Family formation made difficult. The role of Institutional constraints on Gender Work- Family relations

Term Paper, 2020

13 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

For many years, research has been concerned with the patterns of family structures and reasons for why commitments like work related constraints are different for men and women (Baker, 2008). Family circumstances have a considerable impact on individual careers and the employment status of men and women, in turn, having a particular effect on gender equality. In today’s society, women’s rank, earnings, and employee attrition rate usually differ from those of men, even before they have children (Baker, 2008). But especially as women’s personal priorities come to change after starting a family, accompanied by the need for a redistribution of the division of labor at home, a variety of institutional provisions favoring those who have no family obligations, create a barrier for young families (Baker, 2008).

Since founding a family is one of the most natural aspects to human kind, individual’s transition to parenthood should be given the affordance of a seamless process. However, the former is often shaped by institutional constraints and normative pressures. (Girardin et al., 2016). A Forbes article in March of this year for example suggests, women across developing countries are delaying having children for the benefit of their careers (Forbes, 2020). Furthermore, studies argue that the gender pay gap is highly influenced by childbirth because women's potential earnings are expected to fall to 20% less than that of their male colleagues after having children (Kleven et al., 2018). Thus, the reasons that have led young women and couples to rethink traditional family plans can be traced back to salary differentials for new mothers and a renewed lack of trust and sense of value in the work environment (Forbes, 2020). Therefore, the topic of this research revolves around the impact of institutional systems on family structures with regard to gender equality.

This paper discusses research on the macro (the institutional) level about social patterns that affect families as a whole as well as the individuals personal and occupational lives. The role and the importance of institutional structures are discussed for their impact on patterns of work and hence, the opportunities and challenges that parents face within family life are examined. Therefore, institutional arrangements affecting gender equality, parental leave (with explicit views on both maternal and paternal leave), education, divorce, and fertility are analyzed. This paper seeks to examine the interplay of the macro-structures of institutions and the micro-structures of families to answer the following research questions:

(Research question) How do institutional constraints affect gender work- family relations?

(Sub-question) How are egalitarian or unequal gender roles in a work-family context build?

1.1. Relevance

The issue of institutional constraints on family structures has been a long discussed and much disputed subject within the field of the social sciences (Baker, 2008). Still, research on the challenge of young families to combine work and family life is growing. Since discussions about gender ideologies and stereotypical gender roles are a major issue among various fields of science, the roles in a family are also under discussion (Baker, 2008). Institutional structures and rules consisting of parental leave policies and childcare solutions, which are costly and often limited, with regard to the interplay between occupation and childcare, are closely linked to gender ideologies (Girardin et al., 2016). In most research literature, institutional structures are understood as being a constraint on families, their work-life balance and gender equity (Baker, 2008). On the contrary, the researcher Johanna Närvi (Närvi, 2012) argues, that institutional constraints should not only be seen “[…] as determining but rather as framing or creating a context for individual action.” (Närvi, 2012 p. 455). Furthermore, choices of mothers and fathers are not always “[…] being dictated by them.” but are made consciously (Närvi, 2012 p. 455). Therefore, among scholars who have researched the interplay of constraints and family structures, it has become particularly challenging to find out whether to attribute the difficulties of families to institutional constraints or to the preferences of families themselves (Pedulla et al., 2015).

Research on the topic of work opportunities and regulations of families is particularly important since gender segregation has been a prominent global issue for many decades (Baker, 2008). In Western countries within America and Europe, families still face tremendous challenges that affect their future professional lives and even prevent them from having more children. Bringing up and keeping challenging circumstances both parents face present could help raise awareness to couples who have not yet started a family (Baker, 2008). Considering changes in societal perceptions and attitudes can alter the way people perceive institutional norms and values, this could result in a reorientation on the institutional side itself with regard to gender equality (Baker, 2008).

1.2. Overview of the structure

The second chapter of this paper is aimed to explain the methodology and to briefly introduce both the literature used and the approach which has been applied. In addition, it includes the geographical and historical scope. The third chapter consists of a review of the existing literature within the approaches of institutions. An introduction of the general terms ‘institutional constraints’ and ‘private and domestic sphere’ is followed by various factors which are constraint by institutions in the fourth chapter. These include gender equality, parental leave (with explicit views on both maternal and paternal leave), education, divorce, and fertility. Furthermore, this chapter discusses the main findings from the literature review concerning the interplay of institutional regulations and family preferences and their influence on work-family structures as well as gender equity.

Finally, an elaboration of the main findings and a recapitulation of the research aim is set out to answer the research question. In addition, this paper attempts to suggest directions for future studies.

2. Method

The method of this paper focuses on a review of literature related to the topics of institutional- and work-family structures. Since the topic of this paper should be within the scope of the discussion subjects in the seminar, the search for suitable literature began with a selection of the texts discussed during the course on ‘Gender, work, and family’. A more detailed focus of areas of interest was worked out and allowed defining the first search terms. As a next step, the platform of the university library, ScienceDirect, JSTOR and Google scholar were examined for the keywords: “institutional constraints”, “institutional patterns”, “work-family relations”, “gender inequality”, “family regulations”, “women’s labor force participation”, and “private and domestic sphere”. This examination of the keywords resulted in a wide range of relevant research from different scientific backgrounds such as sociology, economics, and social sciences, which required further selection. In order to choose the appropriate literature, indicators such as relevance and actuality were used to find the most relevant publications to answer the research question. Additionally, the so-called snowball technique was used to find further suitable literature in the respective references. In the course of the writing process more keywords were considered to be important, some of which were included in the present paper, while others were recognized as possibly interesting for future research as this study is unable to encompass the entire body of research.

The literature used primarily refers to analyses and descriptions of the institutional systems of the countries: Sweden (Goldscheider et al., 2015; Evertsson et al., 2016 ), Finland (Evertsson et al., 2016; Närvi, 2012) Germany (Evertsson et al., 2016) the Netherlands (Mills et al., 2008), Switzerland (Girardin et al, 2016), Italy (Goldscheider et al, 2015; Mills et al., 2008), New Zealand (Baker, 2008), and the United States (Evertsson et al., 2016; Pedulla et al., 2015). Therefore, the geographical scope is limited to the outline of the institutional regulations and limitations of these countries. The historical scope of the present work is primarily limited to institutional laws that came into effect during the 2000s. In chapter three, however, there is also a brief historical review of the changes in gender structures during the gender revolution, which ranged from the 18th century to the late 20th century (Goldscheider et al., 2015).

3. Work environment and stereotypical gender roles

There are huge differences between countries in the “[…] level of gender development and institutions that support women and men to combine work and care […].” (Mills et al., 2008 p. 7; Evertsson et al., 2016). Amongst others, the fields of competence of the institutions and related policies include: employment regulations such as part time or flexible work, maternity and paternity leave, maternity insurance, tax systems and regulations, and childcare legislation such as the affordability and availability of childcare places (Girardin et al., 2016; Mills et al., 2008). A growing number of researchers argue that gendered workplace norms and laws are restricting the ability of men and women to introduce equal regulations in their private lives (Pedulla et al. 2015).

Ideally, institutional frames should make it possible to ensure the possibility of combining family and work (Närvi, 2012). Parental leave systems and public daycare should thus enable parents to combine the role of the parent with the role of an employee (Närvi, 2012). Furthermore, it should actually be the choice of parents how exactly they want to shape their parenthood. In reality, however, it is mostly the institutional circumstances that influence how men and women shape their parenthood (Girardin et al., 2016; Pedulla et al., 2015). Institutional approaches have the ability to create constraints but also possibilities for families and parents to be (Närvi, 2012). More likely, the supposedly free choice of parents evolves as a process of compromise, prioritization, and negotiation. There are many differences in the family leave patterns depending on the policy regime of a certain country, that define consequences on a mother’s career (Evertsson et al., 2016). Parents must adapt to the institutions and the ‘family friendliness’ of the employers more precisely, the access to paid or unpaid leave, influences how exactly parents have to organize their parental leave and family structures. (Girardin et al., 2016).

3.1. Private and domestic spheres

With the emerge of the industrial revolution in the 18th century, urbanization and the rise of large industries, increased access to education and paid work in factories and offices evolved. This development created two different spheres for the people: the public and the private sphere (Goldscheider et al., 2015).

These spheres were formed by a gender-typical division of roles where men work full time and are solely responsible for financial care while women mostly stay at home and take care of typical family tasks such as childcare and household (Girardin et al., 2016). In the first part of the gender revolution, women made their way out of the purely private sphere, into part-time employment and thus into the domestic sphere. Throughout the second half of the gender revolution where men entered more and more into the private sphere to devote themselves to their children, the question emerged of what can be expected of the different sexes as family members and as financial providers. By the end of the twentieth century, a new balance was desired which should above all benefit the families in their care for their children (Goldscheider et al., 2015).

Nowadays, countries with a modern family traditionalism such as Switzerland and Sweden no longer follow purely static models and ideologies but combined the occupational with the family spheres (Girardin et al., 2016). Still in Switzerland and Sweden the ‘breadwinner-homemaker family model’ is preserved as a foundation, as it is especially prevalent in countries like Spain and the United States. The reasons for inequality among the genders are usually not the preferences of the families themselves, but the institutional framework conditions (Girardin et al., 2016).

During the process of founding a family, the basic preferences, and regulations regarding the division of work and family life are formed (Pedulla et al., 2015). Scholars state that this happens automatically in response to the restrictions and regulations that are imposed by workplace institutions because parents have to adapt to them. Since these institutions mainly embody a traditional gendered role model, men and women mostly behave accordingly. Moreover, gender scientists claim that gender-typical preferences such as: “[…] men prefer more competitive work environments, whereas women […] “choose” to return home because they value the comforts of home and family.” are driven by highly constraining institutions (Pedualla et al., 2015, p. 118). Additionally, it can be said, that women’s preferences are much more influenced by institutional policies than men’s, as they are more likely to desire an egalitarian relationship when policies would support this (Pedulla et al., 2015). It is therefore important to investigate how institutional structures are intertwined with gender ideologies (Girardin et al., 2016).


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Family formation made difficult. The role of Institutional constraints on Gender Work- Family relations
University of Cologne  (Wirtschaftswissenschaftliche Fakultät)
Gender, Work and Family
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Gender, Work, Family, Realtions, Institutions, Rollentypisch, Geschlechterrollen
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Anonymous, 2020, Family formation made difficult. The role of Institutional constraints on Gender Work- Family relations, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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