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Balancing academia and family life: The gendered strains and struggles between the UK and China compared

Xiaoni Ren (Department of Business, Management and Law, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff, UK)
Darren John Caudle (Business School, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK)

Gender in Management

ISSN: 1754-2413

Article publication date: 21 February 2020

Issue publication date: 6 April 2020



This paper aims to explore and compare academics’ experiences of managing work-life balance (WLB) in the British and Chinese contexts. The authors have three specific purposes. Firstly, to investigate whether there are marked gender differences in either context, given female and male academics’ work is considered fully comparable. Secondly, to examine contextual factors contributing to gender differences that influence and shape decisions in WLB and career paths. Thirdly, to explore the gendered consequences and implications.


A cross-national and multilevel analytical approach to WLB was chosen to unpick and explore gender land contextual differences and their influence on individual academics’ coping strategies. To reflect the exploratory nature of uncovering individual experience and perceptions, the authors used in-depth, semi-structured interviews. In total, 37 academics participated in the study, comprised of 18 participants from 6 universities in the UK and 19 participants from 6 universities in China.


This study reveals gendered differences in both the British and Chinese contexts in three main aspects, namely, sourcing support; managing emotions; and making choices, but more distinct differences in the latter context. Most significantly, it highlights that individual academics’ capacity in cultivating and using coping strategies was shaped simultaneously by multi-layered factors at the country level, the HE institutional level and the individual academics’ level.


Very few cross-cultural WLB studies explore gender differences. This cross-national comparative study is of particular value in making the “invisible visible” in terms of the gendered nature of choices and decisions within the context of WLB. The study has significant implications for female academics exercising individual scope in carving out a career, and for academic managers and institutions, in terms of support, structure and policy.



We would like to thank the academics in British and Chinese universities who participated in this study to contribute their valued thoughts and reflections. In particular, for so generously giving their discretionary time to talk about the positive and challenging experiences of balancing life and work. We would also like to thank the reviewers for their helpful and detailed comments, which have enabled us to develop the paper.


Ren, X. and Caudle, D.J. (2020), "Balancing academia and family life: The gendered strains and struggles between the UK and China compared", Gender in Management, Vol. 35 No. 2, pp. 141-165.



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