Women Feel Guiltier Than Men About Work-Life Balance

A new study of over 1,000 American workers shows that women, regardless of age, socioeconomic status, marital status, or even whether they had children, feel guilty about juggling their work and home lives.  Specifically, the women had negative feelings associated with “boundary-spanning work demands” after-hours, like taking a work-related phone call or checking their email.  Guilt or distress about work seeping into home life was associated with women only, which is pretty shocking considering that this affected even women who weren’t married, or didn’t have children.

According to the study authors, this emotional distress is related to women who perceive themselves as transgressing normative social roles.  They write in the study that “role blurring, as distinct from work-family conflict, may generate guilty for those who voluntarily choose or are forced to deal with work issues while at home.”  In other words, even if there is no real conflict between work and family, and women have the ability to spend a significant amount of time at home, the reminder of working life represented by after-hours work contact is enough to trigger guilt in women, who are more likely to perceive that their employment prevents them from fulfilling family responsibilities.

So this isn’t about women’s actual ability to balance their work and home lives – their guilt stems from their anxiety about their perceived inability to do so.  One of the study authors commented,

“Initially, we thought women were more distressed by frequent work contact because it interfered with their family responsibilities more so than men.  However, this wasn’t the case.  We found that women are able to juggle their work and family lives just as well as men, but they feel more guilty as a result of being contacted.  This guilt seems to be at the heart of their distress.”

The study’s results are compelling, for a variety of reasons.  Most of all, I think they signal the different emotional consequences of the new ability to be reached via cell phones and email at all times, which is something that everyone needs to learn how to navigate – it’s unsurprising that men would find this less distressing than women, but it’s interesting to see it spelled out so clearly.  As Irin Carmon writes for Jezebel, “Women are culturally conditioned to feel guilty about doing exactly what their male counterparts are doing: earning a living.”


Photo from Mo Riza.


April Thompson
April Thompson6 years ago

I agree with Carol M.! I would love to to be a SAHM full-time, but have to work part-time because my husbandd can only find part-time work right now! I don't like being on anyone else's time except my own!

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G6 years ago

Typical, it must be in our genes!

Lynn C.
Lynn C6 years ago

Sure they do...they've been pushed into a role and any deviation is highly suspect.

Marianne C.
Marianne C6 years ago

Well, of course women feel more guilt over our work-life balance than men do! We've been TAUGHT to feel guilty over damned near everything that men have always had the freedom to just take for granted.

The standards for women are always different than the standards for men. Society's standards for a mother are WAY more rigid and demanding than they are for a father. Daddy can take off with another woman, refuse to pay child support, and leave Mommy with not only the kids to raise, but his credit cards to pay off, and NOTHING HAPPENS TO HIM. But should Mommy, who is working 60 hours a week to meet keep a roof over her children's heads and food on the table, come home to find that the baby sitter didn't show up after school and the kids have been alone since 3:30 that afternoon -- well, Katie bar the door: that woman is going DOWN.

The point is NOT what women should and shouldn't FEEL. The point is that society still lets men skate while it holds women to an inflexible standard that cripples us all. THAT'S what needs to change.

William Ford
William Ford6 years ago

I don't think that any woman feel guilty while work. The greed likes this woman job for themselves.

Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers6 years ago

Women have to multi-task to keep going! I used to feel like a juggler .

Marina Brennan
Marina Brennan6 years ago

When I wasn't married I had no problem working long hours, and even had time to go out having worked 14 hours. It cut down my sleep time, but it was fun!
If you are not married, there's nothing to worry about! I worked 8 hours 7 days a week, and picked up part-time jobs 4 days a week. Once I worked 20 hours straight. No biggie. It feels soooo good to receive a paycheck afterwords and see how much you made.
After I got married, it all changed. Now I have a husband, two cats and an apartment I can't just neglect. If I want to spend more time with my husband, I have to cut down on my productivity.

Azar A.
A A6 years ago

Guilt in this regard is a USELESS peice of baggage- get over it women-- if YOU don;t respect who you are and what you do - no one will.

Emilykin I.
Banbha M6 years ago

Centuries of societies view that a woman's place is in the home has made the modern woman feel this way about herself and its a shame, but why women seem to bear this unnecessary guilt is beyond me because society pressure or expectations shouldn't weigh down on a woman's mind like its mentioned here, simply because its a waste of her superior brain cells. Personally I don't give a shit what the world thinks me a "woman" should or could be doing. I have no family to have a "family life" and who made it law that its a woman's responsibility to keep a family life together if at all? Why should I feel shame over working after hours, taking a business call etc...etc...if the rest of the world is that touchy about where a woman's place is then they have the problem NOT me and I'm not going to feel any guilt over my actions just because some brain-dead old fashioned opinion finds it taboo.

Mary Meijer
- M6 years ago

I do not think this will ever change