Analysis of Work and Family Trends

Activity Description:


Over the past two weeks, you have become more familiar with some of the demographic changes occurring over time in both employment and family life, as well as the implications of these changes. One of the central tasks of social scientists interested in work-family issues is the ability to identify questions or problems that are important, find data that speak to these questions or problems, and interpret the data to better understand the experiences of contemporary working individuals and families. The overall goal of this assignment is to help you develop these skills and to look more closely at some of the trends described in the Wharton and Marks readings as well as the readings from week 1. Please double-check your numeric totals and proofread your work carefully as I will be grading on both content and presentation of ideas.


Identify the social and demographic changes of recent decades that have created changes in employment, family life, and the intersection of these two institutions;

Investigate how race may influence work and family behavior;

Use empirical research to address specific aspects of a complex social problem;

Hone your ability to analyze numeric data and present tightly-argued written interpretations.

Time Commitment for Assignment

I estimate that this assignment will take students anywhere from 2 – 4 hours to complete, depending on your numeric and computer skills.

Late Assignments

Late assignments will be penalized 3 points for each half-day they are late.


Web Resources Necessary to Complete This Assignment (Also see Course Links)

You will need to access two different U.S. government reports to complete this assignment:

Household and Family Characteristics: March 1998 (Update) which is available on the web at, and

America’s Families and Living Arrangements, 2008, also available on the web at

Specific instructions for how to use these resources are included under each task, below.

Task 1a: Document Overall Trends in Employment and Family Structure (5 points)


Complete the table, below.


See “Table 15: Married-Couple Families, by Labor Force Status of Husband and Wife, and Race and Hispanic Origin of Household: March 1998” in the 1998 report and “Table FG1” in the 2008 report to complete task 1a. Couples in which both the husband and wife are employed (or unemployed, but looking for work, as the case may be) are “Dual-Earner” couples in the table below. The other categories used below should exactly match the table headers used by the census in each of the reports.

At any point in time, some people are between jobs and actively looking for work. Note that the census counts individuals who are currently unemployed, but looking for work, as “in the labor force.” Please include counts of the currently employed and the unemployed in each of your totals by family type. So, for example, when calculating totals for couples in which both members are in the labor force (i.e. dual-earner couples), make sure to include those couples in which only the husband, wife, or neither are employed as well as couples in with both are currently employed. The census has already determined that these are dual-earner couples because the unemployed parties are actively looking for work. The 1998 table includes this category sub-total, but the 2008 table does not, so you will need to calculate it yourself for 2008. (Rounding errors may result in totals that are off from those in the census tables by 1). Overall totals tend to be in the first line of the table, with breakouts by other family characteristics (family size, income, etc.) further down in the table.

This assignment will be much easier to complete if you utilize a spreadsheet program to automatically produce category totals and percentages. If you don’t know how to use Excel (or another spreadsheet program) this is a good opportunity to learn. Please present numbers without decimal points and percentages with 1 decimal point in this table. Make sure to note the data source.

Activity Source:

Adapted by Jane Case from Chesley, N. (2009). “The Work-Family Intersection” Syllabus.