Parenthood, Gender and Work-Family Time in the United States, Australia, Italy, France, and Denmark

Article excerpt

Research has associated parenthood with greater daily time commitments for fathers and mothers than for childless men and women, and with deeper gendered division of labor in households. How do these outcomes vary across countries with different average employment hours, family and social policies, and cultural attitudes to family care provision? Using nationally representative time-use data from the United States, Australia, Italy, France, and Denmark (N = 5,337), we compare the paid and unpaid work of childless partnered adults and parents of young children in each country. Couples were matched (except for the United States). We found parents have higher, less gender-equal workloads than nonparents in all five countries, but overall time commitments and the difference by parenthood status were most pronounced in the United States and Australia.

Key Words: gender, paid work, parenthood, time use, unpaid family work, work-family balance.

Parents of young children are among the most time stressed of all demographic groups (Jacobs & Gerson, 2004). Having children is a major lifecourse event that alters how men and women live and how they can allocate their time. Money is required to support children, and there is also more to do in households with children. Historically, women have done the extra work children create, which engenders a more extreme gendered division of labor in households with children than in households without (Craig, 2007a). The impacts of parenthood are not an issue only for parents. Having children is also a major social project. Societies need to reproduce themselves, and the benefits of children extend beyond their immediate family to contribute to the well-being of the whole of society (Fineman, 2004; Folbre, 2001).

Some countries, however, provide extensive social supports, whereas others regard children as primarily a private responsibility. Particular policy measures can both reflect and influence social norms (Lewis, 2009). Which measures are instituted and the effect they have on behavior arise from an iterative mix of values, culture, structure, and preferences (Himmelweit & Sigala, 2004; Pfau-Effinger, 2004). One result of this complex interplay is that the links between the public sphere of the paid workforce and the private sphere of the household manifest differently across policy and cultural environments. This suggests that the effect of parenthood both on the time allocation of households and on the gender division of labor vary cross-nationally, with implications for the relative well-being of families and of mothers and fathers across countries. To explore this, we compare time spent in paid work, domestic work, and child care by men and women in households with and without children in five countries (United States, Australia, Italy, France, and Denmark) with different employment-time regimes, family and social policies, and cultural attitudes to gender equality and family care provision.


Having children is both a deeply felt imperative for many individuals and a major contribution to the perpetuation of society. Nonetheless, children are costly in terms of money and time. They require that a great deal of time be devoted directly to their care, and they engender more housework, which adds to a family's need for doing laundry, cleaning, and tidying up (Craig, 2007a). Mothers traditionally have done this work, while men earned the family income. It has become harder for households to find time for unpaid work and care as women have moved into employment. Couple families are increasingly dependent on the incomes of both partners, and withdrawal from the paid workforce to provide family care is costly (Joshi, 1998). As a result, questions of who should be responsible for providing material support, doing the unpaid domestic labor, and performing child care have become increasingly contested (Crompton, 2006; Gornick & Meyers, 2009). …