CORDIS - EU research results

Gender and Work/Life Stress among National Parliamentarians in Comparison

Final Report Summary - GENDER ELITE (Gender and Work/Life Stress among National Parliamentarians in Comparison)

Research Project Title: Gender and Work/Life Stress among Parliamentarians in Comparison

Project Objectives:

The overall motivation of this research project was to enhance the understanding of the situation for women in European political elites, and in particular Members of national Parliaments (MPs), through investigating the work/life stress levels that these women experience, in comparison to men. Work/life stress is defined here as stress caused by the competing and, often, conflicting demands of work and home life spheres. It thus resembles the concepts ‘work/home stress’ and ‘work/family conflict’ often employed in the literature.

The fact that women are, despite recent progress, still far from reaching the top positions in European politics and other areas with the same ease that men do is well evidenced. A prominent example is that only 26 percent of the MPs across Europe’s OSCE member countries are female, and only few of Europe’s top international organisations are headed by women.

The project scope covered MPs in UK, Sweden, and Germany, as this is the minimal set for a reasonable coverage of welfare state models in Europe; the ‘woman-friendly’ ‘social-democratic’ Scandinavian model for which Sweden is proposed as a case study, the middle-ground ‘liberal’ welfare states, such as the UK, and the ‘corporatist’ (or conservative) welfare states of central and southern Europe, the most typical of which is Germany. The choice of country cases are constructive also from the perspective that women political elites are relatively well represented in each of these countries’ national parliaments: the UK House of Commons currently hosts 29 percent women Members of Parliament, Germany’s Bundestag 37 percent and Sweden’s Riskdag as much as 44 percent (year 2016).

In addition, to see in a wider perspective and add context to any gender differences that the research may reveal, a comparison was be performed with representative, broader elites in other spheres of professional activity and general citizens.

These general research aims translated into the following specific objectives
• study whether gender differences exist in the work/life stress of the MPs
• analyse the above gender differences in the light of time related (e.g. hours spent on housework) and space/location related (e.g. distance between home and work) mediating effects
• add a country comparative dimension across the three countries and corresponding welfare states, so as to be able to analytically control for macroscopic level variations
• provide also a comparison of the political elite under study against broader elites and general citizens.

Research Design and Data:

To achieve these objectives I collected a micro-level Survey of the entire male and female population of the Members of Parliament of the UK House of Commons. Earlier collected survey data (with same item questions) was used for the comparisons to Swedish and German Members of Parliament. Furthermore, I utilised publicly available data for broader elites and general citizens from the European Social Survey (also data based on same item questions). I then analysed the data using various statistical techniques, including multiple regression and structural equation modeling (SEM). The statistical analysis was carried out using the programs STATA, SPSS and AMOS.

Statistical Variables Utilised:

The dependent variable was constructed from data collected by the following licert-scale question battery

“How often do you
a) ... keep worrying about work problems when you are not working?
b) ... feel too tired after work to enjoy the things you would like to do at home?
c) ... find that your job prevents you from giving the time you want to your partner or family?
d) ... find that your partner or family gets fed up with the pressure of your job?
e) ... find it difficult to concentrate on work because of your family responsibilities?”
Answer categories: “never, hardly ever, sometimes, often, always”.
Additional category for items c-e: “don’t have partner/family”.

These questions had been developed by the prominent European Social Survey (ESS), and had undergone extensive, cross-country quality control by the ESS program.

My main independent variable was gender (sex).

In addition, I used several mediating and control variables, relating to

• time-effect: ‘work-time’ versus ‘household-work-time’, marital status and number of children in the household. In addition, the MP’s partner’s work-time versus household-work-time was included, as this indicates how much support the MP receives at home.
• space-effect: frequency of attendance at the Parliament in the country’s capital, length of time, including number of nights, spent away from (potential) partner and children.

Survey Collection:

Confidentiality assurance and compliance with prescribed ethical and legal recommendations was adhered to throughout the research project cycle, and this was stressed in every communication with the respondents. In particular,

• only aggregated, and not case-wise, individual results were be reported
• double-blinded, id-number based registration and data-entering process were used, so that the respondent’s identity was not exposed

I collected the UK survey data electronically via the well-tested ‘Survey Monkey’ tools ( Functionalities such as blinded id-number-tracking services, tracking of non-respondents and automated reminders were provided by ‘Survey Monkey’.

Non-respondents were also indirectly taken into account in the survey, as the use of double-blinded id-number tracking enabled confidential tracking of non-responding MPs, so that background data for them could be collected from publicly available sources. This allowed me to correct for observed or unobserved non-response biases in the substantive statistical analyses, for example using the Heckman Correction Model.


After statistical analysis of the factual survey data, the question around self-assessed ‘work-life stress’ yielded no statistically significant differences between the men and women parliamentarians. Thus, male and female parliamentarians, on the average, experience similar levels of work/life stress. However, significant gender differences in the sphere of domestic life and family household were identified among the national parliamentarians. These differences were more pronounced in Germany and the UK, than in Sweden. For example, the women parliamentarians were significantly less often married/cohabiting and less likely to have children living at home than their male colleagues. Further, the husbands/partners of the female parliamentarians of worked longer hours than the wives/partners of the male parliamentarians, indicating that the male parliamentarians had a partner who was more present at home. Also, the wives/partners of the male parliamentarians spent more hours in housework than the husbands/partners of their female colleagues.

Conclusions, Implications and Impact:

This project showed that male and female national parliamentarians were “gender equal” when it came to estimations of self-assessed work/life stress, as they experienced similar stress levels. Despite of this however, the male parliamentarians were still in an advantageous position in comparison to their female colleagues, since they had more support at home, enabling them to focus solely on their political career. The latter indicates that men and women Members of Parliament still have to face different situations within their family and private lives during their terms as MPs.

The results of this project are important for academics (sociologists and political scientists), but also for experts working to improve the functioning of the national parliament, and for policy makers within the area of work and wellbeing. Also, the results should be of importance to those in the informed public interested in topics related to gender inequality and the parliament.

The results are reported in the form of academic articles, under review, in international journals.