Analysing Gender and Work in Europe
Edited by Daniela Grunow and Marie Evertsson
Chapter 12: Narratives on the transition to parenthood in eight European countries: the importance of gender culture and welfare regime
The research question spurring this edited volume was why European couples living fairly egalitarian lives adopt traditional gender practices at the transition to parenthood. Based on in-depth interviews with 167 couples in eight European countries, this chapter pulls the findings from the different country studies together and draws conclusions in light of the conceptual framework and the guiding research question. The interviews illustrate how parents-to-be enacted agency in diverse institutional and social contexts. The chapter highlights the role of family policies in the couples’ struggle to adapt to, or resist, socially desired paths and patterns of change during the transition to parenthood. We discuss the findings concerning these macro-micro links in comparative perspective, focusing on mothering and fathering ideals, the dominant gender culture, family policies and the policy-culture gaps that arise when the gender culture does not correspond with existing family policies. Our findings suggest that gendered preferences of work-care divisions partly result from country-specific interplays of the dominant gender culture and family policies. Dominant ideas about ‘naturally becoming’ a mother were followed by a perceived need to actively socially construct fatherhood. Institutions further shaped ideas about working mothers and the extent to which mothers-to-be – but not fathers-to-be – had resigned to the idea that their career would have to suffer as they became parents. The ways in which institutional structures limited possible choices and beliefs about ‘how to do things right’ were linked in ways that often went unnoticed by the couples themselves. As a result, those struggling to live up to the dominant gender culture not only experienced uncertainty about the future, they also often blamed themselves for not being the kind of parents (often mothers) that they desired to be. Contrary to the construction that these are individual or individuals’ issues, the comparative evidence suggests that many of the gendered choices and resulting problems encountered by parents-to-be have an institutional foundation. In essence, our comparative findings highlight the need for family policies to offer working mothers a minimum of six months of financially compensated leave, in line with World Health Organization breastfeeding advice, the need for reliable childcare following the period of paid care leave for parents, and a combination of income related compensation and legally enforced job guarantees as a precondition for fathers to consider claiming care leave. Given the high number of self-employed in some countries, we find it important that job guarantees apply to all women and men irrespective of the type of employment contract, as suggested by the EU directive on parental leave (Council directive 2010/18/EU). Elucidating these links between gendered processes of identity construction, couples’ work-care plans and the policy-culture gap is thus the main contribution of this book.
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