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  • Final Report Summary - APPARENT (Transition to parenthood: International and national studies of norms and gender division of work at the life course transition to parenthood)

APPARENT Report Summary

Project ID: 263651
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Germany

Final Report Summary - APPARENT (Transition to parenthood: International and national studies of norms and gender division of work at the life course transition to parenthood)

Researchers of the ERC funded APPARENT project carried out a comprehensive investigation into how parenting is perceived by professionals, the media, and by the parents themselves. The project looked into differences across various European countries and cooperated with a broad international network of scholars. Here are some of their findings:
- It is common for European couples living fairly egalitarian lives to adopt a traditional division of labour at the transition to parenthood. Based on in-depth interviews with 334 parents-to-be in eight European countries, researchers explore the implications of family policies and gender culture from the perspective of couples who are expecting their first child. The ways in which family policies and gender culture limit possible choices and beliefs about ‘how to do things right’ are linked in ways that often go unnoticed by social scientists, policy makers, and by parents themselves.
- Mothers and the higher educated report most work–family conflict in Europe. National policies supporting child care reduce the level of experienced work–family conflict; family leave policy appears to have no alleviating impact on working parents’ work–family conflict. The findings indicate that family policies appear to be unable to reduce the gender gap in conflict perception and even widen the educational gap in work–family conflict.
- In the 21st century, the division of housework remains gendered, with women on average still spending more time doing chores than their male partners. Egalitarian gender ideology of both him and her significantly predicts more egalitarian division-trajectories, while neither absolute nor relative resources appear to have an effect on the division of housework over time. These processes differ among childless couples and couples who experience the transition to parenthood.
- Mothers who work in high occupational status jobs before birth return more quickly to their jobs and are less likely to interrupt their careers, both in Germany and the US. During legally protected leave periods, mothers return at higher rates, exemplifying that family leaves strengthen mothers’ labour force attachment. Economic fluctuations mediate this latter finding, with different consequences in each country. In the United States, mothers tend to return to their jobs faster when unemployment is high. In Germany, mothers on family leave tend to return to their jobs later when unemployment is high. The cross-national comparison shows how similar market forces create distinct responses in balancing work and care.
- Professionals in prenatal and postnatal care are able to influence whether family policy works and how. Over 90 percent of the children in the Netherlands meet youth health care doctors and nurses ten times in their first year. The Dutch professionals have been found to utilize an ideal of shared parenting between fathers and mothers. However in crucial situations they mostly hold mothers responsible for the child’s development, assuming fathers work full time and are unavailable for more extensive care. In this sense, professionals contribute to the reproduction of traditional parenting roles even though the government advertises parental sharing. This Dutch study is currently being reproduced in other European countries.
-Shift of normative frames at childbirth – ‘motherhood ideal’ trumps earnings. The researchers of the APPARENT project analyzed the changing division of housework between husbands and wives in western Germany. When and under which conditions do husbands increase their share of traditionally ‘female’ housework? Almost half of all newlyweds share housework equally. But over the course of marriage, the husband’s contribution to housework strongly declines, mostly independent of spouses’ income or working hours. Traditionalization intensifies most strongly at entry into parenthood when the equity norm of shared earning and shared housework is challenged by the ideal of a stay-at-home mother.
-Cultural norms and structural conditions affect employment interruption patterns of new mothers. Researchers of the APPARENT project utilize a new longitudinal data to test the impact of three cultural mechanisms on mother’s time-out after childbirth: selection, adaptation and socialization. Labor market conditions and family related policies have direct and indirect effects on the labor force attachment of mothers. Adaptation to new cultural settings and socialization appear to influence the duration of mothers’ employment interruption.
-Take-up of family leave and time-out duration are socially selective. Researchers from the APPARENT project found that family policies in Sweden produce homogenous policy responses by mothers of different social background. In contrast, German family policies are utilized differently by mothers with different educational backgrounds. The low educated have longer employment breaks; often beyond the legally job protected period. As a consequence low educated mothers are on average more vulnerable when returning to the labor market as compared to their better educated peers.
-No support found for skill depreciation hypothesis. Researchers from the APPARENT Project studied whether and how women’s career interruptions influence their labor market prospects. By comparing women with continuous careers to those with discontinuous careers due to: parental leave or homemaking; unemployment; or other reasons, the authors explore the support for the skill depreciation hypothesis and signaling theory. Depending on the type of welfare state regime, the authors find women to be subject to varying degrees of career punishment for time spent out of the labor market.

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