Levelling of working time differences between mothers and fathers

A new report published by Statistics Norway in January 2007 shows that there has been a reduction, albeit small, in the working time differences between mothers and fathers in the period from 1991 to 2004. Overall, however, the working time of mothers has remained surprisingly stable, despite significant efforts aimed at improving childcare facilities and parental leave arrangements.

In January 2007, Statistics Norway (Statistisk Sentralbyrå, SSB) published a report (Fordelingen av økonomiske ressurser mellom kvinner og menn (in Norwegian, 2.32Mb PDF)), which among other things examined the labour market participation of mothers and fathers with children aged 0–15 years. The report’s figures are based on the Norwegian labour force surveys and cover the working time of fathers – an issue which had not previously been subject to analysis. The report sheds light on developments from 1991 to 2004, and includes only married or cohabiting parents.

Main findings of report

Support measures

The period under analysis in the report has been characterised by improvements in the availability of public childcare services, such as nurseries as well as pre-school and after-school arrangements, along with the introduction of monetary benefits as a form of support for parents not utilising childcare arrangements like nurseries (NO9807180N). Parental leave has been increased from 20 weeks in 1988 to 54 weeks in 2006. In 1991, such leave entitlements amounted to 34 weeks. Fathers have also seen their rights strengthened in relation to paternity leave and are currently entitled to six weeks of parental leave (NO0308103F). With the exception of extended holidays, no significant changes have been made to working time provisions in the period surveyed. For this reason, the analysis of working time and employment developments may shed some light on the extent to which the abovementioned reforms have contributed to increased equality in working life.

Employment participation

The report reveals that 81% of mothers with children aged 0–15 years were in employment in 2004. This represents a significant increase from the 74% employment ratio among this group of women in 1991. The increase in labour market participation has been greatest among women with children aged 3–6 years. Employment among fathers is high at 92%, and it has remained elevated throughout the period in question.

Working time

Mothers have to an extent increased their (agreed) weekly working time. However, although more mothers work full time today than in the early 1990s, part-time work is still widespread among mothers, with 45% of employed mothers working part time. The number of fathers working part time is comparably low at just 3%. Moreover, women are less likely than men to have a working time that exceeds 40 hours a week. Only 4% of mothers claim to work more than 40 hours a week, compared with 16% of fathers.

A small drop in the actual weekly working time of fathers has been observed, while an increase in the average weekly working time of mothers is evident. This has led to a levelling off of the actual working time difference between women and men. While mothers’ working time constituted 48% of men’s working time in 1991, this figure rose to 58% in 2004. The difference in average working time actually performed is greatest among parents with small children, but also among families with children aged 11–15 years, where mothers’ working time constitutes 70% of fathers’ working time. In 2004, mothers’ working time constituted 67% of fathers’ working time.

Commentary

The SSB’s latest report points to the fact that mothers’ labour market participation appears to have been subject to surprisingly little change over the last 10–15 years, considering the substantial efforts made in this period to improve childcare services. Despite a levelling off of mothers’ and fathers’ working time, considerable gender differences still persist with regard to how mothers and fathers balance family and working life. The report points to the inclination among researchers to portray parenthood in Norwegian working life as being two-tiered: accordingly, women who wish to remain in the labour market when having children take leave of absence and often work part time, while the family situation appears to affect men’s working time only to a small degree. In Norway, the debate over increased gender equality in working life is, to a large extent, connected to the gender differences that exist in relation to care responsibilities in the home (NO0410103F). Measures aimed at increasing gender equality in combining work and family life are therefore likely to remain on the political agenda for some time to come.

Kristine Nergaard, Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research

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