Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Work-Family Conflict in the Nordic Countries: A Comparative Analysis

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Work-Family Conflict in the Nordic Countries: A Comparative Analysis

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: Text missing in the original.)

INTRODUCTION

Various scholars have observed that, in contemporary Western welfare states many women and men struggle with the pressures of combining employment with family responsibilities (Gomick and Meyers, 2003 ; Nordenmark, 2004; Hochschild, 1997). As women's participation in the labour market increased in the Western welfare states during the second half of the 20th century, the ideal of a male breadwinner and a female full-time homemaker became less pronounced. Families today more often have two economic providers, although the share of gainfully employed women differs from one country to another, as does the degree to which women are integrated in the labour market (Daly, 2005). Women's greater participation in the labour market has been an important step towards increasing gender equality. However, the difficulties in reconciling work and family responsibilities are considered especially important for women, as they still do the greatest share of household work and childcare. The increase in women's participation in the labour market has not been followed by a drastic change in men's behaviour with respect to household work and childcare. Nonetheless, men today have taken on more of the household work and childcare than in the past (Brines, 1994; Hook, 2006), and men with higher levels of education tend to do a larger share of the household work (Nilsson and Strandh, 2006).

In feminist welfare state research,1 it is generally agreed that gender relations are influenced by a country's welfare state arrangement (e.g., Daly and Rake, 2003; Orloff, 1993; Sainsbury, 1999; O'Connor, 1993,1996). Empirical studies as well as more theoretical contributions show that social policies influence gender relations and affect the gendered division of labourboth within the family and in the public sphere. Policies concerning the labour market and the family differ among countries as do the extent and nature of welfare states' support to families; these, in turn, can affect men's and women's choices and experiences. As pointed out by Daly and Rake (2003:1): "the reconciliation of work and family life, which is arguably one of the most important pressures underlying the redesign of social policies, is centrally concerned with the roles and relations of women and men." The work-family issue is on the political agenda in many countries (Crompton and Lyonette, 2006; Leira, 2002a). However, work-family reconciliation policies have been adopted to address a range of issues, such as low fertility and employment rates, not only as a concern for gender equality (Lewis, 2006). On the other hand, policies can have effects on work-family conflict or reconciliation, and gender equality more generally, regardless of the political motivation for their adoption (cf. Gomick and Meyers, 2008). Welfare states' policy reactions to women's large-scale entry into the labour market, the rise of a dual-earner model, and the issue of reconciling work and family life have taken varying shapes. Countries have emphasized, facilitated, or promoted different family models. In some countries (e.g., the Nordic countries) policies encourage men and women to take dual responsibilities, both as providers and carers (offering parental leave with high replacement levels, publicly financed childcare, part-time work with retained social benefits etc.), while in other countries, policies support more differentiated roles for women and men, at least sequentially during the life cycle. These countries promote policies that encourage a more traditional family model (tax incentives for single-earner families, limited access to publicly financed childcare, long (and poorly paid) leaves of absence for mothers of young children, cash for care, etc.). Still other countries pay almost no attention in policy to the issue of balancing work and family life (Gomick and Meyers, 2003; Korpi, 2000).

The aim of this article is to examine one aspect of the everyday lives of women and men in a specific social context: their subjective experiences of conflicting demands between work and family life in the Nordic welfare states. …

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