In light of the increase in dual-earner households and employment demands outside the home, workplace flexibility has become a key support for working families to balance work and family responsibilities and to promote worker well-being. Scarce research, however, explores how workplace flexibility influences relationship quality between working parents. Based on the boundary-spanning resource perspective, workplace flexibility may promote the quality of workers’ relationship with their partner by increasing shared time and decreasing time-based conflicts. However, a boundary-blurring perspective suggests that flexibility may make the boundary between work and home too permeable, creating more conflicts in relationships. Guided by two competing perspectives, the current study explores the associations between three types of workplace flexibility (i.e., access to flextime, ability to work from home, and part-time employment) and couples’ relationship quality among working parents with young children. The study also investigates these associations across gender and household structure.
Data came from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study—Birth Cohort, a nationally representative study of children born in the U.S. in 2001. The sample consisted of employed mothers (N4,750) and resident fathers (N3,700) from two-parent households who completed two waves of the survey when a focal child was two and four years old. Flextime was measured with a dichotomous indicator of whether parents had access to flexible work hours or schedules at their current job. Working from home was measured with a binary indicator of whether parents had a formal arrangement to work from home. Parents who worked less than 35 hours per week were considered part-time workers. Couples’ relationship quality consisted of three measures: a binary indicator of relationship happiness (fairly happy/not too happy=0, very happy=1) and two scales of couple’s relationship: the frequency of positive interactions (e.g., calmly discussing something and laughing together, α = .78) and negative interactions (e.g., arguing about house chores and leisure time, α =. 81). The study sequentially used a lagged-dependent model that additionally controlled for prior outcomes separately, for mothers and resident fathers to address omitted variable bias. Interaction analyses were employed to test moderating associations by gender and household structure (dual-earner parents vs. single-earner parents).
Fathers’ flextime was associated with increased couple’s relationship happiness and increased positive interactions, and reduced negative interactions. In particular, the negative association between flextime and negative interactions was pronounced for fathers from dual-earner households. However, mothers’ flextime was not significantly related to couples’ relationship outcomes. As expected, mother’s working from home was associated with lower negative interactions and greater positive interactions between partners. On the other hand, father’s working from home was related to increased negative interactions. Part-time employment was associated with increased couple’s relationship happiness only among mothers.
Findings suggest that distinctive types of workplace flexibility may influence couples’ relationship quality and that it operates differently across gender and household structure. Given the increasing attention on work-family supports for working parents, promoting workplace flexibility for parents in the context of work-family policy and gender inequality will be discussed.