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Work travel may reinforce gender roles (6/23/2010)

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A new doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, concludes that traditional gender roles and norms about "proper" motherhood makes women experience more guilt than men when traveling for work. Female business travelers also tend to feel more insecure and vulnerable.

Many people's everyday lives have become more fragmented and individualized. Add to this that many jobs have become independent of time and place and the fact that family structures have become more flexible. This development has increased the pressure on individuals to actively coordinate their lives with the lives of others.

"Business travel is a good example of the increased fragmentation - it puts great demands on both the travelers and their families at home. My thesis addresses practical and emotional consequences of this with respect to family and friendship relations", says Gunilla Bergström Casinowsky, who is about to earn her doctoral degree from the University of Gothenburg.

Bergström Casinowsky says that while business trips may indeed benefit for example a traveler's social network and career development, it is equally true that friendship relations at home may suffer. At the same time as a business trip may offer a much needed break from the daily grind at home, it may also lead to feelings of absence and loneliness.

The study points to clear differences between men and women. Women to a larger extent associate work travel with feelings of guilt due to not being available at home. Women also tend to associate lonely nights at a hotel with feelings of uneasiness and vulnerability. These gender differences make men and women apply different strategies when traveling. Women to a larger extent than men choose to travel long distances to spend the nights at home, while men are more willing to stay the nights elsewhere.

"My interpretation is that deeply rooted perceptions of gender roles are very much at work. Women are still expected to prioritize their homes and children, and conventional overnight work travel is not compatible with this norm", says Bergström Casinowsky.

The idea of being a good husband and a good father, on the other hand, does not clash with extensive traveling nearly as much.

"The expectations regarding a man's presence and contributions at home are much easier to combine with work travel. One interesting thing I found is that both women and men use business travel to explain why women accept more responsibility at home, regardless of whether it is the man or the woman who travels", says Bergström Casinowsky.

The thesis is based partly on interviews with traveling sales people and partly on survey material.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by the University of Gothenburg

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