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Working Women in Your Neighborhood


by Kendra Clark, for SIOP

Study Shows Women’s Work Status Affects Working Men and Women Differently

You don’t need a noisy neighbor to be affected by those who live next to you. In fact, whether your neighbor is a stay-at-home mother or working mother can affect your experience at home and at work.

A recent study conducted by Judith Clair, Boston College, with SIOP members Eden King and Amanda Anderson, both from George Mason University, Kristen Jones, Washington State University Vancouver, and Michelle (Mikki) Hebl, Rice University, examined how having neighbors who are stay-at-home mothers or working mothers can affect other mothers’ and fathers’ happiness.

Clair and her colleagues found that working mothers who are surrounded by other working mothers have a happier work-life balance and less negative spillover from work than those who are surrounded by stay-at-home mothers. Inversely, she found that working fathers who are surrounded by working mothers are less happy and have more negative spillover than those who are surrounded by stay-at-home mothers in their neighborhood.

“For women, if they are working and are around others that work, they don’t feel like they are breaking any social norms,” Clair said. “Men, we speculate, feel pressure to adhere to the social norm to be the breadwinners, and when that is threatened or different, they experience negative spillover.”

This research will be presented during a symposium at the 30th Annual SIOP Conference, which takes place April 23-25, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In the study, Clair and her colleagues used census data to tabulate the proportion of working women with children under the age of 18 who live in each zip code. They then aligned that data by zip code with individual-level reports of work-home spillover from a nationally representative survey, the National Study of the Changing Workforce.

Clair said this illustrates how much your neighbors can affect your experience and happiness.

“People interact on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “Mothers and fathers go to school to pick up their children or are involved with the school in some way. They also hear what their children are saying about their friends and their friends’ parents.”

Men may have a harder time living around working mothers because of social norms that are constructed, maintained, and enforced by society, Clair explained.

“It was easy to predict how women would feel because we already know they compare themselves to each other,” Clair said. “For men, it was harder because there wasn’t any literature out there about this. We speculate that dads who live and work around working moms are living in a gender role-inconsistent environment.”

This study may help people understand the work-life pressures they face every day, Clair explained.

“I hope this allows people to have a new perspective and look at their community more deeply,” Clair said. “I think this research extends the conversation outside of the workplace because we often assume work does have an important impact on work-life balance, but now we can recognize the power of the community in our work-life balance as well.”