Abstract: 'i Could Have Been There to Help Him More': A Qualitative Study of Work-Family Conflict Among Low-Wage Hospital Workers with Dependent Children (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

'i Could Have Been There to Help Him More': A Qualitative Study of Work-Family Conflict Among Low-Wage Hospital Workers with Dependent Children

Friday, January 17, 2020
Liberty Ballroom O, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Kess Ballentine, MA, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Background and Purpose: Much of the literature investigating work-family conflict among low-wage workers focuses on retail and fast food workers. These jobs tend to limit autonomy and work hours and lack fringe benefits. When workers are parents of children under 18, these qualities affect their parenting and, ultimately, child outcomes. Less is known about the experiences of parents in comparatively “good” low-wage jobs, namely those who have wages above the minimum wage, access to fringe benefits, and protective scheduling policies. The current sample is taken from the Pittsburgh Wage Study, a longitudinal study documenting the effects of union-negotiated wage increases and other workplace policy changes. The current analysis focuses on work-family interaction for parents of children under 18 who have participated in in-depth, semi-structured qualitative interviews as part of this mixed-methods study (n=23).

Methods: Data were collected by trained interviewers using a semi-structured interview guide. Interviews were transcribed and entered into NVivo qualitative analysis software. A coding scheme was developed by a 4-person research team and refined until it could be implemented consistently across coders. The data were then coded descriptively. Analyses to answer the current research questions were done by extracting the theoretically-relevant codes from the data (e.g., schedule, child-related codes, family leisure) and completing further analysis to identify emerging themes. In addition to general descriptive coding, causation coding was used to identify the specific pathways through which parents perceived and responded to work-family interaction. Together, these two styles of coding highlighted key themes across parents as well as mechanisms by which parents experienced and coped with work-family interaction.

Results: Despite their comparatively better jobs, analyses indicate that workers in the sample experience significant and negative work-family conflict with potentially serious implications for parenting and child outcomes. Findings include:  1) despite protective scheduling policies, family time is frequently affected by rotating schedules and the need to make ends meet through overtime; 2) parents rely on family to provide child care and child enrichment activities; 3) data show limited informal supports in the workplace. Illustrative case examples will be presented to provide evidence of these themes and articulate the pathways through which parents navigate work-family interaction.

Conclusions and Implications: Work-family interaction research has important implications for social work. Large-scale studies may miss nuances in the interactions between low-wage workers and their environments. In-depth analysis of individuals’ experiences of and strategies to cope with work-family conflict reveals information relevant to social work research, practice, and advocacy. This work helps to fill a gap in the work-family research, demonstrating how people with relatively “good” jobs (e.g., fringe benefits, engaging work, effective scheduling policies) and higher wages within the lower-end of the income range articulate challenges with work-family balance, delineating potentially serious effects on parenting and child outcomes. Implications for labor rights and income inequality will be shared while also discussing how social workers in other areas of practice can complement this work by helping individuals and communities fill gaps in services and alleviate stressors faced by parents revealed through these analyses.