Work-life events theory: Making sense of shock events in dual-earner couples

Wayne S. Crawford, Merideth J. Thompson, Blake Ashforth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Dual-earner couples are increasingly prevalent and encounter demands arising from each partner's commitment to various work and life domains. Unfortunately, there has been little theoretical progress in explaining how dual-earner couples navigate worklife shock events, which we define as disruptive, novel, and critical events that require investment of a couple's resources. Drawing from identity and sensemaking theories, we develop a theory of work-life shock events to explain how dual-earner couples perceive and respond to these events. We theorize that partners initially make sense of the event as individuals and then engage in couple-level sensemaking. We argue that each individual's shock intensity perceptions are shaped by the shock event's characteristics and the identity factors of role salience hierarchy and future self. A subsequent couplelevel process of sensemaking ensues, influenced by the salience of the originating domain and partner role, as well as relational identity factors. Couple-level shock intensity perceptions result in the couple's decision regarding resource investment in the shock event's originating domain. We discuss implications for future research and for organizations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)194-212
Number of pages19
JournalAcademy of Management Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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