In the week of 8th March, International Working Women's Day, the debate comes back surrounding paternity and maternity leave. Even in today's Spain it is women who are the most likely to change their careers, limit their working hours and reduce their salaries to meet family needs, regardless of their socioeconomic status. This is confirmed by an analysis undertaken at Jaume I University and the Complutense University of Madrid.
Women's incorporation into the labour market has restructured the division of work by sex and has led to changes in many aspects of society. With women working away from home, it has become essential to draw up balancing strategies so that women and men can perform their tasks, both professional and family-related. However, what is for certain is that in most cases, it is women who fit their careers around their families. And this, according to a new study, occurs irrespective of women's socioeconomic status.
Mercedes Alcañiz, a researcher at Jaume I University in Castellón, has analysed the work-life balancing strategies employed by women in various social positions in order to discover the most significant differences between them and the factors they depend on: their ideology, gender identity or gender relations in couples.
As Alcañiz, the author of the study published in the Revista Española de Sociología (Spanish Sociology Journal), says: "The options chosen by the women we interviewed vary by social class, ascertained according to job role. The availability of money is the core factor that separates women in one position or another. However, in all cases, women are the ones who compromise."
In the qualitative study, 30 in-depth interviews were conducted of women between the ages of 32 and 48, representative of different social classes, in Madrid and Valencia. The project also includes data from the latest Labour Force surveys of the National Institute of Statistics (INE in Spanish).
They classes women into three groups by occupation: those with unskilled jobs, with 'white collar' jobs -- administrative jobs requiring secondary schooling -- and professionals in highly qualified roles.
"Women with qualified jobs hire domestic help to take care of housework and look after their children. Although they are the brains behind these tasks, they do not undertake them directly but pass them on to another woman who replaces them for payment. We could see this as commercialised balancing," Alcañiz adds.
The interview script consisted in themes referring to their family and work situations; how tasks are shared with their partners; balancing strategies and how decisions had been taken; and evaluation of their occupational and care work.
Women with qualified work have more negotiating power
According to the latest data from the INE, the progressive equality of women's and men's rights on the labour market does not correspond to a similar presence of men in the domestic and care sphere. Women continue occupying both roles.
"Women in lowly skilled jobs, who have the lowest salaries, have to resort to the least financially costly strategies: family members, neighbours and friends helping them; sometimes they request to go part-time or even change jobs to one that offers increased potential for a work-life balance," the researcher goes on.
Furthermore, in the case of women whose jobs are low-skilled, partners look after children only when the women are working away from home, not at home..
They also choose jobs with varying shifts. "In this case," Alcañiz adds, "in a way they 'force' partners or husbands to look after the children when the mothers are working evenings or weekends."
For women with the most high-qualification and best-paid jobs, differences can be observed in the involvement of their colleagues, among which businessmen or executives and civil servants working only in the mornings. Only the latter look after their children themselves. The former dedicate many hours to their jobs and only take their children to school.
"It would appear that women with white collar jobs create the best work-life balances, above all in terms of working hours, which enable them to balance a working morning with an afternoon of family tasks. These women employ paid domestic help for the most taxing household chores," the expert indicates.
All in all, the strategies chosen by women are decided according to two variables: money and gender identity -- which role is considered the man's and which the woman's.
The study also highlights that the current environment of economic crisis has led to a greater female presence in the labour market, but on occasion their choices remain limited to the work hours or type of occupation best suited to their balance of work/family life.
"Women have increased their participation in the work market, albeit often in jobs that are unstable, atypical or part-time, etc. A further study is required to see whether in couples where the man is unemployed there has been any change in the distribution of roles, or whether women still take care of the housework as part of their juggling act," Alcañiz concludes.
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