Hi, everyone, I'm Phyliss Jia Gai. I'm an assistant professor in marketing at Guanghua School of Management at Peking University. Today I'm gonna introduce my project together with professor Yanping Tu and Jing Xu at our department about female happiness and the resource allocation between family and work.
So we got interested in this topic, because we, as females realize that we can freely allocate our time resources sometimes. For example, sometimes we can equally allocate our time resource to family and work. While other times, we can only fully allocate our time to family members, such as taking care of our kids or our parents. In the other case, we can only devote all our time to our work, such as writing papers and attending conferences or teaching. So these variations made us wonder, in which case, females would feel happier about their life or about themselves. This is an important question because there is a hot debate between two competing hypotheses. So one hypothesis is that maybe equal time allocation, or nearly equal time allocation between family and work would bring greater happiness to females, because they will serve as two different sources of happiness. At the same time, there is an alternative hypothesis, which states that maybe work and family are two different sources of stress for females. And the reason is that we, as females are demanded or required to utilize different skills or different interpersonal traits in different situations. While in family, we have to be warm and caring. While at work, we have to be assertive and show our competence. So these two different sides of demand, may create a psychological tension in females’ mind.
To answer this question, we adopted a mixture of methods to fully understand the social perception of this question, as well as the real, the actual experience of females. To study social perception, we first conducted a fully randomized experiment, and we collected data from a national sample of respondents, including both females, males, and people who live in rural and urban area, and including people who are married with kids or unmarried, single people.What we find is across the whole population, across the whole sample, actually, people believe that more equal time allocation between family and work would bring greater happiness to females. In other words, balancing by devoting relatively equal time to family and work, seems like a double source of happiness. But is that true in real life? So to answer this question, we turn to a different data set which is a nationally representative dataset held by Peking University, is called Chinese Family Panel Studies (CFPS), which includes longitudinal data from Chinese families.
We found out in one of the surveys in 2010, there are very detailed questions about time allocation. For instance, they asked about how many hours you spend on sleeping or social activities, work, studying or taking care of your kids and elders at your family. What we find is something drastically different from social perception. Instead of double sources of happiness, what we actually find was a double-stressor phenomenon, which means people, or specifically, females who try to equally allocate their time between family and work actually experience lower levels of happiness.
It's noticeable that this only applies to females, not to males at all, which means the social expectation of females may contribute to this double-stressor phenomenon. As for males, most of the time you only expect them to succeed in their career or at work. So they don't have to endure the stress from both family and work or social expectations of being a good dad and a good employee. As a result, there is no such phenomenon in males.
So what can we learn from this mismatch between social perception and actual experience of females? We think the paradox may be explained by females’ internalization and rationalization of social expectations of gender roles. We know currently in China, females are expected to be Good mom, to be Good wife…as well as Good Employee at work. But this expectation not only exists in social perception, but also internalized by females themselves. As a result, they may proactively choose to balance between work and family when they have the freedom to allocate their time resource.
Given this finding, what can we do to improve the happiness of females? We think there at least three ways to increase female happiness in this case. First of all, we think part of the reason for the double stressor phenomenon might be that females cannot help comparing themselves to the perfect models in the society, which means perfect moms and perfect employees or perfect entrepreneurs. employees or perfect entrepreneurs. In that case, because you do not spend all of your time on work or family, but rather trying to balance between the two, you cannot be as perfect as those role models in the society.
In other words, maybe by loosening this upward comparison process, females can experience a higher level of happiness because they will focus on what they gain from the balancing processes, rather than what they lose from these processes. And besides the psychological appraisal of this process, we believe it's also important for the society as a whole to provide more support for females, who are trying to balance between work and family. For instance, for moms, for working moms, companies or employers can provide more support for them such as job flexibility. And at the same time, for working moms at home, their family members like their parents, relatives and especially their partners should provide more support at home for them to pursue their career goals.
Lastly, we want to emphasize the importance of redefining balance. In our research, we define balance and operationalize. This construct as time allocation, like whether it's relatively even allocation between family and the work. However, if we think it more broadly. Actually, balance can be many different things. It can be a dynamic process. For example, you can pursue your career during a certain period of your life, while in the other period of your life, you pursue your family goals. Another example is you can try to balance between work and family with your partner or with your other family members. For example, you are more responsible for bread-winning, and the other person will be more responsible for taking care of the family. That's perfectly fine. And that's a more dynamic sense of balancing. We believe this broader sense, broader definition of balancing would also help females to experience greater happiness and take them out of this trap of stress from both family and work.
To summarize a work family balance is a worldwide problem, is not just unique to Chinese females. We think to increase females’ happiness definitely requires long term investment and persistent effort from females themselves, from their family members, their colleagues as well as the society as a whole. So by lifting females out of the traditional social expectation of being perfect at both family and work, we believe females will embrace a freer and happier life.