Who should earn money and who should take care of the housework? Mother, father or both? And in which way?

Researchers followed the opinion on the desirable division of housework in five European countries: Denmark, Finland, Germany, Poland and Sweden, drawing on data from the International Social Survey Programme 2012 testing the opinion on parental leave and work division.

All over Europe, perhaps all over the world, women carry out the majority of unpaid work. However, in some countries the division between the sexes is less unequal than in others.

Not surprisingly and confirming knowledge, Swedes have the most positive attitude towards equal sharing of housework and care: 70 percent of those questioned expressed the opinion that fathers and mothers should share parental leave equally, in Poland about a third and in the other countries about a half.

Gender and age differences do not appear in all countries: in Denmark, Finland and Sweden we find that the young are more for equal work division than the elderly, whereas gender differences (women being more for equality) are significant in Finland and the west of Germany.

Education is also an influencing factor: higher educated people are more for equal sharing than the lower educated ones; however, significant differences supporting this opinion could be found only in the west of Germany and Sweden.

This has consequences on the division of paid work as well. The authors describe four models:

Cluster 1: One-and-a-half earner model;
Cluster 2: Male breadwinner/female homemaker model;
Cluster 3: Full-time model;
Cluster 4: Dual-earner/dual-carer model.

Eighty percent of the Polish people favor the male breadwinner/female homemaker model.

In the west of Germany, the most popular model is the one-and-a-half earner model, favored by 77 percent, whereas in Denmark, Finland and the east of Germany, the full-time model is the favored one.

Most support for the dual-earner/dual-career model can be found in Sweden (favored by 43 percent), followed by the one-and-a-half earner model.

Sweden has definitely the most equal division of gender concerning paid and unpaid work. Nevertheless, researchers identified two groups. One group favors the idea of equal work and care sharing and the other supports women to remain in paid work and continue providing care which is still her main task, whilst man should have economic responsibility and provide income for the family.

The west of Germany and Finland, both favoring the one-and-a-half earner model, still had groups which favored either the male breadwinner and female homemaker model or the dual earner and dual carer model.  The society is thus divided on this point.

The most progressive alternative to the breadwinner model in Poland is the one-and–a-half earner model.

The results in the Nordic countries are quite heterogeneous: while people in Sweden find that both fathers and mothers should reduce work in favor of equal caring, in Denmark and Finland the opinion that both should work full-time prevails.

What does this mean for future policy relevance?

The results mean different things for different countries: For Germany, especially the west, and for Finland the one-and-a-half earner model seems to be very stable and a future choice; In Denmark and Sweden, people are mostly in favor of both father and mother working and caring and perhaps reducing their working hours; Research in Denmark demonstrated a slight preference for both working full-time compared to Sweden.

Poland and eastern Germany the large majority favors the male breadwinner and female homemaker model with the difference that in eastern Germany the question is not whether women should be in paid employment but whether they should work full-time or part-time. This may, therefore, mean that the one-and-a-half earner model is likely to be realized in future in Germany and Poland.

Policies can certainly encourage men and women to take up economic and care responsibilities. The more policies are open to this dual function of parents, the more these work in favor of equality.  Nevertheless, for overall family policy, values still matter. As long as the male breadwinner and female homemaker model is substantially embedded in the value system as it is in Poland, it is very unlikely that policies will be implemented promoting gender equality.

We conclude once again that for policies there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach and that values do vary. But should there not be a European vision on equal sharing?


Source: Edlund, Jonas & Öun, Ida 2016. Who should work and who should care? Attitudes towards the desirable division of labour between mothers and fathers in five European countries. Acta Sociologica, Vol. 59(2), 151 – 169.

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