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Dual-Earner Families - Western And Southern Europe

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Research has found that the majority of married French women maintained full-time employment after childbirth (Arber and Gilbert 1992). Dual-earner families have increased in number since the early 1980s in Great Britain, but dual-earner families where both partners are employed full-time are still in the minority there (Crompton 1997; Hatt 1997). Women in Great Britain, especially those with a spouse in full-time employment, are likely to work part-time (Hatt 1997).

Germany is unique in Western Europe in that this democratic, capitalist country is the result of the unification of one democratic and one communist country in 1989. Many women from the former East Germany expect to be employed, even if their husbands could afford to support their family on their salaries. While many former East German families continue to be dual-earner families, after unification, women have been forced into lower status jobs, removing their place as economic equals in their marriages (Lobodzinska 1995). In the former East Germany, the government subsidized childcare facilities, aiding most dual-earner families; since unification, the focus has been on mothers caring for their children rather than the state providing care (Lobodzinska 1995). While dual-earner families were normative in the former East Germany, West German women have always struggled more in combining work and family roles. Former West German mothers who delegate childcare and work as a part of a dual-earner family sometimes experience guilt regarding meeting society's expectations that they be full-time mothers (Frankel 1997).

Dual-earner families are supported through public policy in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Netherlands. Living arrangements supportive of dual-earner families, housing that is close to workplaces, and a multitude of childcare arrangements are all supported through governmental policy (Fortuijn 1996; Lewis et al. 1992; Sundström 1999). Additionally, tax policy in Sweden provides incentives for dual-earner families rather than penalizing them. A large proportion of dual-earner families in many of these countries follow the pattern of the husband working full-time and the wife working long part-time, which is employment between twenty and thirty-five hours per week. In Sweden, long part-time work carries the same benefits and job security provisions as full-time work (Lewis et al. 1992; Sundström 1999). This long part-time work, although available to all parents, is used mostly by women. Perhaps because of this, women in Sweden are less successful in the workforce (as in pay equality and holding top positions) than in the United States, where employed women are more likely to work full-time (Rosenfeld and Kalleberg 1990). Even within Nordic countries, attitude surveys find that most men do not fully support an equal division of household labor, or spend equal hours in family work. Among Nordic countries, the Dutch are relatively conservative regarding dual-earners in the family, although they do not feel that children in dual-earner families are disadvantaged compared to children in single-earner families (Scott 1999).

While many women in the predominantly Catholic countries of Southern Europe want to work for pay, expect to work for many years of their lives, and value the independence of employment, relatively few married women actually engage in market work while their children are young. Many of the dual-earner families change to this status after the children are in school (Bimbi 1989; López 1998). Government policies encourage women to stay home with very young children. Italy provides generous maternity policies and widespread preschool coverage for children over the age of three (Scott 1999). The Italian government favors the dual-earner family through the income tax system, as the proportional net income added by a second earner is treated more generously than the main income (Shaver and Bradshaw 1995). Spain provides differential publicly funded childcare services by age of the child; 2 percent of the childcare services for children under the age of three are publicly funded, while 84 percent of the childcare services for children ages three to six are publicly funded (López 1998). In countries within Southern Europe, the division of labor in dual-earner couples is less gendered than in families in which the husband is the sole support because men do slightly more housework and spend more time with their children than do husbands of housewives (Bimbi 1989). Nevertheless, the work of rearing children and running a household remains primarily with women.


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