Irregular shifts strain some parents

MICHIGAN STATE (US) — Cohabiting parents who work nonstandard shifts tend to experience more conflict between work and family life.

A new study also finds they feel more depressed and less successful as parents and as workers than their peers who work standard shifts.

Working nights, weekends, and other nonstandard schedules is increasingly common as the United States moves toward a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week economy, according to the study, published in the journal Social Science Research.

Compared with married parents, cohabiting parents—who live together but are not married—tend to have lower-paying jobs that may not offer a choice of working a standard 9-5 shift.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of cohabiting couples with children has nearly doubled during the past decade, reaching 2.5 million in 2009.

“Cohabiting parents who work these nonstandard shifts certainly warrant more social attention as their numbers continue to grow,” says Hui Liu, assistant professor of sociology at Michigan State University.

“They’ve already faced economic and social constraints and may be more susceptible to suffering from recent changes in work schedules.”

Cohabiting parents are less likely than their married counterparts to take care of their partners’ children, pool their income, and receive child-care help from family members, making it harder for cohabiting parents who work nonstandard schedules to balance work and family life, she says.

On the other hand, working irregular shifts may actually benefit married couples who share parenting duties by providing an option for one of them to be available for child care during the day.

“This, in turn, may enhance well-being for these married parents,” Liu says.

The study analyzed the data of more than 2,300 people in the National Study of the Changing Workforce. The research was supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for the Center on Parents, Children and Work.

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