Studies highlight problems in reconciling work and family life

Download article in original language : ES0211201NES.DOC

A number of studies published in 2002 have highlighted the problems faced by Spanish women in reconciling work and family life, with many faced with a choice between having children or working. One consequence is a change in the pattern of childbirth, with people having fewer children and later. This change in the pattern of maternity also depends on other factors, such as the rising price of housing.

Many Spanish women are faced with a choice of whether to have children or to work, as the problems of combining the two are still great despite recent legislation on the reconciliation of work and family life (ES0107154F). Three recent studies shed light on the problems in this area.

A study published by the Higher Council for Scientific Research (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, CSIC) in autumn 2002 shows a change in the pattern of childbirth. Spanish women are having fewer children and they are having them at a later age. In the last decade, the average age of having children has increased, and 58.7% of women having children are now over 30 years of age. Spanish and British women are those that on average have their first child at the latest age in the European Union.

According to this study, there are several reasons for this. First, women have more training and education and therefore higher expectations of professional development, or simply a desire to enter the labour market. Second, there are economic factors, such as high levels of unstable employment or the high cost of housing, that make it more difficult to have children. Third, it is difficult to reconcile work and family life, and there is a lack of affordable services such as nurseries. This new model of childbirth is often not voluntary: almost a quarter of women have fewer children than they would wish, above all for economic reasons, according to a recent fertility survey by the National Statistics Institute (Instituto Nacional de Estadística).

The trade unions state that the great difficulty in reconciling work and family life is one of the reasons for delaying childbirth and the falling birth-rate. According to the director for women's affairs at the Trade Union Confederation of Workers’ Commissions (Comisiones Obreras, CC.OO), 'women are afraid of being expelled from the labour world because, despite protective laws, it is quite common for a pregnant women not to have her contract renewed, even though recruiting another person during the maternity leave involves no cost for the company.'.

The women's secretariat at the other main trade union confederation, the General Workers’ Confederation (Unión General de Trabajadores, UGT), claims that being of childbearing age is a 'drawback in finding work. Working mothers encounter another great obstacle: the lack of support networks. There are few affordable nurseries with flexible timetables. Many women suffer from the stressful situation of having to choose between being mothers or workers.'

The president of the Organisation of Women Entrepreneurs and Active Management (Organización de Mujeres Empresarias y de Gerencia Activa, OMEGA) criticises 'the enormous difficulty of reconciling work and family life'. She claims that 'this is a far greater burden for women than for men, because of the unequal distribution of housework.'

Another recent study, published by the Jaume Bofill Foundation (Fundació Jaume Bofill) in Barcelona, finds that women face disadvantages and inequalities in the labour market: they earn 20% less than men in the same job in a company of equal size, with the same job category, the same level of education and the same seniority. The differences in pay are significant and have increased over time. In 1995, 26.2% of female workers in Catalonia received less than two-thirds of average hourly pay, which was EUR 10.67. Five years later, the percentage of female wage earners in this situation, with average hourly pay of less than EU 12.79, had risen to 27.3%. In 1995 women earned 32% less than men and the differential has hardly fallen, because women are employed in sectors requiring low levels of skill and therefore with low pay. The same study states that women encounter more obstacles than men to promotion in their career, which tends to stagnate at the age of 30 - ie the age at which women now start to have children.

A final recent study, commissioned by the Economic and Social Council (Consejo Económico y Social, CES) indicates that the price of housing has increased by 76% since 1996, which makes it difficult for young people to leave home, and also delays the formation of families. Another problem is that most young employees are on temporary contracts. The consequence of this is that many young people now leave home at the age of 30 or even 35. Therefore, the CES proposes increasing the public effort in this area by developing public housing for the young, increasing the amount of development land for social housing and promoting renting, with tax incentives for tenants and direct aid for social renting. Another way to promote renting would be to create a system of public guarantees that would support young people applying to landlords, who tend to ask for an employment contract as a guarantee. The problem is that the temporary contracts on which most young people (and particularly women) are recruited are not a sufficient guarantee of income.

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

Eurofound welcomes feedback and updates on this regulation

Add new comment