January 5, 2006
Cell Phones Tied to Family Tension
By Amy Norton
NEW YORK -- The round-the-clock availability that cell phones and pagers have brought to people's lives may be taking a toll on family life, a new study suggests.
The study, which followed more than 1,300 adults over 2 years, found that those who consistently used a mobile phone or pager throughout the study period were more likely to report negative "spillover" between work and home life -- and, in turn, less satisfaction with their family life.
Spillover essentially means that the line between work and home begins to blur. Work life may invade home life -- when a parent is taking job-related calls at home, for instance -- or household issues may start to take up work time.
In the latter scenario, a child may call mom at work, not to say that he aced his English test but that the "microwave exploded," explained Noelle Chesley, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the author of the study.
The problem with cell phones and pagers seems to be that they are allowing for ever more spillover between work and home, according to Chesley's findings, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.
This may be especially true for working women, the study found.
Among men, consistent use of mobile phones and pagers seemed to allow more work issues to creep into family time. But for women, the spillover tended to go in both directions -- being "connected" meant that work cut into home time, and family issues seeped into work life.
And people who reported more negative spillover -- spillover of the exploding-microwave variety -- tended to be less satisfied with their family life.
The point, Chesley told Reuters Health, is that cell phones and pagers seem to be opening more lines for stressful exchanges among family members, rather than positive ones.
But there may be ways to stem the spillover, according to Chesley. Employers, she said, could look at their policies on contacting employees after-hours to make sure their expectations are "reasonable." For their part, employees could decide that cell phones and pagers go off during designated family time, Chesley said.
To ease the extra burden on working mothers, she added, parents could have particular days when one or the other is "on call," so that moms are not getting all of the appliance-disaster reports.
SOURCE: Journal of Marriage and Family, December 2005.