Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Families and Work in Transition in 12 Countries, 1980-2001: Nontraditional Living Arrangements and the Employment of Women, Including Mothers of Young Children, Continued to Increase in Developed Nations

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Families and Work in Transition in 12 Countries, 1980-2001: Nontraditional Living Arrangements and the Employment of Women, Including Mothers of Young Children, Continued to Increase in Developed Nations

Article excerpt

Profound changes in family structure and employment patterns took place in 12 developed countries during the last two decades of the 20th century, continuing earlier trends. The traditional nuclear family unit, a married couple with children, declined steadily as a proportion of all households. Married-couple households without children maintained a generally stable share. By contrast, the proportion of single-parent and one-person households rose in all of the countries studied. The United States had the highest proportion of single-parent households throughout the period, but some countries had larger increases. The one-person household became the dominant living arrangement in Denmark and Sweden.

Accompanying and interacting with these trends in household composition were continued demographic shifts and changes in the work-family relationship. Fertility rates, already low by historic and world standards in 1980, fell further in most of the countries studied, but rose and then leveled off in the United States. U.S. marriage and divorce rates remained the highest in the developed world, but other countries were narrowing the difference. The proportion of children born outside of marriage rose in all of the countries examined, with the two Scandinavian countries maintaining the highest percentages throughout the period. The United States was among a group of countries joining Sweden with a lower average age of women at first birth than at first marriage.

Women of childbearing and child-rearing ages entered the labor force in greater numbers, and the proportion of working mothers with very young children rose rapidly in the last decade, except in Sweden, where the proportion declined, but remained the highest among the countries studied. U.S. single mothers had much higher rates of employment than most of their European counterparts.

In a comparison (limited to eight countries) of the working patterns of couple families with very young children, the United States was the only country in which the predominant pattern was for both parents to work full time. In the mid1980s, the traditional pattern of the husband working full time and the wife not working outside the home was clearly dominant in the United States, as well as in the other seven countries. Although declining since then, this traditional pattern remained the most frequent arrangement in France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Spain from the middle of the eighties to 1999; in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, the most common pattern was the husband working full time while the wife worked part time. Part-time employment, an option sometimes chosen by working mothers, was most prevalent among women in Northern Europe and Japan and least prevalent in the United States, Ireland, and Southern Europe.

The new study of family structures, household living arrangements, and the work-family relationship presented in this article updates and expands upon a 1990 article published in the Review. (1) That article studied the period from 1960 to the late 1980s; this one overlaps it, covering the period from about 1980 to the beginning of the 21st century. In what follows, a more extended treatment is given to the work-family relationship, with a particular focus on the role of women. Data are presented for 12 countries: the United States, Canada, Japan, and 9 Western European nations. (See table 1.) The current study includes two countries--Ireland and Spain--that did not appear in the earlier study. In addition, Germany after unification has replaced West Germany in the analysis, and data for the 1980s are omitted for Germany. Finally, because of data limitations, not all countries are included in every table.

The article begins with historical background information, setting the stage for a more current description of major demographic and sociological changes directly influencing family composition: fertility rates, age composition of the population, marriage and divorce rates, and births out of wedlock. …

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