Spillover-crossover effects

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Spillover effects concern transmissions of resources or vulnerabilities across life domains at a within-person level, whereas crossover effects refer to transmissions between individuals (Bernardi et al., 2017).

To fully understand the underlying mechanisms of spillover effects, it is important to identify the particular life domains and roles that may interact, and specify the characteristics of such interactions, in terms of their valence, directionality, scope and temporality.

By considering their valence, one can capture the hindering or symbiotic nature of the interactions between different life domains. For example, work and family have been often indicated as domains where negative spillover is likely to occur, based on the ideas that (a) work and family requirements are hardly compatible and (b) that individual resources are limited. As a result, demands in one life role may lead to the depletion of available resources (e.g. time, energy or material means), which in turn negatively affect functioning in another role. However, researchers have also pointed at possible positive spillover effects, which may occur when participation and experiences in multiple roles lead to the expansion and accumulation of resources, thus facilitating multi-role management and optimal functioning in the respective domains.

Concerning their directionality, interactions may operate both in the form of a work-family conflict (i.e. overdemanding work hampering participation in family role) and a family-work conflict (i.e. pressures at home hindering work performances). Moreover, researchers also distinguish between horizontal and vertical spillover (Sirgy, Efraty, Siegel, & Lee, 2001). Horizontal spillover refers to the pathways through which the vulnerabilities or resources transit across neighboring domains. Vertical spillover, on the other hand, posits a hierarchy of different domains within individuals’ lives, where subordinate domains are nested within superordinate ones.

When it comes to their scope, the spillover effects between life domains may occur through two pathways, namely top-down and bottom-up. The top-down perspective posits that experiences in a superordinate domain influence those in a subordinate one (i.e. overall subjective well-being affecting work-related well-being), based on the assumption that individual dispositions and tendencies may bring them to experience different life events in a same fashion (Udayar, Urbanaviciute, Massoudi & Rossier, 2019). The bottom-up perspective posits the influence of specific life roles on general quality of life (i.e. a meaningful career contributing to the meaning in life), thus considering overall subjective well-being as a function of domain-specific well-being.

Finally, the temporality dimension indicates that the time frame over which the spillover mechanism takes place may vary considerably. Short term spillover effects occur when the consequences of action in one domain rapidly affect another domain as in many examples given above. Long term spillover effects are trickier because the shadow of a critical event stretches over a long time, producing a path of accumulation of vulnerabilities or resources whose consequences become visible only later on in life. For instance, a toddler experiencing material deprivation may develop mental and physical health issues later in life, which can in turn feedback on its family and work life (Elder 1999).

Crossover effects are most likely to occur among individuals who share resources due to economic or emotional interdependence, or a mix of the two. Similar to spillover effects, crossover effects can differ in terms of valence, directionality and scope as well as temporality.

Crossover effects can be either negative or positive (valence). To exemplify the negative valence, labour market disadvantage of parents is often reflected in labour market disadvantage of their children (Almquist and Brännström 2018). Peer effects in the workplace, whereby a worker’s skills, productivity and wage can foster the development of skills, productivity and wage of co-workers, even if all the workers carry out completely independent tasks (Cornelissen, 2016), are an example of positive crossover effects.

Crossover effects can operate unidirectionally from one person to another or bidirectionally in a crossover mechanism loop (directionality). Referring to the examples listed above, it may be unlikely that adult children’s labour market disadvantage hit back the career opportunities of parents. But regarding peer effects in the workplace, one can expect a loop: After one of the co-workers becomes more skilled and productive due to peer effects, this may benefit back again his or her colleagues.

As already clear from the examples above, crossover effects can involve two or more interrelated individuals (scope). Intergenerational transmission of labour market disadvantage could in principle include only two persons if we consider single-parent families with just one child. Peer effects in the workplace typically have a large scale which includes many co-workers.

Regarding temporality, short term crossover effects occur when the consequences of experiences of one person are immediately transmitted to another person. In the long term, the magnitude of the crossover effects may vary due to different mechanisms. Adopting coping strategies and adjustment of individuals experiencing crossovers, may lead to reduction of the magnitude of the effects over time. Alternatively, crossover effects can also strengthen over time due to accumulation of disadvantage. Intergenerational transmission of labour market disadvantage is an example of long-term crossover effects, where a path of accumulation of vulnerabilities includes limited parental economic resources, as well as undermined educational aspirations and achievement of children, that ultimately lead to children’s labour market disadvantage in adulthood (Almquist & Brännström, 2018).

Spillover and crossover effects may occur simultaneously, triggered by the same events and transitions (Bakker & Demerouti, 2013). For instance, a job loss experienced by an individual may affect his or her family life (spillover effects), and due to emotional reactions and behaviours that place a burden on the other family members, it can in turn cause their health outcomes to deteriorate (crossover effects) (Baranowska-Rataj & Strandh, 2021). In this example, transmission of vulnerabilities occurs both across life domains (work, family, health) and across interrelated individuals.

Authors: Koorosh Massoudi, Anna Baranowska-Rataj & Laura Bernardi


Almquist, Y.B., & Brännström, L (2018) Childhood adversity and trajectories of disadvantage through adulthood: findings from the Stockholm birth cohort study. Social Indicators Research, 136(1), 225-245.
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Udayar, S., Urbanaviciute, I., Massoudi, K., & Rossier, J. (2019). The role of personality profiles in the longitudinal relationship between work-related well-being and life satisfaction among working adults in Switzerland. European Journal of personality, 34 (1), 77-92. DOI: 10.1002/per.2225

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