You are here: Eurofound > EWCO > Barriers to reconciling work and family life identified My Eurofound: Login or Sign Up   

Barriers to reconciling work and family life identified

A study published by the Spanish Social and Economic Council, based on data from the labour force survey, shows that 18.1% of Spanish workers would like to change their current working time arrangements. The majority of these workers, especially women, would prefer to spend less time at work outside the home and to have more time to take care of children and other family members. However, current working times and practices in Spain do not favour flexible arrangements for workers. Meanwhile, workers consider that the availability of social services to look after children or other dependants is scarce and expensive. Finally, available data show that women are assuming a greater role in the workplace, while also maintaining their traditional family role, thus taking on a greater workload overall in comparison to Spanish men.

Towards the end of 2006, the Spanish Social and Economic Council (Consejo Económico y Social, CES) presented in its quarterly bulletin an analysis on the issue of reconciling work and family life in Spain. This study is based on a special module (in Spanish) within the Labour Force Survey (in Spanish) carried out by the National Statistical Office (Instituto Nacional de Estadística, INE) and supported by Eurostat.

This special statistical module set out to achieve two main objectives:

  • to analyse the existing differences between the way people would like to participate in the labour market and the way that they actually do so, identifying the reasons underlying these differences;
  • to examine the degree of flexibility offered by Spanish companies in terms of reconciling work and family life.

In general, and according to the available results, around one third of the workers surveyed have children younger than 14 years old; among those workers aged between 25 and 44 years, half of them have children below this age. Meanwhile, 8.4% of the workers have an adult dependent person under their responsibility, and this percentage increases among unemployed and inactive people to 10.3% and 13.1%, respectively.

Attitudes towards reconciling work and family life

According to the survey findings, up to 77.9% of workers that have children or other dependants do not want to change their current situation in terms of work and home duties. However, a significant 14.3% of workers would like to change their current working time arrangements in order to work less outside the home and therefore have more time to take care of dependent family members. The comparison between men and women reveals a relatively higher desire to reduce working time outside the home among women (16.2%) than among men (12.9%). Interestingly, this is also true for those who would like to work more outside the home and reduce work at home: 6% of women in comparison with 2.2% of men (Table 1).

Table 1: Workers with children or dependants, according to preference to change their working time
Workers with children or dependants, according to preference to change their working time
  Both sexes Men Women
Yes, want to work longer hours, reducing time for taking care of other people 3.8 2.2 6.0
Yes, want to work less, increasing time for taking care of other people 14.3 12.9 16.2
No, don’t want to change working time 77.9 80.5 74.3
Don’t know/No answer 4.0 4.4 3.4
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0

Source: Spanish Statistical Office, Spanish Labour Force Survey, Special Module on Reconciling Work and Family Life, 2006

Social support services for children and dependants

The increasing presence of women in the Spanish labour market points to a growing need for support services to take care of children and other dependants. The survey results show remarkable differences in the way men and women try to reconcile their work and family life. For 50% of respondents, the prevailing strategy among male workers relies on the role assumed by the spouse, whereas this strategy is only used by 11.7% of working women (Table 2). Meanwhile, women use – more than their male counterparts – other strategies such as childcare services, or they resort to other relatives for childminding duties. This finding implies an unequal distribution of home and family tasks, where women are assuming not only paid work but also their traditional family role, thereby taking on a greater number of responsibilities than men are.

Table 2: Workers with children, according to type of childcare service
Workers with children, according to type of childcare service
  Both sexes Men Women
Children minded by childcare services 20.7 16.6 27.1
Children minded by the spouse 34.9 50.1 11.7
Children minded by relatives 17.9 12.5 26.1
Don’t use childcare 25.8 20.1 34.4
Don’t know/No answer 0.7 0.7 0.7
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0

Source: Spanish Statistical Office, Spanish Labour Force Survey, Special Module on Reconciling Work and Family Life, 2006

The available data show that current characteristics of existing childcare support services discourage workers from using them even when these workers would like to work more outside the home. First, the cost of the services is considered prohibitive. Thus, 54% of the workers surveyed with children younger than 14 years old regard these support services as expensive, and this percentage stands at 46.1% in relation to support services for dependent persons. Furthermore, the second key reason pertains to the unavailability of these services, either for children or for dependants, with 34.7% and 42.4% of respondents, respectively, complaining in this respect.

Working time and work–life balance

The distribution and length of the working day are key aspects influencing the possibilities of reconciling work and family life. Thus, the differences between school and working times, or the increasing time devoted to commuting, are some examples of the everyday problems associated with trying to achieve a work–life balance.

In Spain, the traditional working time arrangement (see also ‘Working time organisation under review’, ES0603019I) includes a fixed hour for starting/ending the day’s work, and only a small percentage of workers can regularly avail of a flexible working schedule. Some 52.5% of the workers state that they can modify their starting/ending times by at least one hour for family reasons; this percentage is much higher among self-employed people than among employees, at 80.9% compared with 46.3%. Meanwhile, 46% of Spanish workers can take a day off to attend to family matters; again, this percentage is higher among self-employed workers than among employees, at 74.2% compared with 39.8%.

Conversely, 26% of Spanish employees can never change their starting/ending times and 31.6% of them are not allowed to take a day off for family reasons. The differences between men and women are not very significant in this respect.

Finally, the data show that only 2.6% of the workers surveyed have been able to benefit from leave of absence, and the vast majority (92.2%) of these are women, especially those aged between 25 and 44 years old.

Further information

The Concilia Plan, signed in December 2005, establishes a series of measures for civil servants in the general state administration with regard to flexible working time, work–life balance, care of dependants and sexual harassment. In the future, it is hoped to extend the plan throughout Spain (ES0602104F).

For more information at European level, see the topic report Combining family and full-time work (TN0510TR02).

Iñigo Isusi, IKEI



Page last updated: 23 January, 2007
About this document
  • ID: ES0611029I
  • Author: Iñigo Isusi
  • Institution: IKEI
  • Country: Spain
  • Language: EN
  • Publication date: 23-01-2007
  • Subject: Working time, Work-life balance