Longitudinal associations between work-family conflict and enrichment, inter-parental conflict, and child internalizing and externalizing problems

Soc Sci Med. 2018 Aug;211:251-260. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.06.031. Epub 2018 Jun 25.


Rationale: Work-family conflict and enrichment refer to parents' challenges and benefits of combining work and family roles. Emerging evidence suggests detrimental effects of work-family conflict and facilitating effects of work-family enrichment on couple, family, and child functioning. This effect may be more pronounced in mothers, who must juggle different roles within the family and work context. To date, research has examined these relations as unidirectional, but reciprocal associations may be possible.

Objective: This study investigated the shape and direction of associations between maternal work-family conflict and enrichment, child internalizing and externalizing problems, and inter-parental conflict.

Method: Growth curve modelling used six waves of biennial data spanning ten years of childhood (4-5 to 14-15 years) for 2946 children and their employed mothers from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children.

Results: Results indicated bidirectional associations between the work-family interface and child outcomes; mothers' initial work-family conflict was associated with a quadratic increase in child internalizing (but not externalizing) problems over time. Child internalizing problems at 4-5 years predicted a linear decrease in mothers' work-family enrichment over time. However, work-family enrichment at 4-5 years was not associated with the change in either child internalizing or externalizing problems. Work-family conflict and inter-parental conflict at 4-5 years were not associated with change in one another. Initial work-family enrichment was associated with a quadratic decrease in inter-parental conflict, and initial inter-parental conflict was associated with a linear increase in externalizing problems; no evident reverse association was found.

Conclusion: Findings demonstrate the importance of the work-family interface in shaping family health outcomes. The primary direction of influence was from work-family factors to inter-parental conflict and child mental health problems. Thus, interventions aimed at promoting family-friendly work environments and policies would likely yield benefits for parents and their families.

Keywords: Inter-parental conflict; Internalizing and externalizing problems; Work-family conflict; Work-family enrichment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Australia
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Family Conflict / psychology*
  • Family Relations
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Parenting / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Work-Life Balance