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Researcher suggests: 35-hour workweek for parents

23 April 2012 University of Gothenburg

Swedish mothers of small children work a lot more than in the 1970. This is an important reason why so many parents feel extremely pressured for time. One way to handle the stress is to take advantage of the right for Swedish parents to work half time, according to a new doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg. The author of the thesis Jörgen Larsson suggests shorter workweeks for parents.

Jörgen Larsson’s doctoral thesis is based on the observation that parents of small children are in the middle of the most hectic part of their lives. One major reason behind the time pressure is that parents work more hours than in the past. The total paid work time for mothers and fathers of small children has increased by an average of 10 hours per week since the 1970s.

The study, which is based on statistical analysis of 20 000 parents and interviews with 19 fathers, explores parents’ temporal welfare. Temporal welfare is not only a matter of how pressed for time a person is; it also has to do with how satisfied you are with your allocation of time between for example paid work, children, partner, work at home and time to yourself. The temporal welfare is significantly lower among parents than among people without children at home.

In order to increase their temporal welfare, some parents choose to work part time, so-called parental part time. However, the gender differences in parental part time are much larger than in parental leave (28 % of mothers of small children and 2 % of the corresponding fathers choose to work 30-36 hours per week because they have children). This is not only a problem for women but also for men, as it gives them less space to establish close relationships with their children.

Larsson’s interviews with men who work paternal part time reveal that their unusual choice is rooted in a desire for their families to escape time pressure, for their children to not have to spend long days in childcare and for themselves to be present with their families. Yet the decision to work paternal part time is closely linked to social class: 5 % of higher grade white-collar dads do, whereas the number for blue-collar and lower grade white-collar workers is only 1 %.

‘Individual time strategies will not be enough to change this pattern. What we need is a new type of time policy at the political level,’ says Larsson. ‘Such a policy would have to consider the structural obstacles facing fathers who want to work paternal part time, for example that parents with small children are expected to work full time just like everybody else in most workplaces and that the traditional role of a man is incompatible with part-time work.’

‘Personally, I’d like to see a voluntary 35-hour workweek for parents of small children. The parents would get a certain government compensation for lost income, maybe for a couple of years. This would give dads an incentive to reduce their work time since a family where both parents work 35 hours a week would get twice the compensation compared to if only the mother works 30-hour workweeks,’ says Larsson.

The thesis has already been publicly defended. It can be downloaded at http://hdl.handle.net/2077/28371 (on page 27-31 in the pdf-file there is a summary in English).

http://hdl.handle.net/2077/28371

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