Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

Workplace, Workforce, and Working Families

History

Prior to the start of the program in 1994, social science research was bifurcated into the study of work or family. Little, if any, research examined the intersection of work and family: the life choices made by families when both parents work or the work conditions faced by employees who have working spouses. The Foundation has charted a dramatically new direction for scholarship by developing a program grounded in the notion that the rise in dual-earner households has led to a social and economic evolution.

The Foundation has provided funding for six academic Centers on Working Families, one Workplace Center, one Center on Aging and Work, and more than 100 additional research projects to examine issues faced by working families. These Centers and related projects are generating academic research that is relevant in both breadth and scope. They have produced more than 60 Ph.D.s as well as 40 post-doctoral fellows specializing in work-family research. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has played a pivotal role in developing this new field of work-family scholarship by providing the only source of sustained funding for researchers in sociology, psychology, anthropology, political science, labor economics and industrial relations to conduct interdisciplinary research on issues faced by working families.

The results of the program area's collective body of research reveal how far we have come in understanding how working families cope.

  • We now know that working mothers lose approximately one night's worth of sleep a week, due to the combined demands of work and family.
  • Husbands whose wives work 40 or more hours a week experience poorer health than do husbands whose wives work shorter hours.
  • The U.S. economy incurs a significant loss of human capital in that many highly educated, middle-class mothers leave the work force, because they cannot get career-continuous, part-time arrangements.

 

Many of the research findings tie directly to the fact that a profound workplace/work force mismatch exists. While the demographics of the American work force have changed dramatically over the last thirty years, the structure of the American workplace has not. It retains its full-time, full-year structure, which made sense when the majority of employees were male, lived in traditional breadwinner-homemaker households, and retired promptly at age 65. But this one-size-fits-all workplace no longer makes sense when most employees live in dual-earner or single-parent households or work well beyond 65, often with significant care-giving responsibilities. It is not surprising, therefore, that in today’s 21st century work force, nearly four out of five working Americans - across age, income, and stage in life - want more flexibility at work. But a flexibility gap exists: the demand for flexibility far exceeds its availability.

Workplace flexibility is a commitment to organizing work in time and space in ways that give employees greater control over when and where they work while at the same time helping employers achieve business objectives. Workplace flexibility assumes a number of different forms, including but not limited to:

  • Flexibility in Scheduling of full-time work hours, including flextime or compressed workweeks
  • Flexibility in Number of Hours spent working, including part-time, part-year, summer hours, phased retirement, or job-sharing
  • Flexibility in the Points for entry, exit, and re-entry over the course of a career, including formal leaves and sabbaticals, as well as taking time out of the paid labor market, with the ability to re-enter (we refer to this as career flexibility)
  • Flexibility in Location of Work, including working at home or other off-site locations

 

The outcomes of workplace flexibility must be proportionately fair to employees and employers, increasing employee control over the method and manner of work without increasing costs to employers. Successful flexibility efforts should also take into account the changing needs of men and women throughout the course of their professional and personal lives and across different income levels.

Program Director:
Kathleen Christensen Bio