Monday, 4 June 2018

When the past comes back to haunt you: The enduring influence of upbringing on the work–family decisions of professional parents

Ioana Lupu, Crawford Spence, Laura Empson First Published July 14, 2017 Research Article Download PDF Abstract Prior research generally presents work–family decisions as an individual’s rational choice between alternatives, downplaying the crucial role that upbringing plays in shaping work and parenting decisions. This article emphasizes how habitus – historically constituted and embodied dispositions – structures perceptions about what is ‘right’ and ‘normal’ for working mothers and fathers. This relational approach explores how the entrenched dispositions of individuals interact dynamically with contextual imperatives to influence professionals’ work–family decisions. Drawing on 148 interviews with 78 male and female professionals, our study looks at much deeper rooted causes of work–family conflict in professional service firms than have hitherto been considered. We show how dispositions embodied during one’s upbringing can largely transcend time and space. These dispositions hold a powerful sway over individuals and may continue to structure action even when professionals exhibit a desire to act differently. In turn, this implies that the impediments to greater equality lie not only in organizational and societal structures, but within individuals themselves in the form of dispositions and categories of perception that contribute towards the maintenance and reproduction of those structures. Additionally, in a more limited number of cases, we show how dispositions adapt as a result of either reflexive distancing or an encounter with objective circumstances, leading to discontinuity in the habitus. Keywords habitus, professional parents, professional service firms, socialization, upbringing, work–family decisions, working parents Ioana Lupu is Lecturer in Management Control at Queen Mary School of Business and Management, UK and Visiting researcher at ESSEC Business School, France. Prior to joining Queen Mary, Dr Lupu was a Marie Curie Senior Research Fellow at Cass Business School, working on the EU funded project ‘Professional Identity Construction and Parenthood in Professional Service Firms’. Her work is published in Critical Perspectives on Accounting and Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal. Currently, Ioana is working on projects exploring time, temporal experiences and performance measurement in knowledge-intensive firms. [Email:;] Crawford Spence is Professor of Accounting at Warwick Business School, UK. His research primarily focuses on financial professionals’ and professional firms’ attempts to continually reposition themselves in the social space. [Email:] Laura Empson is Professor in the Management of Professional Service Firms at Cass Business School, University of London, UK, and Senior Research Fellow at Harvard Law School, USA. Her ESRC-funded research into professional service firms has focused on themes such as: leadership dynamics, partnership governance, mergers and acquisitions, the professionalization of management, organizational and identity change, knowledge management, and diversity. She has published numerous articles in leading international academic journals and is the author and/or editor of three Oxford University Press books: Leading Professionals: Power, Politics, and Prima Donnas (2017); The Oxford Handbook of Professional Service Firms (2015); and Managing the Modern Law Firm (2007). She is a member of the editorial boards of Journal of Management Studies, Organization Studies and Journal of Professions and Organizations. [Email:]