An Investigation of a Role/Goal Model of Wives' Role Overload Reduction Strategies

Shreekant G. Joag, St. John's University
James W. Gentry, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Karin Ekstrom, University of Goteborg
ABSTRACT - Joag, Gentry, and Hopper (1984) proposed a model to explain the manner in which the wife's work status and ha work goals affect her consumption behavior. This paper suggests several refinements in the model and presents a revised model that could explain behavioral differences in several aspects of the wife's life style. The paper also reports a test of the model, which yields a somewhat inconsistent pattern of results, indicating that complex relationships exist between a wife's goals and work roles and her perception of role overload.
[ to cite ]:
Shreekant G. Joag, James W. Gentry, and Karin Ekstrom (1991) ,"An Investigation of a Role/Goal Model of Wives' Role Overload Reduction Strategies", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, eds. Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 666-672.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, 1991      Pages 666-672


Shreekant G. Joag, St. John's University

James W. Gentry, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Karin Ekstrom, University of Goteborg


Joag, Gentry, and Hopper (1984) proposed a model to explain the manner in which the wife's work status and ha work goals affect her consumption behavior. This paper suggests several refinements in the model and presents a revised model that could explain behavioral differences in several aspects of the wife's life style. The paper also reports a test of the model, which yields a somewhat inconsistent pattern of results, indicating that complex relationships exist between a wife's goals and work roles and her perception of role overload.


The large increase in the number of females in the work force has provided incentive for marketers to study differences in the buyer behavior of working and nonworking women. The basic premise of most of the research is that role overload occurs among working women, resulting in more convenience-oriented consumption behavior than for nonworking females. That is, the wife's employment would take away a share of her time and energy from home production activities and, thus, result in increased purchase of time-saving goods and services.

Support for this premise has been mixed. Working wives have been found to spend less time in supermarkets (Hacklander 1978), to make fewer shopping trips (Anderson 1972; Douglas 1976; McCall 1977), and to spend fewer hours on housework (Nickols and Fox 1983; Reynolds, Crask, and Wells 1977). Conflicting findings have emerged regarding the purchasing of more convenience-related items among working women. A few studies support this idea (Rizek and Peterkin 1980; Vickery 1979; Waldman and Jacobs 1978), while the majority of studies fail to find strong evidence that working wives purchase more convenience products (Anderson 1972; Douglas 1976; Reynolds, Crask, and Wells 1977; Strober and Weinberg 1977, 1980; Weinberg and Winer 1983). In fact, Bryant (1988) found that wives' employment was inversely related to the purchase of durables. Realizing that work status alone is somewhat limited (and, apparently, somewhat insufficient) as a predictor of household purchase behavior, researchers have begun to look for additional constructs to explain the differences in the consumption behaviors of working and nonworking wives. Reilly (1982) discussed the concept of role overload, which is the role conflict that occurs when demands from the family and the job position of the working wife exceed the amount of time and energy available to her. Role overload was hypothesized to lead to more convenience-oriented consumption. Although his findings indicated a causal link between role overload and the purchase of timesaving durables, the amount of variance explained was very small.

A second extension was the three-way occupational status scheme introduced by Schaninger and Allen (1981). Their approach is based upon the Rappoports' (1971) distinction between dual income and dual career families. The three categories of occupational status used in this scheme are nonworking wife, low-occupational status working wife, and high-occupational status working wife. The researchers hypothesized that the high-occupational status working wife would experience the greatest overload due to her dedication to her career, and they used the Hollingshead Index of Social Position (Hollingshead and Redlich 1958) to categorize wives according to their work status. Other studies (Joag, Gentry, and Hopper 1984; Nickols and Fox 1983) have also used a similar approach. In general, some differences in purchase behavior have been explained with the three-way classification system, but other variables seem to do just as well, if not better. For example, Nickols and Fox (1983) found income to be a better explanatory variable of purchase behavior than the occupational status of the wife.

Some variables appear to be missing in these efforts to explain overload. In our research we examine critically several current assumptions regarding role overload and suggest other variables that can explain the phenomenon. Moreover, we will investigate the convenience consumption patterns resulting from different levels of role overload. We also propose a role/goal model and test it empirically.


The nature of role overload is complex. The addition of a job does not necessarily create time and energy demands beyond the wife's capacity. Sieber (1974) suggested that additional responsibilities (i.e., a job outside the home) may involve positive outcomes such as role privilege, status, security, status enhancement, and personality involvement which outweigh the additional role overload. Consequently, a wife's total available amount of energy may expand to handle the additional load. Gove and his colleagues (Gove and Geerken 1977; Gove and Tudor 1973) developed an even stronger proposition in their Role-Stress Theory. They argue that employed women will be LESS psychologically distressed than housewives because they have two sources of potential gratification (work and family). To the extent that the wives want to be in the work force, we would concur with the predictions of Role-Stress Theory. Thus. investigation of the wife's work goals and her motivation to achieve them is critical in the assessment of her perceived role overload.

Reilly (1982) argues that the wife's role overload is created by her total position set (home, work, social, etc.) and the nature of responsibilities involved, an argument which was supported empirically by Foxman and Burns (1986). Marks (1977) argued that an individual's commitment to each responsibility within a set determines the amount of energy required to fulfill the complete set. Tradeoffs within the total role set may result in little increase in objective role load.

Deci and Ryan (1990) distinguish between "self" and "skin" in terms of the motivation for intentional behavior. Those activities undertaken willingly are associated with "self," while those undertaken out of obligation ("I have to" rather than "I want to") are associated with the "skin" but not the "self." Both job and home responsibilities may be associated with intrinsic motivation for some individuals, while others may handle both sets out of obligation. The subjective perception of the responsibilities determines role overload, and not the objective role loads themselves.

Wives may reduce perceived role overload in a number of ways. Most studies in consumer research have focused on the purchase of time-saving durables (Anderson 1972; Reilly 1982; Strober and Weinberg 1977, 1980; Weinberg and Winer 1983), and the purchase of convenience goods (Anderson 1972; Douglas 1976; McCall 1977; Reilly 1982; Schaninger and Allen 1981). A smaller number of studies has investigated time economizing with the use of convenience services (Bellante and Foster 1984; Joag, Gentry and Hopper 1984; Nickols and Fox 1983), the use of substitute labor of family members for housework, the application of efficient management practices, and reduced leisure activities (Nickols and Fox 1983). All these strategies could be employed by wives to reduce their perceived role overload.

This discussion suggests that measurement of role overload is a complex task. However, studies have typically used occupational status or role overload to investigate consumption differences in working and nonworking wives. Recently, Joag, Gentry, and Hopper (1984) proposed a model that integrated the wife's work role with the wife's work goal (or work motivation) in an attempt to explain purchase behavior.


Joag, Gentry, and Hopper (1985) proposed that role overload is not just a function of the demands of a total position set as suggested by Reilly (1982), but rather a function of the match (or mismatch) between the wife's goals (which define her desired state) and her roles (which define her actual state). Together, these two constructs determine her motivation and her capacity to carry out the various roles and, thus, her perceived role overload. This perceived role overload, in turn, impacts her consumption behavior. The model proposed that a wife with career as her goal may perceive role overload in housework, while one with being a homemaker as her goal may perceive role overload in her job. Therefore, the actions taken by the two in reducing their perceived overload may be totally different, with one trying to minimize her commitments at home and the other her commitments at work.

One major shortcoming of the model is the assumption of a clear dichotomy of the wife's goals into career versus being a homemaker. While any wife may be able to rank her goals in order of priority, the assumption of the model that she would ultimately choose one over the other is questionable. On the contrary, many wives may like to pursue several goals simultaneously to varying degrees. Therefore, the wife's goals must be considered as a multidimensional variable. Each dimension of her goals, in combination with her role set in the related sphere of activities, would influence her behavior. The need for such independent treatment of various goal dimensions is further supported by the premise that the perception of role overload depends upon the perceived demands on the wife's time and energy, and upon her perceived total capacity to meet such demands. Thus, a wife who does not consider being homemaker as an important goal may perceive role overload in her family role even if she does not work outside the home.

The revised model suggests that the wife's worlds inside the home and outside the home can be considered independently. Concerning the wife's position as a homemaker, the model classifies wives by their possible goals as "personalizer," "provider," and "avoider." A "personalizer" considers herself the primary person responsible for carrying out household tasks, and these need to be done with- a personal touch in order to bond the family. A "provider" still considers the household tasks as primarily her responsibility; however, any means are justified so long as the job is done. Her personal involvement in doing everything is not necessary. She may, for example, accept help from family members or buy convenience-related goods or services. Finally, an "avoider" feels little, if any, primary or special responsibility for the household tasks, and she believes that other family members have at-least equal responsibility for carrying out household tasks.

Similarly, in the outside world, the wife's goals can be defined as "no-desire-to-work," "just-a-job," and "career." In some respects this classification resembles several existing motivation based classifications. Bartos (1977) discusses a Yankelovich survey that asked working women: "Do you consider work you do 'just a job' or a 'career'?" In her own research, Bartos (1977, 1978) defined four groups of women: stay at home, plan to work, just a job, and career-oriented. Zeithaml (1985) used this definition of work motivation (calling it "female working status") and found significant differences among groups for the number of supermarkets shopped, the amount of pretrip planning done, the amount of money spent, and the attitudes towards grocery shopping.



Wives' roles in the revised role/goal model are defined similarly to the those in the previous model (Joag. Gentry, and Hopper 1984): "nonworking," "stagnant job" (just a job), and "career." The new model, shown in Figure 1, extends the previous model and provides a basis for investigating how the match or mismatch of roles and goals will affect the wife's behavioral patterns in related spheres of life.

The top part of Figure 1 presents the model for the wife's world inside the home. In her role as a homemaker, the wife with her goal as a "personalizer" probably avoids purchasing home-oriented convenience products because her self concept depends upon providing products and services with a personal touch. Thus, other things being equal, this segment more likely purchases products that enhance the personal touch in homemaking: cookbooks, serving materials, more traditional household appliances, and fewer convenience goods. However, if a "personalizer' employed in a stagnant job or in a career, she experiences role overload in her work and purchases job-related convenience products: a new car, a home close to the place of work, a job close to home, or a less demanding job. Such overload may also force her to use some household-related convenience products, though only to the extent absolutely necessary.

The "provider" will feel high home overload if she is working because she still perceives the household as her primary responsibility. She can be characterized as using convenience consumption patterns to reduce her overload. However, the extent will depend on other ways to reduce overload, e.g. how much help she gets from other family members since she willingly accepts help from others. A non-working provider will feel a low amount of home overload since she does not consider being a homemaker as her top priority in comparison to the personalizer. She will, therefore, use convenience consumption patterns.

A wife whose goal can be described as being an "avoider" will perceive role overload in her role as a homemaker irrespective of her work status. Such a wife would be a heavy user of convenience goods and time- and effort-saving strategies. Given employment outside the home, these women perceive even higher levels of overload at home and explore all possible avenues to rid themselves of the household tasks.

The bottom part of Figure 1 presents the model for the wife's world outside the home. A wife who has "no-desire-to-work" will feel satisfied when not employed outside the home. If she for whatever reason (financial, status, etc.) has to work, the model predicts that she will feel low job overload in a stagnant job and high job overload in a career. As her feeling of job overload increases, her usage of job-related convenience products such as a new car or a computer will also increase. She may also search for a less demanding job, fewer hours of work, or a job closer to home.

The model predicts that a "just-a-job" wife would feel dissatisfied if she were not employed outside the home. She would feel harmony if she had a stagnant job. If placed in a career-oriented position, she would feel job overload in the job, and thus would likely use some job-related convenience products.

Finally, a career wife will feel dissatisfied unless employed in a career job. Her dissatisfaction will lead to the use of job training products and services to a great extent. The use of these products and services will most likely be higher for a nonworking career wife than for a stagnant job wife.

In summary, the wives falling in the cells D1, E2, and F3 along the diagonal will experience greater harmony and satisfaction since their actual and desired work status match. The use of job-related convenience products will increase to the right of the diagonal (cells D2, D3, E3). The cells to the left of the diagonal describe situations where individuals wan; to secure a job (cells E1 and F1) or a career employment (cell F2). Wives in these categories are likely to be heavy consumers of job training products and services.


Wives in Madison, Wisconsin, were contacted at their residences, and asked to complete a ten-page questionnaire and to mail it back to the investigators. If the female contacted was not currently married, the interviewer thanked her and went to the next household. Several neighborhoods were sampled in order to provide a mix of socioeconomic backgrounds. Most of the contacts were made during the early evening or on weekends. A total of 185 responses were received, out of the 230 which were distributed. No financial incentive was provided the respondents. Refusals to participate were infrequent (less than 20), but households that could not be contacted in two visits were plentiful. Sixty-two of the wives in the sample did not work, while the other 123 did.

Dependent Measures. The questionnaire asked the respondents about their perceived role overload and their usage of strategies to reduce that overload. Perceived role overload was measured as a summation of the items listed in Appendix 1, where the overload reduction strategies are also listed. The Cronbach alpha for the perceived role overload measures was .63. Consumption-related strategies were investigated further by including items concerning ownership of time-saving durables, their use of time-saving services, and their time allocations to various household and leisure activities.

Independent Variables. For the Goal constructs, three levels for both the Home Goal and for the Job Goal were proposed. Three questions were used to measure the Home Goal, one for each level (Personalizer, Provider, and Avoider). Several questions were used to measure the Job Goal and its three levels (Home-Oriented, Just-a-Job, and Career Oriented). However, for both constructs, there was not a clean separation for the three levels. In both cases, the items measuring the first two levels (Personalizer/Provider and Home-Oriented/Just-a-Job) were highly positively correlated with each other and highly negatively correlated with the third level. Indices for both goal variables were created by summing those items associated with the first levels and subtracting those items associated with the third levels. Cronbach alphas for the Home Goal and the Job Goal were .53 and .80, respectively.

The Role variable was operationalized through the use of the occupational status of the respondent. This status was determined using the Hollingshead (Hollingshead and Redlich 1958) index as was done in previous research (Joag, Gentry, and Hopper 1984; Nickols and Fox 1983; Schaninger and Allen 1981). For our sample, 62 were non working, 30 lower social status (LSS), and 93 higher social status (HSS).

The Role variables and the Goal variables were related to perceived role overload and the overload reduction strategies, holding constant the effects of wife's income, total household income, wife's age, and the presence of children in the home.


Pearson Product Moment Correlations

The first look at the direct relationships between roles and goals and perceived role overload was obtained through the use of the Pearson product moment correlations. [Given space constraints, the tables will not be included here but can be obtained from the authors.] One's home goal is inversely related to one's job goal and to the amount of time spent on the job. All three are positively related to perceived role overload, although the job goal is not related significantly. All three are related strongly to the wife's age; older wives worked less, had weaker career goals but stronger home goals. The age relationship explains the somewhat counter intuitive relationship between the presence of children (and of young children) in those households working more, with strong job goals, and with weaker home goals. The wife's income was related positively to the amount worked and to one's job goal (and inversely to one's home goal), but the total household income was not significantly related to either hours worked by the wife nor to one's home goal. The wife's education was inversely elated to her home goal and positively related to her job goal.

Partial Correlations

A second investigation of the relationships etween the role and goals and perceived role overload and possible overload reduction strategies was made by looking at partial correlations, holding the wife's income, age. and education as well the presence of children and total household income constant. Both the home goal and the job goal were positively related to the level of perceived role overload, although job goal was not significantly related in most cases. Similarly, there was a direct relation between the number of hours worked and role overload except when age is held constant.

A strong job goal is related positively to postponing home responsibilities but inversely to buying time-saving products; apparently career-oriented wives are more interested in avoiding household tasks rather than doing them more quickly. They are interested in minimizing travel time to the job, but not in minimizing time on the job. They are not more likely to ask family members to help out. They are likely to discuss the pressures they face with close friends, but not necessarily with their husbands.

On the other hand, those with strong home goals were less likely to ask family members to help with household tasks and to postpone household activities. They are more likely to buy time-saving products. Like those with strong job goals, they are likely to discuss the pressures faced with close friends but not with their husbands. In both cases, though, this relationship does not hold when age is held constant. Neither one's job role nor one's home goal was related to the use of external help in the household.

Those working more hours per week were more likely to ask family members for help and to buy time-saving products, but less interested in minimizing time spent on the job. They were not more likely to seek external help, minimize travel time, or postpone home responsibilities. They were more likely to discuss pressures with close friends than those working less.

Given the relationships found above, we investigated further by looking at issues such as meals eaten out, meal preparation, home time allocation, and leisure time allocation. One's job goal is not related to the number of-meals eaten out, once the effects of income, children, and age are held constant. However, there is evidence that those with stronger job goals are likely to prepare fewer meals at home and to wash fewer loads of laundry per week. On the other hand, those with strong home goals are less likely to eat breakfast out (but not lunch or dinner), to eat at pizza restaurants, and to have food delivered. They are likely to eat at elegant restaurants more frequently, prepare more meals at home each week, have more items per meal, and do more loads of laundry per week. Those working more hours per week are more likely to have food delivered and to eat at a pizza restaurant. They are likely to cook fewer meals, to have fewer items per meal, and to do fewer loads of laundry each week. Also, they are less likely to eat at elegant restaurants.

Husbands of wives with strong home goals spent less time with housework and child care, but more time with family finances. However, the wife's job goal was a stronger determinant of the husband's participation in housework, as husbands of wives with strong job goals spent more time in housework and in caring for children. Also, husbands wives with stronger job goals spent less time with the family finances. Thus the strong job goal apparently results in each spouse taking on responsibilities that were formerly those of the other spouse. The wife's job goal was a stronger influence on the husband's allocation of time than was the amount of hours worked, except for family finances.

On the other hand, the wife's job goal had little relationship with the allocation of her own time once income, age, and children were held constant. The wife's home goal was related strongly to her allocation of time to housework. However, the best explanatory variable for the wife's household time allocation was the number of hours worked per week. Those working more outside the home allocated less time to housework, to child care, to the family finances, to watching the children's leisure activities, and to watching the husband's leisure activities. Thus, the wife's job goal has major influence on the husband's household time allocation, while the amount of time worked by the wife is the major influence of her own household time. Surprisingly, the more the wife works, the less time each spouse spends on the family finances. Maybe the added income reduces the financial burden to the extent that neither spouse views finances as a worry.

In terms of leisure activities, there is a tendency for those working more to spend less time watching TV, interacting socially, and doing volunteer work. Those with strong job goals watch less TV, but the goals were unrelated to any other leisure time allocations. Those with strong home goals watch more TV and spend more time in volunteer work.

The job goal has little effect on one's shopping for groceries, clothes, or appliances. Those who work more grocery shop less frequently, but the amount worked is not related to clothes shopping frequency nor to appliance shopping. Those with stronger home goals are likely to grocery shop more frequently, to shop for clothes for oneself more frequently, and to shop for clothes for other family members more frequently.

Wife's Occupational Status

The wife's Role as measured by her occupational status (non-working, low social status, and high social status) was not included in the previous analyses due to its categorical nature. It was analyzed separately using ANCOVA, with the wife's income, age, and education, the household income, the presence of children, and the presence of a child under five as the covariates. There are no differences in the perceived role overload across the three occupational groups. There were some differences in the use of the strategies to reduce role overload, as those from the low social status group were the most likely to ask other family members to help with housework, while those non-working were the least likely to ask. Those non-working indicated that they would be more likely to minimize the time on the job if they were working than those currently working. Those from the higher social status group were more likely to eat dinner out, to eat pizza and hamburgers out, to have food delivered, and to prepare fewer meals at home each week than were the members of the other two groups. They also spent less time with housework, child care, the family finances, and watching TV. Those nonworking spent more time in social interactions, while those in low social status occupations spent the least. The LSS group also spent more time each month shopping for clothes for other family members.


The study investigated the impact of the wife's Home and Job Goals and her Work Role on perceived role overload and on the strategies used to reduce that role overload. The wife's job and home goals and her work roles explain some differences in role overload and in the use of overload reduction strategies, but the relationships, while statistically significant, are not large (most of the partial correlations were in the range of .2 to .3) and are somewhat sparse. The overall pattern of results indicates that the influence of goals and work roles is not consistent across overload reduction strategies; simple notions such as working wives seeking to purchase time-saving products are not supported. In fact, our results indicate that strong job goals and heavier work roles are not related to the purchase of time-saving products, once variables such as age and income are controlled. Instead, wives with strong home goals are more likely to purchase time-saving products.

The results provide support for the contention that goals should be investigated as well as work roles. For example, the amount of time which the wife spends at work had the major influence on her allocation of time to various household activities, while her job goal had the strongest relative influence on the husband's household time allocations. A strong job goal leads the wife to seek help with housework from other family members, while a strong home goal has just the opposite influence.


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