Kimberly A. French, PhD, Georgia Institute of Technology; Lindsey Drummond, B.A., Northwestern University; Rebecca A. Storey, B.A., Georgia Institute of Technology
Most of the work-family conflict literature focuses on how dynamic factors such as work and family demands and supports at work and home drive fluctuations in work-family conflict (Allen et al., 2020; French & Shockley, 2020; Michel, Kotrba, et al., 2011). However, recent work suggests that people have a relatively stable set-point for work-family conflict that can be explained by individual differences such as personality and trait affectivity (Allen et al., 2012; Michel & Clark, 2009; Michel, Clark, et al., 2011; Michel, Kotrba, et al., 2011). To examine how trait work-family conflict is established, we used life courses stress framework (Pearlin, 1989; 2010) and attachment theory (Ainsworth, 1989; Hazan & Shaver, 1987) to explore how childhood psychological maltreatment predicts the availability of personal (sense of control) and social (spousal support) resources, which are associated with reduced work-family conflict throughout adulthood.
We chose to look at childhood psychological maltreatment because it is the most commonly reported form of trauma worldwide and has long term implications for psychological health and development (Brassard et al., 2020; Hart et al., 1987; 2002; Stoltenborgh et al., 2015; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2017). Children who experience psychological maltreatment are at risk for developing insecure attachment styles, have difficulty developing emotional and social skills, and can hold a negative view of themselves and their relationships with others (Hart et al., 2002; Soffer et al., 2008; Perlman et al., 2016; Riggs, 2010).
We analyzed publicly available self-report data from Wave IV of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) which is cross-sectional data collected between 2007 and 2009. The analyses have been completed. We included participants who reported working at least 30 hours a week, were living with their spouse, and who responded to the survey question concerning childhood psychological maltreatment. Our analyses were based on a sample of 1,181 participants, half of which were male and who had an average age of 28.38 years. Using path analysis, we examined how childhood psychological maltreatment is indirectly associated with work-to-family conflict (WIF) and family-to-work conflict (FIW) through mastery, perceived constraint, and spouse support.
Childhood psychological maltreatment was positively associated with the outcome variables, (WIF and FIW) though only the association with FIW was significant. Childhood psychological maltreatment was negatively associated with mastery and spouse support, both of which were significant at the 0.01 level, as well as positively associated with perceived constraint which was significant at the 0.05 level. However, tests of indirect effects were not statistically significant.
Childhood psychological maltreatment was associated with one of our outcome variables, FIW, as well as with the mediators in our model, suggesting that childhood psychological maltreatment is linked to FIW in adulthood, however, it may not be linked to FIW through the mechanisms that we proposed. Furthermore, our study had two main limitations. Firstly, in our path analysis, all mediators were tested simultaneously, meaning that the covariance that each mediator shared with WIF/FIW overlapped with the covariance that it shared between other mediators and WIF/FIW. Secondly, Add Health Wave IV participants were young, (M = 28.38 years). One-third of the sample had no children, and the remaining participants may have had only one child. There is evidence that the experience of parenting a child can trigger a person’s memories of childhood abuse, and the Add Health participants may not have had enough family demands to trigger those kinds of memories, leading to under-reporting of childhood psychological maltreatment (Kendall-Tackett, 2001).
Altogether, our findings add to the recent literature surrounding trait work-family conflict and indicate that childhood psychological maltreatment is associated with the availability of personal and social resources necessary for managing work and family roles, as well as family-to-work conflict itself.