Couples ask:

„Shall we get children?“
„What about our future life“
„Can we stay in the job?“

The last question is especially substantial for women.

Combining work and family is the heart of any endeavor of people in partnership with children.

Will it be possible for both, father and mother, going to work? Will it be possible for both to stay at home when the child is sick or take parental leave within the first years? What with shopping? Will it be possible to go shopping after working hours? How long will the shops be opened? Are there enough child-care facilities?

Those are just a number of questions raised by parents.

When you ask people in different countries you will get different assessment for the combination of work and family. While people find it easy to combine work and family in the Scandinavian countries, in the middle of Europe it is experienced as more difficult, despite the fact that a lot of money is invested in childcare. A lot of it is due to values that accept more or less a working mother. Values and infrastructure matter.

The Values

Are children better off if they stay at home, preferably with the mother or is it better for them to be in the cradle with others and later socialize in the kindergarten? Does a child need a mother at home in its first years?

In the European Social Survey in the first decade of the 21st  century, only 14% of the Swedish were against the mother working if the child is below three, while in Germany, but also in the Netherlands nearly half of the population objected a working mother with a child of three, as Haas and Steiber described.

A mother in Sweden would probably be rather strangely looked at if she does not want to give her child as early as possible to the cradle. She would be seen as preventing the child from social contacts.

In contrast in Germany and Austria there is one opinion predominant: a baby needs the mother until the age of three. So mother should have possibilities to stay at home.

Value systems are very stable. And policy reacts on them.

The infrastructure

The infrastructure reflects the values in those countries. While Germany and Austria are well equipped with kindergartens for children from the age of three, offering cradles was not the first priority.

In the Scandinavian countries you have child-care institutions from the very beginning – as you had in former communist countries in Europe.

And in the South?

Family policy hardly exists there, because it was thought that the extended family cares for the child. The grandparents, mainly of course the grandmother is looking for the child, or the sister, the aunt, maybe even the neighbors. So there no state interventions and you will hear women saying they have no problem in combining work and family. The extended family takes care.

Infrastructure build by policy makers reflects the values predominant in a society. With a plurality of values policy has to find ways to serve different lifestyles.


Source: Nadia Steiber, Barbara Haas, Begrenzte Wahl – Gelegenheitsstrukturen und Erwerbsmuster in Paarhaushalten im europäischen Vergleich. In: Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, June 2010, Vol 62. Pp 247-276.

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