UCL News


UCL researchers explore work-life balance

6 March 2003

UCL researchers have been conducting interviews with London parents, in order to explore the complex balance between family and work Initially, 65 families from North London have been interviewed, with further research to be carried out in Manchester from April.

Dr Kathryn Ray and Professor Linda McDowell (Geography) are investigating the complex balance between family and work The differences between the two cities will be interesting for any working parents.

Parents in Angel, Finsbury Park and Bounds Green have been interviewed so far, on issues such as childcare, housework, employment conditions, education and housing.

Initial findings show that childcare provision can result in highly complex networks of nurseries, friends and grandparents. Private sector employers are generally less flexible than their public sector counterparts, and in the former, a culture of 'presenteeism' was common, where parents would feel guilty for leaving work early, even if they had arrived early.

Professor Linda McDowell (Geography), the project's director, said: "While it is no surprise that life as a working parent is complicated, the research is beginning to show just how complex arranging and maintaining childcare actually is for many people. We have been surprised by the variety of arrangements parents make to ensure that their children are cared for during working hours and how fragile the 'work-life' balance is in practice. If just one part of the patchwork goes wrong, then life becomes virtually impossible."

Schooling was also a major concern. Many expressed a desire that their children attend local schools and meet children from other class and ethnic groups. However, fears about quality of education often outweighed these desires, and many said they would prefer to use private schools outside the area.

These local areas are home to both affluent and poverty stricken families, and the quality of care, housing and education varies dramatically. In addition, it is apparent that families with lower income have stronger links with the local community, while others will travel to different parts of London to meet with friends and family.

Professor McDowell stated: "The research is beginning to show the enormous class differentials within local areas in inner London and the huge differentials in the sort of care accessible and affordable to working parents with different levels of income."

The project has received funding from the Economic & Social Research Council, which is also funding a series of six seminars entitled 'Work, Life and Time in the New Economy'. Held in collaboration with UCL, the London School of Economics Gender Institute and the University of Manchester, the seminars will explore contemporary ideas about the new economy and implications of work, life and the management of time.