The University Record, November 12, 1996

Working women benefit from career, home balancing act

By Deborah Gilbert
News and Information Services


"Juggling the demands of careers and families seems to benefit working women and their offspring," Smith College Prof. Faye Crosby told an attentive audience at the Nov. 1 kick-off symposium for the U-M Work/Life/Family Series, organized by the Center for the Education of Women.

A noted research psychologist and author of Juggling: The Unexpected Advantages of Balancing Career and Home for Women and Their Families, Crosby shared her personal and professional insights with about 150 women at the Michigan League.

Crosby noted that in the early 1990s the media demonstrated a good deal of "pretended sympathy for the harassed woman worker," particularly in the upper echelons of the business world.

Crosby, however, suspected that the sympathy was simply a "diversionary tactic to take attention away from real problems and from finding ways for families to function well."

A key factor in the media's misunderstanding, she suspected, was research that compared the stress levels of working women to working men. Crosby set out to gather data that compared women who were juggling work and family to women who focused only on career or family, and found that "the jugglers were better off. They are more pressed for time but they are thriving."

She discovered after reviewing 16 "women, stress and depression" studies that three reported more stress for jugglers, four reported less stress and nine found no difference.

Juggling does not seem to be a critical issue in women's stress, she said. Instead the key is the type of job or family a woman has.

"If a woman has a job with lots of responsibility and little authority, or a difficult, uncooperative spouse or family, you find stress." Work actually can enhance coping skills, she added, because it broadens contacts and opportunities.

"We also found no difference between the jugglers and non-jugglers in the levels of depression," Crosby said. "We did find, however, that the jugglers recovered from depression more readily. They seemed to have more alternatives to achieve some satisfaction and self-esteem in their lives. They also were in better health and their general life satisfaction was higher."

Of equal importance, "all the research we gathered found that the children of jugglers were as happy as the children of stay-at-home moms," she noted.

A new study of 1,364 15-month old infants who were measured for attachment to their mothers in the "stranger situation test," found "unequivocally that non-maternal care poses no threat to secure attachment to mothers," Crosby said.

Several large studies under way over the past five years also report good news, she added. "Women in the high-flying strata of professional careers are very happy to be there, and men are contributing more to housework and childcare."

One major recent study found that while women spend 26 hours each week on duties at the home, men now spend 21 hours per week. The gap is closing. Also, large corporations are now fighting to get on magazine lists of the most family-friendly businesses in the United States.

Crosby's concern, despite all the good news for working women, is that the benefits may not spread to lower income groups. "There are currently 12.8 million people in `insecure' housing, who may well become homeless," given provisions of welfare reform, "and eight million of them are children. We must think of ways to help juggling women who are have-nots, as well as the haves," she said.

The Work/Life/Family Series sponsors are CEW, Family Care Resources Program, Feminist Practice Project, Institute for Labor and Industrial Relations, Institute for Research on Women and Gender, the Medical Campus Human Resource Department, the School of Nursing and the School of Social Work.