Change and stability in work-family conflict and mothers' and fathers' mental health: Longitudinal evidence from an Australian cohort Academic Article uri icon


  • Work-family conflict (WFC) occurs when work or family demands are 'mutually incompatible', with detrimental effects on mental health. This study contributes to the sparse longitudinal research, addressing the following questions: Is WFC a stable or transient feature of family life for mothers and fathers? What happens to mental health if WFC increases, reduces or persists? What work and family characteristics predict WFC transitions and to what extent are they gendered? Secondary analyses of 5 waves of data (child ages 4-5 to 12-13 years) from employed mothers (n = 2693) and fathers (n = 3460) participating in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children were conducted. WFC transitions, across four two-year intervals (Waves 1-2, 2-3, 3-4, and 4-5) were classified as never, conscript, exit or chronic. Significant proportions of parents experienced change in WFC, between 12 and 16% of mothers and fathers for each transition 'type'. Parents who remained in chronic WFC reported the poorest mental health (adjusted multiple regression analyses), followed by those who conscripted into WFC. When WFC was relieved (exit), both mothers' and fathers' mental health improved significantly. Predictors of conscript and chronic WFC were somewhat distinct for mothers and fathers (adjusted logit regressions). Poor job quality, a skilled occupation and having more children differentiated chronic fathers' from those who exited WFC. For mothers, work factors only (skilled occupation; work hours; job insecurity) predicted chronic WFC. Findings reflect the persistent, gendered nature of work and care shaped by workplaces, but also offer tailored opportunities to redress WFC for mothers and fathers. We contribute novel evidence that mental health is directly influenced by the WFC interface, both positively and negatively, highlighting WFC as a key social determinant of health.

publication date

  • 2016