The Division of Labour Among European Couples: The Dynamics of Values and Practices
Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change University of Manchester UK,
MISC University of Lausanne Lausanne, Switzerland
Centre Pavie University of Lausanne Lausanne, Switzerland
Even though egalitarian gender values are increasingly spreading among younger Europeans, division of labour does not always comply with this trend. Gender Practices and Gender Values are historically only loosely coupled. Traditional theories of familial behaviour (rational-choice theories, resource-bargain theories or theories of role trade-offs) struggle to explain the paradoxical simultaneity of egalitarian values and inegalitarian practices that seems to be typical for our time. In this presentation, we propose an approach based on the ideas that (1) practices are the translation of values moderated by specific social structures and (2) incoherencies between values and practices are biographically unstable. Therefore, the biographical stage and welfare policies support or hinder couples in realising their values in the form of specific divisions of work. Based on multi-level regression analyses of data from the European Social Survey 2004, we compare the values and practices of couples in 20 European countries. We show that, while most of the European heterosexual couples live in coherent egalitarian configurations of values and practices in their pre-parental phase, they shift to a situation of tension between egalitarian values and gendered practices following the births of their first child. Our findings show that in order to overcome these tensions, some couples adapt their values to the practices and accommodate to a coherent gendered organisation. Others are able to readapt their practices and to return to more egalitarian organisation of work, in particular following the enrolment of their children in school. An examination of these shifts in values and practices according to the welfare type reveals that the magnitude and the reversibility of these shifts are strongly moderated by welfare policies. In liberal and conservative regimes, the shift to a combination of gendered practices and egalitarian values is stronger than in socio-democratic regimes. In addition, especially in liberal regimes the tension between values and practices is transformed into an enduring accommodation to inequality whereas in socio-democratic regimes, change to unequal practices is reversible.