The impact of neighborhood composition on work-family conflict and distress

Work-family conflict is a modern mental health risk resulting from the inability to balance paid work and familial obligations. Similarities between neighbours, like family type, age, income, and ethnicity, reduce the consequences of work-family conflict for women more than for men by creating a sense of collective social support.

McMaster Researcher


Young, M., & Wheaton, B. (2013). The impact of neighborhood composition on work-family conflict and distress. Journal of health and social behavior54(4), 481-497.

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What is this research about?

Work-family conflict is a chronic stressor that occurs when work demands and family roles are incompatible with one another and make achieving either difficult. Previous research has looked at the socio-economic status of neighbourhoods in relation to work-family conflict. This research expands on previous studies by investigating the association between work-family conflict and the social composition of the neighbourhood

What did the researchers do?

The researchers used data collected from 888 households in the Greater Toronto Area. The data measured psychological distress and perceptions of work-family conflict, as well as rates of poverty, unemployment, and the percent of lone parents in the neighbourhood. The researchers looked at the similarities neighbours share in familial structure, age, income, and ethnicity. The researchers analyzed these data to determine how similarities among residents in a neighbourhood affect an individual's perception of work-family conflict.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found that as similarities between neighbours increase, consequences of work-family conflict decrease, at least for women. Men's reactions to work-family conflict are less sensitive to the social composition of their surroundings.
Women are more connected to others in their neighbourhood and social similarities lessen the consequences of work-family conflict in the following ways:
Similarities that exist between neighbours provide an expectation for how to balance work and family, generating an expected level of work-family conflict that individuals perceive as normal. It is only when individuals experience work-family conflict outside these bounds do they become more prominent, and therefore more distressing.
Being socially similar to neighbours creates the feeling of a support system, which can help lessen the effects of work-family conflict on mental health outcomes. Just the idea that those around an individual could encounter the same problems lowers the threat as a particular stressor. Neighbours do not need to be identical in their similarities, just comparable past a certain threshold, at which point the similarities become salient to other residents.

How can you use this research?

Working individuals can be aware of how neighbourhoods can affect their mental health when moving residences, although the researchers suspect that some families with young children, who are susceptible to work-family conflict may already self-select into supportive neighbourhoods.
Physicians can understand that both the combination of job and home environment can affect mental health, and use that information when treating a patient.

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