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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 49 - May 2006    
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FAMILY-WORK
Title  Juggling work and family life

Striking the right balance between work and private life has long been a challenge. For women who want to have children while pursuing a career – and as a result are plagued with guilt for neglecting the one or the other – it is a particularly pertinent issue. That is why Europe is currently looking at the best social policy to make life easier for working mums.

Juggling work and family life
© Frédéric Thiry
Today, there are almost as many women working as men. More than 70% of women are active in Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Portugal. Most of the former Communist countries also have a traditionally high rate of female employment. “Throughout the years of the Communist regime, the central and eastern European countries had policies that encouraged women to work. It therefore became socially acceptable for women to work in these countries,” explains Dimiter Philipov of the Vienna Institute of Demography, a partner in the Dialog project.

“Childcare was subsidised by society and widely available and, as a result, these populations were accustomed to cheap and easy access to childcare facilities. The state also provided significant child benefit, tax breaks and low-interest loans for families. Part-time jobs and flexible work were less common, however. These policies are continuing to a varying degree depending on the country.”

Equality and flexibility
While working women are catching up with men in terms of numbers, the picture is far from equal when it comes to the employment opportunities available to the two sexes. Jobs for women often remain precarious, unavoidably flexible and less well paid. It remains difficult for women to climb the career ladder. While legislation is being introduced to promote equal opportunities and attitudes are changing, much remains to be done before we arrive at a situation of parity between men and women, whether with or without children. 

“Even if working mothers are now in the majority, for many of them maternity brings a reduction in paid employment, whether through switching to part-time work or a temporary exit from the labour market, in the form of parental leave. For men, paternity has the very opposite effect: they increase their professional activity and it is as if their new responsibility encourages them to invest more in their work. In this respect, parenthood widens the gap between the professional working hours of men and women,” observes Danièle Meulders of Brussels Free University (ULB), Coordinator of the MoCho project(1).

Researchers with the Households, Work and Flexibility (HWF) project (see box) assessed the number of hours people actually work and want to work in seven European countries. They found major differences. The longest working hours are found in central and eastern Europe, with a 48-hour working week for Romanian men and 44 for Romanian women. The Dutch work a 40-hour week and most Dutch women 26 hours. Of all those interviewed by the HWF study, 28% said they would like to work fewer hours – especially men in western Europe, where 40% expressed the desire to spend more time with their families. In Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, ‘customised’ working hours enable women to look after their children. For most of their counterparts in central and eastern Europe, this is a luxury they cannot afford.  

The infinite variety of part-time jobs

Full-time and part-time employment
Full-time and part-time employment

Percentage of part-time employment in total employment in the countries studied by the Dialog project (2003).
© Source: Dimiter Philipov according to data from Eurostat
Part-time work is associated with women, especially mothers. But it is also common among young people and immigrants. Is this what they want, or is it all that is available to them? And how many hours do they work and on what kind of contract?

In Southern Europe, part-time jobs are often accepted due to the lack of an alternative (43% of Greeks interviewed by the HWF survey would prefer another solution). In France and Belgium, part-time jobs grew during periods of economic recession. Chosen reluctantly, these are often the most precarious jobs on the labour market. “In all the countries where it is present, part-time work is seen as a kind of under-employment that, to varying degrees, presents all women with the same problems: fewer career development opportunities in terms of promotion and salaries, lower pensions, fragmented and irregular working hours, etc.” notes Meulders.

Part-time work for young mothers also has very different implications depending on whether one is thinking in economic or social terms. “If we introduce a raft of policies encouraging part-time work, a number of women who are now working full time will reduce their working hours and the labour market will suffer the consequences. On the other hand, we know that parental attention is extremely beneficial for young children and, thus, has positive consequences for society,” explains Philipov. So what should it be: measures favouring the economy or society? “There is no ready-made solution. In many respects, reconciling work and family life remains a matter of trying to square the circle.” 

The most vulnerable
Hours women would like to work
Which is the ideal solution for reconciling work and family life: full-time or part-time? Percentage of individuals interviewed as part of the Dialog project.
© Source : Dimiter Philipov/according to data from Eurostat
The Fadse project undertook a particular analysis of how social exclusion can affect women. Its study looked into employment and family structures in six European Union countries with contrasting social benefit systems (the United Kingdom, Austria, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Norway). They found everywhere that the most vulnerable women – unemployed women, single mothers, retired women – are the foremost victims of poverty. Many elderly women have worked in the course of their lives but then find themselves with reduced pension rights due to years spent bringing up children or working part time. A recent measure introduced in Austria makes it possible to include time spent bringing up children for the purposes of calculating the number of years for pension entitlement.

This unpaid family work is in fact of great service to the state. In the United Kingdom, for example, the social services budget would have to be doubled, if women were paid for looking after their children or carrying out other domestic tasks. It is not for nothing that in Romania and Bulgaria, two countries hit severely by the realities of the transition economy, the previously efficient social services have deteriorated considerably and that childcare often falls to family members. 

(1) The Rationale of Motherhood Choices: Influence of Employment Conditions and of Public Policies


Printable version

Features 1 2 3 4
  Social cohesion and demographic challenges
  Europe is running low on children
  Juggling work and family life
  Turning the age pyramid on its head

  READ MORE  
  The rigidities of flexibility

Researchers with the HWF project compared the notion of work flexibility in eight European countries (the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia) by interviewing 1 000 people aged between 18 and 65 in each case. Various types of employment ...
 
  Time, work and money

A majority of women want to be mothers and pursue a career as well. This is most true of Estonian women (97.7% compared with 45.2% for their Lithuanian neighbours), followed by the Romanians (86%), Belgians (77.7%) and Slovenians (76.1%). In Estonia, Romania, and Cyprus most women want a full-time job ...
 
  Male/female: the allocation and sharing of roles

The notion of the woman who stays at home while the man goes out to work may seem outdated, but it still meets with the approval of 61% of Hungarians and almost half (45%) of Poles, Lithuanians and Romanians. The Germans, Austrians and Estonians reject the notion, however. And why not the opposite: ...
 
  Figures and ideas

  • In the late 1990s, couples in which both partners worked accounted for 40% of the total in Spain and over 80% in the United Kingdom.
  • Irrespective of gender, qualifications are an asset in finding a job. The level of employment is 20% higher for women with a higher level of education ...
  •  


       
      Top
    Features 1 2 3 4
      The rigidities of flexibility

    Researchers with the HWF project compared the notion of work flexibility in eight European countries (the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia) by interviewing 1 000 people aged between 18 and 65 in each case. Various types of employment status – self-employed, contract workers and the parallel economy – are associated with this notion of flexibility that is not necessarily the same as precarious employment. The flexibility can be in terms of hours worked per day, per week or even over a much longer period.

    The situation varies considerably from one country to another. In the Netherlands and Sweden, most part-time workers deliberately choose this option, having negotiated the terms with the employer and enjoying guarantees comparable to workers on a full-time contract. In Bulgaria and Romania, a lot of jobs offer flexible working hours and are indeed precarious and often in the parallel economy. These are filled by workers in desperate need of a job who are prepared to accept the conditions imposed by the crisis economies. There is no government or trade union regulation. In the United Kingdom, where there has been an increase in part-time work over recent years, many different situations are found. As a general rule, it is those in the weaker position – women, young people and immigrants – who opt for these kinds of jobs.

    Researchers distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ flexibility. The former is regulated, provides satisfaction in terms of job content, as well as working hours, and usually concerns the professional middle classes and guarantees an ‘honest’ wage. This is found most often in northern and western Europe. The latter is the very opposite in every respect.

      Time, work and money

    A majority of women want to be mothers and pursue a career as well. This is most true of Estonian women (97.7% compared with 45.2% for their Lithuanian neighbours), followed by the Romanians (86%), Belgians (77.7%) and Slovenians (76.1%). In Estonia, Romania, and Cyprus most women want a full-time job and two children. In Italy, 48.1% opt for a part-time job, and again two children. Many women would also like to stop work, for a while at least, when their children are young.  

    An ideal family policy should offer time (‘proper’ parental leave), resources (tax breaks or other forms of aid for families) and job opportunities adapted to young fathers and mothers. There is a marked desire for part-time work under good conditions in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. Women in the former Communist countries would welcome maternity benefit, tax breaks and lower education costs. It is in eastern Europe where the need for a more committed national family policy is most deeply felt (90% of respondents), especially in terms of financial aid.   

    Source : Dialog – Population Policy Acceptance Study (PPAS)

      Male/female: the allocation and sharing of roles

    Male/female: the allocation and sharing of roles
    © Frédéric Thiry
    The notion of the woman who stays at home while the man goes out to work may seem outdated, but it still meets with the approval of 61% of Hungarians and almost half (45%) of Poles, Lithuanians and Romanians. The Germans, Austrians and Estonians reject the notion, however. And why not the opposite: the househusband and female breadwinner? While most of the Dutch find this perfectly acceptable (just 7.9% disapprove), it is generally rejected in Romania (84% against) and in Hungary (56%).

    But whatever their gainful employment outside the home, household chores continue to fall mostly upon women. Three-quarters of Austrian women say they do it all. The Estonians and Romanians say they do most of it. The Dialog experts believe that a combination of measures is needed to find a balance in this area of life: the same pay for the same job, better employment conditions for women, and also more incentives for men to undertake more domestic chores and to be more involved in looking after the children.   

    Source : Dialog – Population Policy Acceptance Study (PPAS)

      Figures and ideas

    • In the late 1990s, couples in which both partners worked accounted for 40% of the total in Spain and over 80% in the United Kingdom.
    • Irrespective of gender, qualifications are an asset in finding a job. The level of employment is 20% higher for women with a higher level of education than for those who completed obligatory schooling only. In Italy and Spain, this proportion rises to over 40%.
    • Since the 1990s, the gap between the number of working men and working women has narrowed. This is mainly due to the growth in part-time jobs and in the services sector. In the EU-15, the employment rate among men was 17.2% higher than among women in 2002 compared with 21.8% a decade earlier. The proportion falls to 16.3% if the central and eastern European countries are taken into account (EU-25).
    • In 2002 (Eurostat figures – EU-15), 9% of women aged between 25 and 49 were inactive (having never worked or without a job) compared to 2.6% of men. About 18% of them justified this on the basis of their family situation. These percentages vary from country to country, rising to almost 30% in Greece, Ireland, Italy and Luxembourg, compared to under 7% in Scandinavia.

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