The experience of role balance among Australian working women with multigenerational caring responsibilities

Research output: ThesisNon-UWA Thesis


Approximately 10% of women in developed countries are working sandwich generation women, who combine paid employment with ongoing multigenerational caring responsibilities for at least one child under 18 years and one parent or parent-in-law. This role combination is expected to become more common due to the increased workforce participation of women, childbirth at an older age, reduced fertility rates, an ageing population and a trend towards community based care. Although there are numerous benefits related to membership in the working sandwich generation, there are also a range of costs related to role participation and quality of life. In particular, these women face a complex array of challenges to achieving a satisfactory level of role balance. This thesis describes a two-staged research project, where multiple methods were utilised to explore role balance related experiences and strategies among Australian working sandwich generation women. The Model of Juggling Occupations was developed to provide a conceptual framework linking the six papers contained within this thesis.

The first stage of this research project focused on exploring role balance experiences among 18 working sandwich generation women through a case study approach, where data were collected through a questionnaire, time diary and interview (Papers I – IV). The three methodological approaches were utilised to investigate the within-role factors of activity participation, values, interests, perceived competence and habits for the three defining roles of mother, parental carer and working, along with the enriching and conflicting between-role interactions. A combination of qualitative and quantitative data analysis techniques were utilised to reveal that working sandwich generation women tended to experience a moderate level of role balance. Interests and habits were the two within-role factors most strongly associated with the experience of role balance. Although enriching interactions between roles facilitated role balance to some extent, between role conflict posed a greater barrier to role balance outcomes.

The second stage of this research project focused on identifying the role balance strategies utilised by working sandwich generation women (Papers V – VI). This was achieved through interviews with the 18 women from the case study approach, along with a viewpoint study of 31 working sandwich generation women and 42 occupational therapists. Findings from the interviews revealed the women used six types of within-role balance strategies: living with integrity, being the best you can, doing what you love, loving what you do, remembering why, and searching for signs of success. The women also described six types of between-role balance strategies: maintaining health and wellbeing, repressing perfectionism, managing time and energy, releasing responsibility, nurturing social connection, and reciprocating. The viewpoint study revealed the most helpful specific role balance strategies were allowing enough time for rest, sleep and ‘me time’, along with relinquishing control, embracing realistic expectations and using time management techniques.

Overall, this thesis provides evidence that role balance among Australian working sandwich generation women is a desirable and achievable state, despite numerous challenges and complexities. These women often achieved role balance at the level of “doing” activities associated with their multiple roles. However, they struggled at times with “being” in a single role in the moment due to conflicting demands on their attention. It is possible that achieving a higher level of role balance is reliant on the process of “becoming” a working sandwich generation woman, where they balance “doing” and “being” aspects within and between their multiple roles. These findings add substantial knowledge to this field and have the potential to guide the development of services to improve role balance among working women with multigenerational caring responsibilities, along with the introduction of policies to optimise their participation within their homes, workplaces and communities.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Edith Cowan University
Award date20 Nov 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 7 Nov 2016


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