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Journal articles (2018), Human Relations, 71 (2), pp. 155-181

When the Past Comes Back to Haunt You: The Enduring Influence of Upbringing on the Work–Family Decisions of Professional parents

LUPU Ioana , SPENCE C., EMPSON L.

Prior research generally presents work–family decisions as an individual’s rational choice between alternatives, downplaying the crucial role that upbringing plays in shaping work and parenting decisions. This article emphasizes how habitus – historically constituted and embodied dispositions – structures perceptions about what is ‘right’ and ‘normal’ for working mothers and fathers. This relational approach explores how the entrenched dispositions of individuals interact dynamically with contextual imperatives to influence professionals’ work–family decisions. Drawing on 148 interviews with 78 male and female professionals, our study looks at much deeper rooted causes of work–family conflict in professional service firms than have hitherto been considered. We show how dispositions embodied during one’s upbringing can largely transcend time and space. These dispositions hold a powerful sway over individuals and may continue to structure action even when professionals exhibit a desire to act differently. In turn, this implies that the impediments to greater equality lie not only in organizational and societal structures, but within individuals themselves in the form of dispositions and categories of perception that contribute towards the maintenance and reproduction of those structures. Additionally, in a more limited number of cases, we show how dispositions adapt as a result of either reflexive distancing or an encounter with objective circumstances, leading to discontinuity in the habitus.

LUPU, I., SPENCE, C. and EMPSON, L. (2018). When the Past Comes Back to Haunt You: The Enduring Influence of Upbringing on the Work–Family Decisions of Professional parents. Human Relations, 71(2), pp. 155-181.