Work And Family - Business And Society
Charles I. Mundale
Executive Director of MCCR
In the past two decades, the Middle-American family has been through a revolution, incited and sustained to a large extent by the way we do business. The emergence of a service economy has facilitated—indeed relied upon—the entry of large numbers of women into our work force. Figures from the U.S. Department of Education document the magnitude of change:
- In 1970, the 30 percent of women with children under six were in the labor force. In 1990, 59 percent.
- In 1970 49 percentage of women with children 6-17 were in the work force. In 1990, 79 percent.
This migration has left our homes and neighborhoods understaffed. As a society, we have been slow to recognize the implications of this for family life and slow to respond to the new needs we have thus created. We have subjected working parents, who want to do a good job at work and at home, to conflicts of loyalty and commitment, and, as a painful and now-evident result, we have neglected our children.
The effects on young people are truly distressing. In 1992, the Minneapolis-based Search Institute (with assistance from Lutheran Brotherhood) surveyed 47,000 high school students in 25 states. It was a look at Middle America, at the sons and daughters of people similar to the employees of most businesses. Here are some of the findings:
- 58 percent of students spend two hours or more per day at home without an adult.
- 48 percent place high importance on self-centered values.
- 65 percent spend no time doing volunteer work to help other people.
- 23 percent have had five or more drinks in a row, once or more, “in the last two weeks.”
- 21 percent feel under stress or pressure “most” or “all” of the time.
- 33 percent of girls in grades 10-12 report at least one incident of sexual and/or physical abuse.
A recent study of 55 white, two-parent, middle-class families in the Chicago area reinforces this troubling picture. Some of the conclusions:
- Fathers set the emotional tone in the home, largely by what emotions they bring home from work. Often these are negative, and everyone suffers.
- Mothers report feeling best when they were anywhere other than home.
- Teenagers report being bored at home, feeling that they are marking time.
- Each family member lives in a separate, often fast-paced and highly charged emotional world.
Statistics on conditions below the poverty line are even more alarming, of course. Those conditions cry out for more involvement by business leaders as well, but they cannot be acted on directly by corporate policy. On the other hand, the strains on family life in Middle America can—and must—be addressed by employers.