Opportunities, constraints and constrained opportunities - A study on mothers' working time patterns in 22 European countries
The aim of this study was to analyze mothers’ working time patters across 22 European countries. The focu was on three questions: how much mothers prefer to work, how much they actually work, and to what degree their preferred and actual working times are (in)consistent with each other. The focus was on cross-national differences in mothers’ working time patterns, comparison of mothers’ working times to that of childless women and fathers, as well as on individual- and country-level factors that explain the variation between them.
In the theoretical background, the departure point was an integrative theoretical approach where the assumption is that there are various kinds of explanations for the differences in mothers’ working time patterns – namely structural, cultural and institutional – , and that these factors are laid in two levels: individual- and country-levels. Data were extracted from the European Social Survey (ESS) 2010 / 2011.
The results showed that mothers’ working time patterns, both preferred and actual working times, varied across European countries. Four clusters were formed to illustrate the differences. In the full-time pattern, full-time work was the most important form of work, leaving all other working time forms marginal. The full-time pattern was perceived in terms of preferred working times in Bulgaria and Portugal. In polarised pattern countries, full-time work was also important, but it was accompanied by a large share of mothers not working at all. In the case of preferred working times, many Eastern and Southern European countries followed it whereas in terms of actual working times it included all Eastern and Southern European countries as well as Finland. The combination pattern was characterised by the importance of long part-time hours and full-time work. It was the preferred working time pattern in the Nordic countries, France, Slovenia, and Spain, but Belgium, Denmark, France, Norway, and Sweden followed it in terms of actual working times. The fourth cluster that described mothers’ working times was called the part-time pattern, and it was illustrated by the prevalence of short and long part-time work. In the case of preferred working times, it was followed in Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Besides Belgium, the part-time pattern was followed in the same countries in terms of actual working times. The consistency between preferred and actual working times was rather strong in a majority of countries. However, six countries fell under different working time patterns when preferred and actual working times were compared.
Comparison of working mothers’, childless women’s, and fathers’ working times showed that differences between these groups were surprisingly small. It was only in part-time pattern countries that working mothers worked significantly shorter hours than working childless women and fathers. Results therefore revealed that when mothers’ working times are under study, an important question regarding the population examined is whether it consists of all mothers or only working mothers.
Results moreover supported the use of the integrative theoretical approach when studying mothers’ working time patterns. Results indicate that mothers’ working time patterns in all countries are shaped by various opportunities and constraints, which are comprised of structural, cultural, institutional, and individual-level factors.
Keywords: mother, working time pattern; preferred working time, actual working time, integrative theoretical approach, comparative research