whether anxiety about their job frequently spilled over into their home or personal life; 2) whether their job prevented them from spending the time with their families or friends that they would like to spend; and 3) whether they had to give up attending important functions at home if they conflicted with important job-related functions.

The researchers controlled for seven factors likely to affect job satisfaction, including salary, promotions offered, and management level achieved.

Other things being equal, neither gender nor age in itself affected job satisfaction. But both strengthened the effect of work-family conflict on job satisfaction, with the adverse effect being significantly stronger for women than men and for older workers than younger ones.

Further, when the investigators divided each gender into three age groups (up to 32, 33-39, and 40 and over), they found an interesting difference. Among women, work-family conflict had a significantly negative impact on job satisfaction in all age groups; among men the effect was significant only for the group over 40.

Other findings on the effect of work-family conflict on career satisfaction were as follows:

* Contrary to the researchers' expectations, the negative effect was no stronger for married workers than for single ones. The finding leads the authors to surmise that the critical factor "may not be the presence of a spouse per se, but rather the nature of the relationship with one's spouse - e.g. the extent of assistance with housework or socioemotional support provided by the spouse."

* Financial resources did not lessen the effect. This was also contrary to expectations, since the researchers reasoned that "individuals with greater financial resources are better able to afford a variety of services - e.g. a nanny or child care - that may help them cope with potential work-family conflicts that otherwise could have detracted them from investing more time and energy into their career." Comments Professor Martins on money's failure to have the expected moderating effect, "Time away from the kids is an emotional issue. Even if you can afford a nanny, the fact of that time away is stressful."

* The effect was stronger for individuals who are in the minority gender in their workgroups and weaker for workers with strong community ties. The former finding leads the authors to advise that companies establish "organization-wide networking groups," and the latter to suggest that firms "encourage their employees to develop ties to the communities in which they live, through local social or volunteering programs."

The Academy of Management Journal, a peer-reviewed publication now in its 45th year, is published every other month by the academy, an organization with about 12,000 members in 60 countries that seeks to foster the advancement of research, education, and practice in the management field.

Media Coverage:
Chicago Tribune. Men shift gears for family after 40, study finds. (Tuesday, May 21, 2002).
The New York Times. Making room for daddy, and a job. (Sunday, April 07, 2002).

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