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Single academics ‘have worse work-life balance’, study finds

Written by: Anna McKie
Published on: 6 Jan 2021

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Single academics have significantly worse work-life balance compared with those who are married or have a partner, a study has found.

The research, which analysed data from Harvard University’s Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education project, showed that having children did not have an impact on staff perceptions of work-life balance.

The analysis of responses from 1,859 faculty members at 58 institutions to the project’s job satisfaction survey, published in the Higher Education journal, showed that married or partnered faculty with no children had the best reported work-life balance.

Staff were asked to rate whether they agreed with the statement “I am able to find the right balance, for me, between my professional life and my personal/family life” on a scale of one (strongly disagree) to five (strongly agree).

Academic staff with no children gave an average response of 3.3, followed by married or partnered scholars with children (3.46), then single scholars without children (2.94), then last, single scholars with children (2.89).

The research demonstrates that whether an academic is single or in a relationship has the biggest impact on perceptions of being able to balance their professional, personal and family life, the paper says.

The analysis also finds that female staff reported worse work-life balance than men across all groups, except for single staff with children.

Co-author Nida Denson, associate professor at Western Sydney University, said it was surprising that having children, or not, did not affect staff perceptions of work-life balance.

Just having a partner appears to increase work-life balance, “probably due to having someone with whom to share their ups and downs, and to pull them away for exercise or leisure activities”, she said.

She added that the findings demonstrated the problem of “singlism” in the workplace: the assumption that single people, and especially single people without children have more time on their hands and fewer life responsibilities. “So various workplaces, universities included, expect single people to be more committed to their work. That’s not right,” she said.

“Colleges and universities should institute, and maintain, work-life-supportive policies, structures and cultures at all levels of the institution, for faculty with a variety of relationship and family statuses,” Dr Denson said.

“Faculty members are very diverse, with various family structures, so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. However, single faculty have been the most overlooked until now, so further research into single faculty and their experiences in colleges and universities is sorely needed.”