This paper aims to investigate the effects that a larger societal context (i.e. values, norms) and the legal framework have on an individual's ability to combine work and family.
Qualitative interviews were used to examine the perceptions female middle managers have of balancing work and family. A total of 25 female managers from the USA and 23 female managers from Germany were interviewed, representing diverse industries.
The results show that the dominant values in a particular society have a stronger influence on individuals' ability to balance work and family than the legal framework. Most importantly, the study provides empirical evidence for the fact that extensive laws originally designed to make it easier for women to combine work and family can actually have negative consequences for women and thus result in hurting the very persons they were designed to help.
The sample consisted of only a small number of female managers. Thus, it cannot be regarded as fully representative of women in the USA and Germany.
When introducing measures designed at increasing opportunities for employees to balance work and family, it is necessary to examine their completeness, relation to societal norms, and anticipated organizational implementation.
This work is one of the rare studies to have used a cross‐cultural comparison in research on the work‐family interface. It provides evidence for the importance of societal values and for the fact that seemingly supportive laws can have negative consequences for women's ability to combine work and family.
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