FOR all its allure, the American dream has always come with strings attached. The catch is that hard work and long hours on the job are part and parcel of getting ahead and making money. Family life often pays the price, of course -- a bargain that makes many Americans queasy.
Bob Israel, co-owner of a motion-picture ad agency in Los Angeles, knows the feeling well.
"At some point during the day, I look at my watch, and I'm faced with, 'Do I go home now and spend a little more time with my kids before they go to bed, or do I complete the work that I'm staring at?' " Mr. Israel said. "It really is a daily struggle. It sometimes causes conflict, and certainly presents conflict in my heart."
Still, Mr. Israel usually stays at his desk, in the belief that long hours are necessary to take home a fatter paycheck.
Now along comes a study from the Wharton School that claws at his reasoning -- and that of everyone else who buys into conventional wisdom on the work-family conflict. It found that people who placed high importance on finding the right spouse and creating a good family life actually ended up earning more money than those who were willing to sacrifice home life for their careers. "I'm sorry to hear that, because I didn't go home early," Mr. Israel said. "I'm not going to let my wife read this article."
A healthy family life, of course, does not always depend on the amount of time people spend at home instead of the office. But Wharton's conclusion is enough to make many people who work long hours wonder about their choice. Asked about the study, three dozen people around the country spoke emotionally about the choices they have made to juggle their lives at work and outside the office.
To some, the study's conclusions sounded a lot like voodoo socioeconomics. They argued that their jobs wouldn't let them cut back. Others asserted that they worked hard to satisfy themselves, not for material gain, and wouldn't change a thing. Still others confessed to strong workaholic tendencies, but insisted that they had found ways to cope, like slacking off on household chores or delaying marriage and family. Finally, a few said they had learned the Wharton study's lesson the hard way, with their own lives, and were changing their habits.
What follows is a sampling from that broad spectrum.
Rat Race, With Regrets
Many Americans are on a nonstop treadmill -- the rat race is real, it dictates their schedules.
Scott A. Smith described the evenings and weekends he worked as a salesman for the New York Life Insurance Company a few years back and complained, "If you don't put in those hours you'll get eaten alive." Now with a Denver financial planning firm, he feels guilty if he leaves at 6 P.M. "We joke around here that we work half days -- 12 hours," said Mr. Smith, 36, who is raising two small children with his wife, a magazine executive.
Peter Rosenthal, the senior executive vice president at Rubenstein Associates, a New York public relations firm, said the Wharton study might be valid in some industries, but not others.
"It's a nonstarter in service businesses like law and investment banking -- or public relations," he said. "I don't know anybody who is really successful that gained their success in 40-hour workweeks." Mr. Rosenthal typically puts in 70-hour weeks, away from his working wife and their 2-year-old son.
Gabriel Escamillo, a vice president of Enviro-Drill, a Phoenix-based drilling company, also believed he had little choice about his hours. As he talked, it was clear he felt pangs about the sacrifice.
With a high school education, Mr. Escamillo started out 27 years ago as a driller. For the next 20 years, he spent half his time away from home, on the job in other states. When in Phoenix, he worked 10 to 15 hours a day "to pay the bills, and to allow my wife to stay at home."
Mr. Escamillo said he was also competing with college graduates for management jobs, so the long hours were designed in part to catch the attention of his supervisors. Eventually, he was promoted.
"I regret that I was not as close to my children as my wife was," said Mr. Escamillo, 51. "But I am not going to condemn myself. I did what I had to do." Now, Mr. Escamillo said, he sometimes slips out of work early to catch the soccer games and school events of his two grandsons. Hard Driving, And Proud of It
Corporate demands are one thing; personal expectations weigh even more heavily on some people. Plenty of folks seem motivated to work long and hard primarily because they have personalized the American work ethic.
"I'm a very driven person. I don't know another way to attack this thing called life," said Gwenael Hagen, a 34-year-old marketing manager for Microsoft in Denver.
Though he never keeps track, Mr. Hagen thinks he averages 55 hours a week on the job. He has never considered working less than he does, he said, and he is willing to take on extra at Microsoft, which he joined six months ago. Divorced and with an 8-year-old son, Mr. Hagen recently remarried. After a Friday ceremony, he and his wife returned to work the following Tuesday, saving their honeymoon for next year.
Mr. Hagen constantly weighs whether he is giving enough time to his son, whom he sees twice a week and one weekend a month. And he believes the Wharton study's findings. But he likes his own balance, his own work schedule. "I don't want to find another way," he said.
Mr. Hagen has a kindred spirit in Catherine A. Lehmann. "What drives me is what's next. As soon as something's completed, I like to see what the next opportunity is," said Ms. Lehmann, a 33-year-old senior corporate relations manager for Allstate Insurance in Northbrook, Ill. She averages 12-to -14-hour workdays.
Married to a securities lawyer who works similar hours and childless, Ms. Lehmann said, "Probably, I wouldn't be as successful if I didn't work as hard. I do think there's a trade-off." But, she added, "I rarely come in on the weekend -- so that's the balance for me."
William C. Dudley, an international economist at Goldman, Sachs in New York who works about 60 hours a week, also said the study's thesis would have no bearing on his life. "I carry my job around with me all the time," he said. "I wouldn't do anything differently. I like what I'm doing, so I guess there's less conflict between work and play."
It helps that Mr. Dudley, 42, has no children and that his wife, Ann Darby, keeps the same kind of schedule as a vice president at J. P. Morgan. "My hours are nothing remarkable in this business," she said. Unlike her husband, Ms. Darby said she did feel she had sacrificed family life. "But I've always been an overachiever. I definitely made the choice. No one forced me to. It's a personality flaw.
"I certainly don't think my marriage suffered," she added. "The one thing that may have gotten lost, which some people might find too big a cost, and I guess the jury's still out for me, is children." At 39, Ms. Darby could still change that. Long Hours, But Family Too
"I'm a little surprised by the outcome of the study," said Michael J. Durham, an airline industry executive in Fort Worth. "In general, corporate America is inordinately demanding of people who wish to rise high up in the hierarchy of large public companies."
As he tells it, Mr. Durham wanted both a high-powered career and a family life. So he devised a strategy to cope: get to the office early but get home before it is too late, even if that means doing work there.
In 1979, Mr. Durham joined American Airlines as a single, 28-year-old with an M.B.A. degree. Right from the start, "11- , 12-hour days were sort of the norm," he said. "And I worked in the corporate finance department, so we were forever on the road, either arranging financings or closing financings or negotiating financings or talking to people about new financings. And then, of course, the hours were much longer because you basically worked the whole time that you were on the road.
"I've kept those hours up, yes, pretty much forever," Mr. Durham said. "If anything, the amount of work has increased. The biggest difference is not so much the hours in the office, but it's the amount of time outside the office and the amount of paperwork I have when I get home."
Now 44 and chief executive of the Sabre Group, the computer reservations unit of AMR , American's parent, Mr. Durham has a well-known workaholic boss in Robert Crandall, AMR's chief executive.
"The culture here is to work hard, to work long hours," Mr. Durham said. "This is not the U.S. Postal Service. Bob has created an atmosphere of urgency and challenge here and the kind of people who have been successful thrive in that kind of environment.
"There are clearly sacrifices. They're one of the more difficult aspects of the job because I'm married now and I have two kids, 8 1/2 and 6."
Partly because his wife does not work outside the home, Mr. Durham characterized his family life as a good one that provided many psychic rewards. "There are many long days at the office that you're supported only by the thought of having your kids run and smash into you when you walk into the house," he said. "You get out of the car and hear, 'Daddy, Daddy, you're home.' "
Besides working at home, Mr. Durham gets into the office a bit earlier nowadays, often before 7:30 A.M., and works until 6 or 7 P.M.
Kendall Bodden, a middle manager at Storagetek in Louisville, Colo., takes that early bird strategy even further.
"Unfortunately, there's the mentality that if you're here eight hours a day, you're a slacker," he said. He goes to work between 3 A.M. and 5 A.M. so he can spend evenings with his wife and 10-month-old son and still work days that last anywhere from 10 to 14 hours. At 38, he has also scaled back his sleep, getting by on five hours a night if necessary. Finding a Plateau To Build a Home
Cori Zywotow-Rice traveled a different career route. She delayed marriage and family for years while she worked flat out. After a stint as a radio reporter, she took a public relations job in Miami for the Dade County government. The post landed her at the police department during a corruption scandal.
"That job was 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I was on the beeper, and it was cops and robbers," she said. "I was single, I was totally committed to my job."
Later, in 1989, she joined the Miami-based Burger King Corporation, where she has worked her way up to vice president of worldwide communications. Along the way, she was married, and she had a daughter three years ago.
"There's no way you can do everything," Ms. Zywotow said. "There are a couple of things that can make things easier. Choosing an employer that is sensitive to family values and understands there must be balance in your life, having a boss who believes in balance and a spouse who believes in balance."
By employing a nanny and living four minutes from the office, Ms. Zywotow said she maintains her career commitment, but not the crazy hours. "I look back, and I'm very happy that I spent my 20's working, because I'm very fulfilled at 39 with an outstanding career and a wonderful family.
"You can have a happy home life and a successful executive career," she has concluded. "There are sacrifices -- dry cleaning in the trunk for a month and splitting up grocery shopping. I have no regrets. I have a job that takes me to Singapore and London and New York. I had a very strong family life growing up and have a very strong family life now." Learning to Accept New Priorities
Perhaps none of those interviewed had thought as deeply about the issues raised in the Wharton study as Howard D. Palevsky. At 48, he is president and chief executive of Collagen in Palo Alto, Calif. Starting out with an M.B.A. and a working wife in the early 1970's, he "just worked really hard, 50 to 60 hours a week. The deal I had worked out at home was, 'I don't expect any dinner, I just can't tell you when I'll be home.' " That continued after Mr. Palevsky and his wife had children and had acquired a cook and a housekeeper. "So, yes, I did sacrifice home life," he said.
"What I probably sacrificed more was the relationship with my spouse. So you have time for work, time for kids, time for spouse -- pick two, you know. Well, I'm separated now, so that's no fun," he said, calling from an event-packed trip to Washington and Baltimore that lasted less than 48 hours.
"But I have children, and I spend an enormous amount of time with them," he added, proudly reporting that he would be back home the next day "to coach a Little League game at 5. I rearranged everything to get home to the game."
Looking back, Mr. Palevsky said, "I don't think you have to do it the way I did it. But I didn't know that. I would have gone home from work earlier if I knew better."
As a boss, Mr. Palevsky said he had already applied the Wharton study's lesson. "I am riveted on results. I don't think Collagen workers have to put in long hours to get ahead. The business of, 'Gee, I saw him there in the morning and I saw him there at night, therefore he's a great employee' -- I don't do things that way," he said.
"There are a lot of people who work long hours that are not very productive. There are a lot of people who work long hours because they've got nothing else to do, who have no life. I've been fooled by that in the past.
"Now if I hadn't become C.E.O. and had at least a small degree of success, would I feel the same way?" Mr. Palevsky continued. "I don't know. I can afford to be generous and thoughtful. If I was banging away, screwing up, more than I do, maybe I wouldn't be as thoughtful."
Still, Mr. Palevsky believes his views "are common today in my age group."
Kenneth E. Glover, the 42-year-old co-chief executive of W. R. Lazard, Laidlaw & Mead, a New York money-management firm, agrees. And he has recently mended his ways.
"I've always had positions where it wasn't a 9-to-5 job," Mr. Glover said. He started out working in local government in Maryland, then at a Chicago bank, then at Drexel Burnham Lambert, the defunct Wall Street firm, in the go-go 1980's, then as senior vice president of corporate and government affairs at RJR Nabisco Holdings. At each stop, he often worked 12-hour days and at least one day each weekend.
"I thought this was what you had to do to be successful," he said.
Marrying in 1988 and having children, forced Mr. Glover to think about his life. But he was still working long hours at Lazard in 1994 when its founder died of an accidental drug overdose. To save the firm, Mr. Glover worked doubly hard.
But in hindsight, he said he need not have put in all that time his whole career. "If I didn't work those hours, I think I would have been as successful, because I'm not so sure I always worked effectively," Mr. Glover said. "I would absolutely not do it again the same way."
Mr. Glover is as good as his word. In May, he began what is likely to be a two-month vacation from Lazard to spend time with his wife and children, aged 5 and 16 months. And when he returns to work, Mr. Glover plans to negotiate a deal that will allow him to use his home office two days a week.
David Lloyd struck his balance, tilted toward family over career, years ago. At the time, his son Davey, now 19, was in second grade. As a school assignment, Davey drew a picture of his family. "There were four of us, but in the picture there were only three figures," Mr. Lloyd said -- his wife, his daughter and Davey. "My wife asked him, 'Where's Dad?' " Mr. Lloyd continued, "and he said, 'Dad's at work.' "
As a result, he got off the fast track at U S West Communications , avoiding jobs that demanded extra hours and a lot of travel. Mr. Lloyd, who now manages a technical writing team in the company's public policy department in Denver, also gave up his dreams of owning a big house and a Porsche.
And Mr. Lloyd, now 42, still believes that decision cost him. He thinks that he would have made more money if he had stayed his original course, though he has no regrets about rearranging his priorities. A Family Payoff From Work Life
Obviously, making these choices is rarely simple. Consider the case of Richard C. Breeden, the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission who also worked in the Bush White House and at two New York law firms. All were jobs demanding long hours and plenty of commitment, though Mr. Breeden said he strove to get to critical family events.
Now a partner at Coopers & Lybrand, the big accounting and consulting firm, Mr. Breeden related a conversation he had recently with his oldest son, 14, who had asked him if he would ever return to government.
"I said, 'Oh, boy, no. We're all done with that, thank goodness, and isn't it nice I'm now around and we take vacations together and so on,' " Mr. Breeden said. "And he looked kind of disappointed. So I said, 'Do you think that's good or bad?' "
"Well, I liked seeing you on TV," the boy said.
As Mr. Breeden sees it, the conversation showed that "you have to balance your professional need to be challenged and involved in something interesting and demanding with the fact that you also need to be home often enough and when it really counts.
"But if I was just doing 9-to-5 stuff, if I was bored to tears, I don't know whether I could be as interesting to my kids and as good a parent as I hope I am." ASSESSING THE VALUE OF FAMILY
IMAGINE an American life style where people worked fewer hours and spent more time en famille. Strivers would revamp their work habits, regularly leaving a redrafting of business proposals until the next morning, cutting off meetings at 5 o'clock and forgoing evening phone calls to demanding clients. Rush hour traffic would probably be worse, of course, and Little League games, soccer matches and Indian Princess meetings would be much more crowded. Maybe movie studios would produce more family fare.
It could happen, if the thesis advanced by a new study gains currency. In their research, Peter Capelli, a management professor at the Wharton School; Jill Constantine, an assistant professor of economics at Williams College, and Clint Chadwick, a Ph.D. candidate at Wharton, set out to determine whether people pay a price in workplace success for stressing family interests.
Unlike other studies on the subject, however, they looked at data from the same people at two points in time. They started with responses given by high school seniors across the nation in 1972 to a series of "life interest" questions and compared them with the respondents' earnings in 1986.
They found that men who had placed high importance on both finding the right spouse and having a good family life earned more than others, after controlling for educational differences, tenure with current employer and total job experience. For women, the same correlation existed, but it was weaker.
At the same time, the researchers found that placing importance on success in work, having money and finding steady work had no effect on earnings.
But if Americans buy this thesis and reorder their lives, what would happen to American productivity? It would not suffer in the least, Mr. Capelli said. He believes that time invested in family life makes workers more productive, not less, and enhances corporate performance. On the other hand, having a poor family life makes greater demands on an employee's time, with "enormous" negative consequences in the workplace, Mr. Capelli said.
Building a good family life is particularly important early in careers. "That's where the serious mistakes, like bad marriages, get made," Mr. Capelli explained. "People who didn't make time for their families spend a lot of time putting Band-Aids on family problems" later on.
Mr. Capelli, who is co-director of Wharton's Center for Human Resources, would like to see a rethinking of the assumed trade-off between work and family. He believes that people should think about the time invested in a good family life the way they now think about time spent on exercise: it takes time that might be spent at the office, but it also pays dividends for the employee and the employer.
"The alternative to a good family life is not no family life," he said. "It's a bad family life." But Mr. Capelli probably has a lot of convincing to do before his thinking is accepted. Traffic engineers, Little League coaches and Hollywood can relax.
Photos: Howard Palefsky, chief executive of Collagen, mixed work and nourishment in his hotel room in Manhattan. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)(pg. 12); "There's no way you can have everything." Cori Zywotow-Rice, VICE PRESIDENT, BURGER KING; "I'm not going to let my wife read this article." Bob Israel, CO-OWNER OF A LOS ANGELES AD AGENCY; "If I didn't work those hours, I think I would have been as successful." Kenneth E. Glover, CO-CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF W. R. LAZARD, LAIDLAW & MEAD. (pg. 1)