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families that work

SPRING 2004

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Worthman. DeCaro also interviewed family membersincluding four- and five-year-old childrenabout their daily routines and how their family functions. I became a very significant part of their daily lives for a span of about seven days, he said. The goal of the study is to determine how families arrange their everyday lives and balance the needs of their children with their own concerns. In addition, DeCaro wanted to see how schedule changes affect everyone in the family, which is why he had them spitting into test tubes, pricking their fingers for blood spots, and monitoring their heart rates. Biological anthropologists are often in the lab, studying samples for the markers that indicate stress, such as the hormone cortisol and the antibody for the Epstein Barr Virus (EBV). Everyone carries EBV antibodies, but elevated levels indicate chronic stress. Of the families in the study, about one-third are single-parent and about half are dual-income. Nevertheless, DeCaro noted a wide range of working arrangements, including two parents who have regular jobs Using the Berkeley puppet where they put in more interview method, DeCaro than forty hours per week. talked to each child, who was Other families had one parent with a traditional job hooked up to an EKG monitor. and the other with a more The puppets take turns talking flexible job, or work that is about the things they like and more sporadic, so the latter person was the childs dislike; the child was asked to primary caregiver. One of identify with one or the other. the things we realized fairly Pictured below, Jason DeCaro. quickly is we were going to have to give careful thought to definitions in terms of any analysis that looks at what it means to work, DeCaro said. How much do you have to be working before you count it as being a situation where two parents work? The range of incomes in the group is fairly large, DeCaro said, starting with people who are just barely making do to families earning well into six figures. Each parents personal data assistant was loaded with a special program designed by Worthman, DeCaro, and Noah Ternullo, a Pittsburgh-based computer

consultant. They used another one to record the daily activities of their child. An alarm sounded three times a day, reminding the families to record their information. The day is divided into fifteenminute increments, during which the parents indicate what activity they were doing, where they were, who they were with, and how they felt. Saliva samples were collected three times a day; participants chewed on a piece of cotton and spit it into a test tube. The tubes were stored in the freezer until DeCaro took them to the lab. At the end of the week, DeCaro interviewed each parent and child, asking questions designed to gauge social, behavioral, mental, and physical health. Using the Berkeley puppet interview method, DeCaro talked to each child, who was hooked up to an EKG monitor during the interview. DeCaro used two puppets who would take turns talking about things they like and dislike. The child was asked to identify with one or the other. For example, one might say, I hate school, and the other might say, I dont hate school, and the child was asked to choose which statement captured his or her feelings. The goal is to create a sort of play space where the child is relating to the puppets almost more like peers, DeCaro said. They will tend to talk more freely with the puppets than they would if you took the puppets down and interacted as adult to child.

DeCaro is hopeful that the study will identify some of the strategies that families use to cope with complex schedules and point to some of the tradeoffs. After all, what we are really working with here are extremely functional, very successful families, for the most part, he said. People will not be able to look at the studys findings and say, Aha, this is what I need to do to make myself or my kids happier, he cautioned. But maybe we can help to answer peoples questions about the pros and cons of different approaches. Sometimes, just being able to chart out the landscape better is something that can be extremely helpful in the long term, he said.