ERIC Identifier: ED329810
Publication Date: 1991-00-00
Author: Kerka, Sandra
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult Career and Vocational Education
Balancing Work and Family Life. ERIC Digest No. 110.
The myth that family and work occupy separate spheres is fast fading
in the face of tremendous demographic and economic changes (Voydanoff 1984).
Smaller families, increasing numbers of working women, nontraditional family
patterns, and changing values are spurring a growing awareness of the interdependence
of work and family life. Although the composition of the labor force and
family structures have changed rapidly, attitudes and institutions have
been slower to evolve. Many workplace rules and practices remain based
on a male, single-earner work force, and many families still act under
role-sharing assumptions based on the presence of full-time homemakers,
despite the fact that fewer than 7 percent of families fit that model.
For many people, the conflict between these assumptions and reality
necessitates finding better ways to balance home and career. This concern
is not a gender issue but one that affects all people as they make life
and career choices. Gender equity cannot be achieved until "society recognizes
the importance of work and family roles for both women and men" (Vocational
Education Journal 1989, p. 27).
Career and vocational educators as well as employers face the challenge
of preparing people with the attitudes and skills needed for successful
integration of work and family life. The field of home economics recognizes
the importance of work-family issues in its mission statement, which notes
that home economics education prepares youth and adults for both the work
and family spheres and focuses on their interrelationship (Vocational Education
Journal 1989). This ERIC Digest looks at some programs and practices in
secondary home economics and career development and counseling for adults
that deal with this subject. Essential curricular elements and strategies
are highlighted, and benefits for individuals, employers, and society are
ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS FOR LIFE/CAREER PLANNING
Two theoretical concepts underlie many existing approaches to the family-career
connection: developmental stages and systems theory. Recognition of the
developmental stages of careers, families, and individuals provides a better
understanding of the stresses and conflicts arising from various roles,
especially when high-demand stages of two roles occur simultaneously (Miller
1986). Systems theory emphasizes the interrelatedness of individual, career,
and family and identifies how satisfaction or dissatisfaction in one area
affects the others (Schneider 1990).
Ideally, life and career planning should be taught as a unit, and examples
from consumer/homemaking education show that middle school is not too early
to begin (Vocational Education Journal 1989). As people progress through
the different stages of their multiple roles, reexamination of life/career
issues is beneficial either in formal courses, seminars and workshops,
or counseling situations in higher education and adult settings.
Ten critical choices affecting the work-family balance are as follows
(Vocational Education Journal 1989, pp. 28-30):
1. Choosing to view work and family life as interconnected
2. Selecting a satisfying career
3. Choosing a career with day-to-day flexibility
4. Choosing a career with adequate salary potential
5. Deciding upon the right partner and time to marry
6. Deciding whether and when to have children and how to provide child
7. Choosing a job with potential
8. Determining priorities at home and at work
9. Obtaining the necessary training for a career
10. Choosing to take control of one's life
These decisions can be addressed in the choice and sequence of topics
for a life/career planning course. The following list of important topics
for a life/career planning course is a synthesis of a number of program
examples and curriculum guides ("Adult and Family Living" 1990; "Family
and Career Transitions Resource Guide" 1989; "Family Life and Worker Productivity"
1986; "Individual and Family Life" 1989; Kaser and Frazier 1989; Miller
and Weeks 1985; "Vocational Education Journal" 1989):
--Interdependence of individual, family, and career systems
--Developmental stages of individual, family, and career
--Values, realistic expectations, and priorities
--Career and life-style choices
--Coping with multiple roles
--Sex roles and sex stereotypes
--Parenthood/family life education
--Child care and elder care options
--Managing time, a household, money, stress, and change
--Using resources and developing support systems
--Dual career and single parent/displaced homemaker issues
--Cultural differences in family-work attitudes
In addition to these specific subjects, many family-work curricula emphasize
the usefulness of transferable skills. Certain similarities between the
home and the workplace--in structure and organization and tasks--indicate
that some skills are useful in both areas (Miller and Weeks 1985):
JUNIOR/SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL PROGRAMS
New York State's approach to the reform of the general curriculum recognizes
the value of teaching both career and family skills (Vocational Education
Journal 1989). Since 1986, seventh and eighth graders have been required
to take a course in Home and Career Skills in which the emphasis is on
learning to learn and thinking skills. Students become aware "of a world
where both men and women take care of the children, go to the market, and
go to work" (p. 46).
Iowa State University researchers tested 37 lesson plans on balancing
work and family in grades 10-12. They found that students' knowledge of
work and family concepts increased and more realistic attitudes about the
future were developed. The curriculum was considered appropriate for home
economics, career education, business education, cooperative education,
and other occupational areas. One important feature is a lesson on federal
legislation supporting work and family life, making students aware of the
effects of public policy and preparing them for advocacy roles as citizens
(Vocational Education Journal 1989, pp. 34-35).
JUGGLING LESSONS: PROGRAMS FOR ADULTS
The Career Center at Florida State University infused work-family information
into an existing career planning course. The experiential exercises dealing
with sex roles, marriage and family, and career planning were integrated
within a conceptual framework based on systems theory. More recognition
of dual career issues and awareness of family and work responsibilities
were apparent after the course (Gerken, Reardon, and Bash 1988).
If people manage to get through high school and college without learning
critical skills for balancing work and family, there is still hope. The
curriculum developed by the Minnesota Vocational Education Work and Family
Institute has been adapted for technical institute and community college
classrooms and workplace seminars. Customized seminars for other businesses
improved morale, team spirit, and efficiency and led two corporations to
sponsor working parent resource centers in Minneapolis and St. Paul that
offer reference materials, consultation, and classes (Vocational Education
Journal 1989, pp. 36-39).
THE BENEFITS OF BALANCE
Work and family roles are both central to the personal identity and
life experiences of adults. Educators, employers, and society can all help
individuals harmonize those roles in their lives. Supportive educational
strategies, employment practices, and public policies are those that enhance
opportunities for children to develop well, expand opportunities for men
to carry out their role in the family, and increase opportunities for women
to participate fully in the labor force and society (Voydanoff 1984).
The benefits of successfully combining work and family roles for individuals,
employers, and society include the following:
--Improved quality of life and mental health
--Greater individual contributions to the well-being of society
--A wider pool of competent employees, averting projected labor shortages
--Better employee morale and less turnover
--More aware and informed citizens who can exert constructive influence
on public and private institutions
--A more holistic upbringing for children
In addition to the resources cited here, the ERIC database contains
other examples of local, state, and federal family-work programs.
Adult and Family Living. Stillwater: Oklahoma Department of Vocational
and Technical Education, 1990. (ED 323 391).
Family and Career Transitions Resource Guide. Columbus: Division of
Vocational and Career Education, Ohio Department of Education, 1989.
Family Life and Worker Productivity. Bloomington: Vocational Education
Services, Indiana University, 1986. (ED 276 863).
Gerken, D.; Reardon, R.; and Bash, R. "Revitalizing a Career Course."
Journal of Career Development 14, no. 4 (Summer 1988): 269-278. (EJ 388
Individual and Family Life. Lubbock: Texas Tech University, 1989. (ED
Kaser, J. S., and Frazier, A. C. Juggling Lessons. Andover, MA: NETWORK,
Inc., 1989. (ED 311 215).
Miller, J. V. "Helping Adults Balance Career and Family Roles." New
Directions for Continuing Education, no. 32 (Winter 1986): 45-58. (EJ 344
Miller, J. V., and Weeks, C. A., eds. "A Special Issue on Family-Career
Linkages." Journal of Career Development 12, no. 1 (September 1985): 3-103.
(EJ 324 890-900).
Schneider, R. R. "Incorporating Family Studies into Junior/Senior High
School Home Economics Curriculum Using a Systems Approach." Canadian Home
Economics Journal 40, no. 2 (Spring 1990): 66-68. (EJ 404 734).
Vocational Education Journal "Special Issue: Balancing Home, Family
and Work." 64, no. 6 (September 1989): 24-41, 46. (EJ 398 614-621).
Voydanoff, P., ed. Work and Family: Changing Roles of Men and Women.
Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield Publishing Co., 1984.