Stress :: Work-family stress studied among immigrant Latinos

A new study that examined the work-family experiences of recent Latino immigrants working in low-wage, nonprofessional jobs, found that they reported infrequent work-family conflict, according to lead author Joseph G. Grzywacz, Ph.D., of Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

The findings, to be published in the August issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology, suggest that individuals from more collective cultures experience fewer conflicts between work and family than white, middle-class workers because they view work as a necessary and vital component of assuring family well-being.

Work-family conflict refers to situations in which the demands and responsibilities of work and family roles are incompatible in some respect. It can occur in both directions. For example, family can interfere with work if a worker is distracted by marital problems or a sick child. And, work can interfere with family when work schedules make it impossible to attend family functions or complete household chores. Since the early 1970s when women began joining the workforce en masse, work-family conflict research has focused, almost exclusively, on professional white adults, said Grzywacz.

?Work-family balance is a popular topic yet very little is known about the work-family experiences of Latinos, the fastest growing segment of the work force and a population that frequently finds themselves in difficult work arrangements,? said Grzywacz.

The study indicates that the traditional models of work-family conflict need to be modified to reflect the needs and circumstances of diverse workers in the new global economy.

Researchers asked 226 recent immigrants from rural communities in Mexico and Central America who were employed in the poultry processing industry about their experiences combining work and family. Some of the variables examined included how much the physical and psychological demands of poultry processing work affects family life, including episodes of work-family conflict, the degree to which such conflicts contributed to poor health and how much gender influenced the severity of work-family conflicts.

?In the United States, there?s this idea that work and family are diametrically opposed ? people think that it has to be one or the other,? Grzywacz said. ?In white, middle class America, everyone is talking about how combining work and family is so stressful.?

In contrast, the Latino workers view work and family as integrated, that work is a functional means to family well-being, and thus there is little to no work-family conflict, especially for men. The study provides evidence suggesting that workers and their families arrange their lives in ways to minimize conflicts between work and family.

One surprising aspect of the study is that work-family conflict is highly gendered among Latino immigrants. While the men frequently report that work had little or no effect on their families, the women provided clear illustrations of how their work interfered with family. Some of the women were able to give clear examples of work-to-family conflict, citing stress and pressures from the job and supervisors, in their daily lives whereas men saw little connection between their work and their families. The results suggest that cultural ideals about women?s responsibilities for family care elevate the potential for conflict to occur for the women.

?The goal of this study was to expand understanding of how culture and industry contribute to the occurrence and consequences of work-family conflict, specifically work-to-family conflict,? said Grzywacz. ?In light of evidence indicating that the U.S. workforce is becoming more ethnically diverse, and economic projections suggesting substantial growth in non-professional jobs, it is imperative to expand understanding of work-family conflict beyond white, professional workers.?

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