EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Parental leave and work-life balance

PDF version Printer-friendly version

Parental leave and sick leave arrangements are taken up by about 40% of eligible women and 5% of eligible men, a report by the Italian national statistics office (?Istituto nazionale di statistica, ISTAT) reveals. Moreover, while the proportion of women working in paid employment is growing, women still carry out almost 75% of household work - although men have marginally increased their participation in household work. However, the report reveals that a substantial number of applications for parental leave on the part of male workers have been turned down by the employer.

Legislative context

After some delay, Law 53/2000 implemented into Italian law Council Directive 96/34/EC of 3 June 1996 on the ‘framework agreement on parental leave’, concluded by the European employer and trade union organisations - the Union of Industrial and Employers’ Confederations of Europe (UNICE), the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP) and the European Trade Union Congress (ETUC). This led to the introduction of significant changes in Italy:

  • all working mothers with children aged up to eight years are entitled to apply for parental leave, whereas, previously, the children had to be aged three years or under;
  • the length of parental leave has been increased from six to 10 months; the employee is allowed to spread the time out to a certain extent (but not as a fully part-time option);
  • there is now a provision for unpaid sick leave;
  • fathers are entitled to apply for parental leave and, if they apply for at least three months, a further month is granted (see the 2004 EIRO study on Family-related leave and industrial relations , TN0403101S).

However, payment rates for leave remain unchanged (30% of wages), and are limited to six months of the leave period for children aged up to three years (previously up to one year old).

Take-up of leave

A report by the Italian national statistics office (Istituto nazionale di statistica , ISTAT), Conciliazione dei tempi di vita e denatalità (Work-life balance and fertility rates ), presented in December 2005, contains the first results of the ad hoc module devoted to reconciling work and family life, which formed part of the 2002-2003 Time Use Survey. This module was commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Department of the Ministry of Welfare, in accordance with Law 53/2000, in order to investigate work schedules and working time flexibility, reasons for flexible working time, work-life balance, and the take-up of leave.

According to the report, only 749,000 working parents applied for parental leave (86% of whom were women) and 541,000 applied for sick leave (76.9% were women) - see Figure.

Employees with children aged 0-8 years using leave, by sex (%)

Employees with children aged 0-8 years using leave, by sex (%)

Source: ISTAT, 2005, based on 2002-2003 Time Use Survey

The data show a strong gender bias in the take-up of both types of leave, although just over 40% of all working women with children aged up to eight years applied for parental leave and 27.2% for sick leave (Figures 1 and 2.1 in the ISTAT report). Such a poor take-up is explained by low payment rates during leave (cited by 16.9% of respondents), employers’ refusal to grant leave (reported by over 5%), and lack of information (cited by 2.6%). It is worth noting that more than 90% of working women did not apply for unpaid parental leave.

Only 105,000 men applied successfully for parental leave (less than 5% of eligible fathers). However, a further 77,000 were refused leave by their employer, 68,000 reported that they were insufficiently informed about leave options, and 64,000 did not apply because of the drop in income.

The level of employer disapproval of employees’ parental leave rights may be interpreted by the fact that 2% of women were dismissed from their job when they became pregnant or after they had given birth (5% among those aged 35-44 years); a further 7.6% of women were forced to resign (16.2% among those aged 35-44 years) - see Table.

Women leaving their job because of pregnancy and maternity (%)
Women leaving their job because of pregnancy and maternity (%)
Up to 34 years 35-44 years 45-54 years 55-64 years Over 65 years All
No 86.1 78.6 85.7 90.6 95.0 90.4
Yes, dismissed 4.1 5.0 3.3 1.8 0.6 2.0
Yes, forced to resign 9.8 16.2 11.0 7.6 4.4 7.6

Source: ISTAT, Multi-purpose survey on families, ad hoc module of Time Use Survey 2002-2003

Uneven division of household tasks

Thus, low payment rates for leave and traditional social stereotypes, both in families and particularly in the workplace, result in women having to take on most of the household and care work, putting extra strain on their work-life balance.

Nevertheless, slight improvements were observed in the division of domestic tasks: in 2002-2003, women carried out 73.8% of household work, compared with 78.8% in the 1998-1999 survey. It should be noted that this imbalanced division among partners becomes more pronounced as the number of children increases: female partners with no children carry out 70.8% of domestic tasks; when they have one child, they do 74% of the work; and, when they have three children or more, they do 78.7% of the work. Employed women devote, on average, almost five hours a day (four hours and 58 minutes) to domestic tasks (rising to five hours and 17 minutes when they have children) and six hours, 27 minutes to paid work.

The proportion of children attending childcare establishments increased from 9.6% in 1998 to 15.4% in 2003, while the increase in part-time work is lower than the EU15 average.


After a long decline, increased female participation in the labour market is accompanied by a slight increase in fertility rates. However, the work-life balance of women is worsening because the traditionally informal network of care-givers is reduced - many grandmothers of small children are now working in paid employment themselves. Nevertheless, the availability of childcare facilities and of leave options has improved, and men’s contribution to domestic tasks is increasing.

Companies and institutional structures are still partially designed from a male perspective: the proportion of women having to leave their job when they are pregnant or when they become mothers remains significant; use of parental leave is rather low; and flexibility in terms of extended leave periods seems to be a reality only in the public sector, especially among men, who often face high refusal rates from their employers (three rejections out of every seven applications).

Further information

For further information, at European level, on combining family and full-time work, see the comparative topic report on this subject, TN0510TR02. The national report for Italy (371Kb pdf) is also available.

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Add new comment

Click to share this page to Facebook securely

Click to share this page to Twitter securely

Click to share this page to Google+ securely

Click to share this page to LinkedIn securely