Women’s Work Family Conflict – Some Remarks on the Situation of Female Employees in China (Part 2)

Professional women’s Work-Family Conflict in China

Generally speaking, most of professional female are well educated, they have high ability, psychological quality and achievement motivation, and high stable income with high professional level. They pursue career development and self-value realization. As professional women, they play a dual role in society and the family. On the one hand, in order to strive for equal status with men and realize self value, they have to face intensified competition in society. On the other hand, influenced by Chinese traditional culture, professional women still need to shoulder heavy housework as well as the task of bears and education of children. Therefore, they face more contradictions and conflicts. Several researches show that women experience more work-family conflict than men. Moreover, due to Chinese tradition culture and special social context, Chinese professional female are experiencing particular work-family conflict, which is different with western professional female.

1. Role conflict because of culture conflict between modern and traditional culture

In China, traditional culture and modern culture coexist in society, so that women have been endowed with the dual role expectation. Because of the influences of Confucianism, there is an ingrained thought: men are social and family axis, bearing the responsibility of working and earning money for supporting their families (male-breadwinner model), while women are in a subordinate position, playing the role of good wife and kind mother. That means the traditional form of household division in China is “men outside the home, women inside”, and women’s value mainly realized in family field. As far as modern culture concerns, with the establishment of new China and the advancement of women’s liberation, the thought of equality between men and women, women’s autonomy and social participation are accepted by people popularly. Women are encouraged to go out of the family and to participate in social production activities by modern culture. Professional female who are well educated began to pursue their own social value through career achievement. However, the history of the Chinese women’s liberation is short. Chinese female did not experience the long and pain self-pursuit as western women, so their own subject consciousness has not been established psychologically. As a result, on one hand, China’s professional women accept modern civilization, pursuing social value; On the other hand, they can’t get rid of the social expectation on women which comes from traditional culture. In professional role, society expects women are competent at their job and keep up with social trend; In family role, women are expected to perform their traditional function, to be good wife and kind mother and dutiful daughter. Therefore, Dual-role expectation brings great pressure on Chinese professional female, limited energy and time lead them to be too busy and exhausted.

2. Heavy family responsibility because of traditional culture

Fertility is not only a kind of physiological activity, is also a kind of social behavior. It is the duty of women’s natural. According to Confucianism, the heir is the largest Chinese filial piety, and there are three forms of unfilial conduct of which the worst is to have no descendants. So, a modern professional woman who refuses to or fails to perform fertility obligation, then she should tolerate multiple pressure from themselves, family and society. Nevertheless, almost the direct costs and indirect costs are borne by female. These costs include not only physical, emotional, time, energy and healthy, it may also include employment discrimination, such as demotion because of bearing, less income because of suspended work, lose a chance to be promoted.

So, Chinese professional female usually face a dilemma: promotion or baby? Some professional women have to delay their birth plan in order to avoiding the promotion or occupational status to be affected. According to the report of Shanghai Municipal Statistics Bureau, Shanghai women’s fertility rate is 17.83‰, which is the lowest level in the whole country. Even compared with the average annual birth rate (10 ‰) in the developed countries, it is also not very high. Most of them confess that work is in conflict with birth. Although a lot of laws as the Labor Law, the Labor Contract Law, the Employment  Promotion Law and other relevant regulations were established to protect  women’s reproductive rights, employers tend to be reluctant to hire women generally, mainly due to the impact on the job from reproductive. Meanwhile, having no enough time to take care of children is the main reason why professional women quit office. On the contrary, the women whose children can get good care tend to experience less work-family conflict, and can involve themselves in work well.

In addition, another responsibility for female in China is the life-long care of children. Since children began to go to school age, their academic achievement is the primary responsibility of the family. Children’s academic status at school is considered to be the reflection of their parents’ success or failure. Often times, parents have to sit down with their children to do the homework together, rather than leaving this responsibility to the children to fulfill. When children grow up, parents are again involved in their lives to find an appropriate job and a mate to marry. In fact, children have to live with their parents until they get married and parents have to take care of them emotionally and financially. When children get married and have children of their own, parents are involved in care of the grandchildren. All in all, care of the offspring is a life-long commitment for parents who are involved in their children’s lives at every age and stage. For working people this is a serious responsibility and a family demand. Especially in China, the social roles of women still tend to be very traditional. Women tend to spend many more hours than men on household responsibilities, the tasks of child and home care fall predominantly on the female. Therefore, for Chinese female, care and guidance of children at every age and stage is among the most important family responsibilities.

3. Multiple pressures because of unique social structure

The family planning policy and the aging trend lead to “4-2-1” family in China. The “4-2-1” structure means that there are four old people, one couple and one child in one family. This unique family form brings large amount of work and family pressure to professional female. Family planning policy was implemented since the late 1970s. Its direct result is a decline of natural population birth rate. In the one-child family, parents put high expectation on their only child. They value children’s heath and education, and children’s raising responsibility largely fall on the mother.

At the same time, China has become an aging society. China’s elderly population (over the age of 60) reached 1.94 billion in 2012, and the aging level is 14.3%. The amount of elderly population is supposed to be more than 2 billion, and the aging level will increase to 14.8%. Without doubt, women are undertaking heavy responsibilities of caring for parents and parents-in-law. For professional women, with change of family size and structure, they should spend more time on their family to fulfill their family duties. But meanwhile, economic pressure can not ignored because family duties implementation requires good financial conditions. Thus, professional women also need input more time and energy into work to get more income, so that they can increase their children’s education expenditure and the elderly support payments. In fact, for most of women labor force, work is viewed as a way of supporting the family, instead of a means of improving oneself, such as in Western cultures.

In addition to caring children and parents, caring and maintaining harmonious relationships with the extended family members is also important demands for Chinese societies. Meanwhile, maintaining harmony and avoiding conflicts in interpersonal relationships at work is another extra demand on employees. Therefore, to be perfect multiple roles, such as mother, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, neighbor, hostess in social events, and also employee, all of these roles requirement can cause a great of pressure on female.

Differences between China and Germany

Similarly, for German women, the difficulty to balance employment and family responsibilities remains a problem for female’s work life quality. Marriage and childbearing also influence women’s employment. Compared with Chinese women, the German women undertake less pressure on raising elderly people because of the perfect pension system and medical insurance system in Germany.

Asian cultures tend to perceive work and family to be integrated, work and family are different but compatible. On the contrary, they are perceived as segmented in Germany. Due to the different work ethic, Germans view working extra hours as taking away from their families, which results in the feeling of conflict with family members. But this may not be a problem in China, because employees and their families view overtime working as a sacrifice for the family, what they are doing in the workplace is for the family happiness, they will get the family members support.

In addition, there is another difference between Chinese women and German women—the method to balance WFC. For German women, part-time job is a most important measure to decrease work and family conflict. During the period from 2000 to 2010, the number of part-time jobs increased from 3 million to 10 million, and the part-time job participant rate increased Germany’s part-time employment proportion increased from 19% to 26%. About 46% of women engaged in part-time job, while men part-time proportion also doubled in the decade, increased from 5% to 10%.

A typical employment pattern consists of full-time work until marriage and children, a prolonged stay out of the labor market, and a return to paid employment via part-time work when the youngest child reaches school age. Mothers in Germany currently can take up to 3 years of partly paid leave with a guarantee of a job when they return. These provisions are more generous than those in China. While in China, part-time job is not the first choice to solve the WFC. According to Lo(2003), women in Hong Kong tend to choose parental leave and flexible hours to implement their children caring responsibility(Picture 1),while part- time job is not so popular. It is similar in Mainland China. The reason of this difference is as follows:

Firstly, due to Chinese tradition culture, work security is very important for employees. Workers tend to establish a long employment relationship with their employer. Part-time job means non-stable, temporary and high uncertainty.

Secondly, most part-time jobs in China are supplied in the secondary labor market, which is not so normative so that female worker’s right can not be protected well. Moreover, most of part-time jobs have low skill requirements, low hourly wages and fringe benefits, low productivity, high turnover, and few opportunities for career advancement. As far as concerned career development, professional female labor forces do not tend to participate in part-time jobs. On the contrary, in Germany, as long as female workers achieve a threshold for social security contributions, part-timers are incorporated in the general social security protection and have a statutory right to proportional pay and allowances when the allowances are related to working time. If allowances are not related to working time, part-time workers have the same rights as full-time workers. Compared with China, a large proportion of part-time jobs in Germany are relatively „good“ jobs


Chinese women are playing a critical role in Chinese economic development. Chinese female labor market has got a great improvement these years. More and more professional female pursue their social value through participation in business organization. But because of the influence of traditional culture and the change of social structure, Chinese professional female are facing more particular work and family conflict. Compared with German female, Chinese female undertake more pressure from work and family, including housework, children caring and elderly people supporting. Work-family pressure is likely to result in negative health and life outcomes. It’s imperative and necessary to research on how to balance work-family conflict. In Germany, part-time work is an important method for female to meet family obligations and to maintain ties to the labor market. While in China, it should be paid more attention by organizations and governments.