Work Not A "Haven" From Home -- Virginia Tech study finds home source of greater satisfaction than work

BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 19, 2003 – Home is still where the heart is, a Virginia Tech sociologist's research shows.

Even though more and more women became employed in the past three decades, they did not increasingly look to work as a haven, according to Jill Kiecolt, professor of sociology. Kiecolt studied more than two decades of surveys of adults in the United States done by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, looking at four categories of workers with families: those who saw home as a haven, those who saw work as a haven, those who were satisfied with both, and those with little satisfaction with either.

"Previously," Kiecolt said, "some sociologists thought work had become more satisfying than home. That theory implied that the group that found work more satisfying than home had grown over time. It turns out that men haven't changed, but the percentage of women who find work more satisfying than home has actually shrunk a bit. And it was never a very large group to begin with."

During the period studied, in which 9,761 employed family men and women were surveyed, those who found home a haven increased from 32 percent to 40 percent and those who found work to be their haven decreased from 16 percent to 11 percent.

Another myth from previous research was that the increase in finding work a haven accounted for the rise in the number of hours that people worked. "But, in fact, the category of people more satisfied with work than home shrank," Kiecolt said, "so finding work a haven could not explain the increase in work hours." Although she has not studied the actual reasons for the increase in hours worked, Kiecolt speculates that it is implied in the workplace that people will work longer hours--that it is part of our work culture.

Men have not changed much in their satisfaction with work and family life, but women apparently are not finding the workplace rewarding enough to increase their satisfaction over time, Kiecolt said. Instead, more women are finding home a haven. The study indicates that many long-standing work and family problems such as responsibilities, time management, and work opportunities, remain unsolved. Perhaps surprisingly, though, men and women with children under the age of six are especially likely to find home a haven. "Children may make family life more satisfying, boosting parents' sense of meaning and purpose," Kiecolt said.

Alexis Walker, editor of the Journal of Marriage and Family (JMF), which published Kiecolt's study in its current issue, said, "This research is significant because it addresses an underlying assumption in the contemporary debate about families. Previous researchers had assumed that women in particular are looking for ways to get away from their household and family obligations so they can focus on their own self-interests. This phenomenon is described as the rise of individualism. Dr. Kiecolt's findings show that our worries about women abandoning their families for the workplace are needless. Although home is a location in which much unpaid work is expected of women, it remains for them their primary source of pleasure and satisfaction."

"This does not mean that more and more women would rather stay home than work," Kiecolt said. "They just find their work is their work and their home is their haven."