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Cell Phones Are Disrupting Family Life

Job-related calls are stressing out working couples, study finds

FRIDAY, Dec. 9, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Cell phones and pagers, part of the technological revolution that was supposed to liberate everyone, is tethering people to their jobs to an unprecedented degree, to the point where family life is suffering.

That's the unsettling conclusion of a new study that found the increased use of these communication commandos is bringing job worries home, stressing out the family lives of men and women alike.

The study limited the blame to cell phones and pages, and not computer-based communication such as e-mail. Cell phones and pagers were linked to increased psychological distress and reduced family satisfaction for both sexes.

But only women experience the opposite effect -- home problems and worries intruding into their work life as cell phones and pagers keep them on call nearly 24/7, the study found.

The research, by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee sociologist Noelle Chesley, appears in the December issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family.

"The use of cell phones and pagers was linked to increased distress and a decrease in family satisfaction over time," said Chesley, an assistant professor of sociology. "There is clearly a link between using the technology and experiencing increased access."

For the study, Chesley interviewed working couples over two time periods -- from 1998 to 1999 and again from 2000 to 2001. She found that between the interview periods, the use of cell phones and pagers decreased family satisfaction and increased distress and negative work-to-family and family-to-work spillover.

"These technologies are linked to negative experiences and feelings from the workplace spilling over into the home," Chesley said. "We are becoming more accessible, which is letting in more of the bad than the good."

"Women get kind of a double whammy," she added. "For women, in addition to having a lot of this stuff from work spill over into home life, they get the opposite. There is also a lot of negative stuff from home spilling over into the workplace."

Chesley thinks that better management of cell phone use is needed to reduce the stress effect she uncovered. Perhaps employers and employees should set limits on reaching each other to allow time for more positive family interaction, she suggested.

"The question is, are these technologies helping us or hurting us in our daily life," Chesley asked. "The results of this study indicate that technology may not be so great."

One expert thinks the findings support the idea that cell phones are changing culture -- and not necessarily for the better.

"These findings seem to support my intuitions about how cell phones affect our daily lives -- blurring boundaries between work and family life because of increased accessibility," said Tate Kubose, a cognitive scientist at the University of Illinois Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.

"They also support the notion that we should really appreciate our women more, as they seem to shoulder a lot of the burden, even in marriages where both spouses work," he added.

More information

To learn more about stress and how to manage it, visit the International Stress Management Association.

SOURCES: Noelle Chesley, Ph.D., assistant professor, sociology, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Tate Kubose, Ph.D., Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; December 2005 Journal of Marriage and Family
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