Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Family And/or Work in Europe?

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Family And/or Work in Europe?

Article excerpt


'Daddy Day Care' is the title of a film comedy, starring Eddie Murphy, at cinemas 2003. The heading of the film synopsis says: "The dads are in charge. And the kids are all right". The interesting thing about this is that this is (still) supposed to be interesting and funny enough to make the title of a comedy shown worldwide in 2003. The title shows that men taking care of and responsibility for children are considered to be an odd and seldom case. To check if this is true, replace 'dads' with 'mums' in the sentence above. Suddenly, this seems not to be the ideal title of a Hollywood movie.

In this paper we will dig into the nature of family life and its reconciliation with work in three European countries: the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Denmark. By presenting upto-date data from these three countries on different aspects of division of work in the family, working time patterns, and the nature and structure of childcare and parental leave schemes, we will discuss the challenges of future welfare state research and redesign. We will argue that changes of the current setting of these are not made only by welfare policy initiatives, but also require a new set of values, attitudes and assumptions towards gender relations in the family and elsewhere.


As indicated above, the theoretical framework for this study is the welfare regime typologies designed by Esping-Andersen: the division of the western welfare states in three clusters: 1) the Atlantic or Liberal regime, 2) the Continental or Conservative regime and 3) the Socialdemocratic or Scandinavian regime. In order to give an overview of the three welfare regimes used in the analysis to follow, we will summarise the different characteristics in the table below. The intention is not to provide an in-depth description of each of the regimes, but only briefly to pinpoint the main pillars.

Though his original study from 1990 has been subjected to much critique, it is still the point of departure for a lot of welfare state research. To put it very short, the regime typologies have been accused for being gender-blind, as Esping-Andersen implicitly assumes that citizens are male workers and thereby leaves women's unpaid care work invisible (Orloff, 1993 & 1996; O'Connor et al., 1999; Lewis, 1992). The logic is, as stated by Ann S. Orloff (1993) that in order to be de-commodified - one of the main notions in Esping-Andersen's theory, which states the extent to which citizens are able to maintain living without having to sell his or her labour on the labour market - one must at first be 'commodified' (that is sell his or her labour on the labour market). The unpaid care work women perform in the household does not qualify for commodification and therefore also not for de-commodification. In stead, the feminists have suggested to speak of different modes of division of paid and unpaid work in the family, the 'male breadwinner' and the 'dual earner' each representing different ends in a continuum on how to divide paid and unpaid work in the household where the 'dual earner' is thought of as the highest degree of gender equality (see for instance Lewis, 1992).

Apart from gender-bias, Esping-Andersen's framework of typologies could also be diagnosed as suffering from 'swedocentrism ', indicating that Sweden or in general Scandinavian standards are used to measure and weight all other types of welfare states. Additionally, the two aspects might be interrelated, as the Scandinavian regimes build on the notion of a dual earner family where most of the care work for children and elderly has been outsourced to the state.

As a response to the feminist critique Esping-Andersen introduced the concept 'defamilialization' that, in line with de-commodification, should be an indication of to what degree 'households' welfare and caring responsibilities are relaxed - either via welfare state provision, or via market provision ' (Esping-Andersen, 1999:51). …

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