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Education And Gender Roles

Italian women attend high school more successfully than do Italian men, and also more frequently. In 1950 only 7 percent of girls between the ages of fourteen and seventeen went to school, while 12 percent of boys did. In 1998-99 84 percent of the girls and 81 percent of the boys attended high schools. At university level women outnumbered men by the late 1990s. The increased level of education of Italian women helps to explain the greater presence of women in the labor market. However, Italian women are still well below the levels of other European and American countries (in 1999, 35.3% of Italian women aged fifteen and older were employed outside the home).

Women's traditional role of wife and mother is no longer appealing, and young housewives perceive their situation more as a necessity than as a choice. Working mothers declare themselves more satisfied than housewives and mothers, although they are weighed down by an enormous amount of work when one adds the work in the house to the work outside: 35 percent of young working mothers spend more than seventy hours working per week, and more than half, including those who work more than seventy, work more than sixty hours per week.

Italian men contribute very little to housework and childcare. The relations between husband and wife within the family are still very traditional, with a rigid separation of gender roles. Even children are asked to do very little housework, and gender differences are still present in the expectations of sons and daughters in helping with the housework: Boys are asked and expected to do less housework, have more freedom, and are less controlled by parents than are girls.

That Italian men contribute very little to housework and childcare may partially explain why Italy is experiencing a strong reduction in the number of children per couple among young couples. Italian mothers, unlike those of other western European and Western countries, do not leave the labor market even temporarily after having a child. The rigidity of the Italian labor market makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for mothers with young children to re-enter the job market, even after only a few years out. These mothers are not attractive to employers, who prefer men or childless women. Furthermore, part-time jobs are not common, and families have serious difficulties in living on only one salary. Therefore, the reproductive strategies of Italian families have changed, drastically reducing the number of children. This is compounded by the limited participation of the husband in childrearing and housework. Typically, a woman waits to get a good job, and after which it becomes very complicated to have more than one child without giving up the job.

Marriage and maternity are delayed to accomplish different goals: graduation from high school and university and the attainment of a stable occupation. These deep transformations are visible in the data from the Italian National Institute of Statistics (Istat 1998) on mothers with small children. The majority of women who have at least one small baby (0-2 years old) are working mothers (47.4 percent) while 42.8 percent are housewives. In the north of Italy 63.1 percent of mothers of young children are working; in the center 54.95 percent; while in the south the figure is only 31 percent, with 53.7 percent of the mothers as housewives.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsItaly - Marriage And Children, Education And Gender Roles, Young People Living In The Parental Family