ISER Working Paper Series 2006-23
Working women, men's home time and lowest-low fertility
01 May 2006
The average number of children in Southern Europe went from over 3 children per women in 1970 to lowest world levels of below 1.5 children. While common to most developed countries in the last decades, the decline in fertility in Southern Europe was not accompanied by the corresponding increase in female labour force participation. The percentage of women participating in the labour market (which includes employed and unemployed) did not significantly increased in Southern Europe over this period. Female labour force participation went from about 30% in the 1970s to just about 40%, a fairly low figure when compared to over 70% in Sweden and the US.
This paper explains these cross-country differences appealing to the existence of non-egalitarian attitudes toward gender roles, which constrain the way in which families distribute the allocation of time and, in particular, man's contribution to household chores. 20% of Spaniards between 30 and 40 years of age agreed or totally agreed to the statement 'It is a man's job to earn money; a woman's job to look after the home and family', whereas only 7% of Swedish did. Not surprisingly, Spanish men devote only about 8 hours a week to household chores, just half the time devoted by their Swedish counterparts.
The argument is that a man's contribution to household activities is not important in a world of low levels of female education, as was in all countries in the 1970s, when it was reasonable that men went out to work as they could make much more than their wives. It however becomes more relevant as female education (and potential wages) increase and women find it profitable to work in the market.
Whereas in Northern European countries women's incorporation to the workforce was followed by an increased in men's contribution to household activities, in Southern Europe it did not. This, the authors show, translates into Southern European women searching for ways to alleviate time pressures, which involve a reduction in fertility (either by having fewer children within marriage or not entering a union altogether) or, a reduction in market work, or a combination of both.
This piece of research comes along with important policy implications. Traditional gender roles have penalized those men and fathers who are willing to get more actively involved in family matters. Children, women and men, and the society at large would be better off if social policies were pursued that would not discriminate men's involvement at home. Examples of policies toward this direction would be compulsory paternity leave or a presumption of join parenting after divorce. In turn, achieving women's equality in the work place, the paper argues, goes by achieving men's equality at home.