ABSTRACT

Introduction The increasing labour market participation of women, changing family forms and the demographic pressure from an ageing population have made the reconciliation of work and family one of the major topics of the European social agenda. The male breadwinner model, with the gendered division of paid and unpaid work, no longer describes the behaviour of a significant proportion of families. Rather, the adult worker model, in which it is assumed that each adult participates in the labour market according to his or her abilities, serves as a normative framework, inspiring both the labour market behaviour of individual men and women as well as the policy measures at the national and international levels (Lewis 2001; Lewis and Giullari 2005). The concept of the adult worker model should also become the reference model for the European Union, both for social and economic reasons. Within the European Employment Strategy, growing female participation is favoured as a means to promote gender equality and social inclusion, as well as to increase economic competitiveness and broaden the tax base of the European welfare states. For this reason the Lisbon council of 2000 has set targets for the overall employment rate of 70 per cent and a female employment rate of 60 per cent by 2010. The potential for growth and the sustainability of pensions and benefits necessitate a higher employment rate for both older workers and women. Men and women have to become ‘citizen workers’. In terms of gender equality, these developments might be rated rather positively. After all, we have long argued in favour of women’s economic and financial independence. At the same time, the economic imperative to increase female labour employment within the European Employment Strategy has resulted in a rather instrumental vision of gender equality. Gender equality is translated into higher female participation rates, which are required for the health of the econom ies of EU Member States and the EU social model. The association of gender equality with equal (economic) results is not without difficulty, though. Within feminist literature there has been a strong debate about the one-sidedness of the ‘equality’ approach if this implies women becoming equal to men. As long as women still perform most of the unpaid care work, their position in the

labour market is fundamentally different from that of men. If we aim for a society in which each adult participate in the labour market on a genuine equal basis, policies have to address this unequal position by redesigning the current organisation of paid and unpaid work. One solution might be to follow a ‘defamilisation strategy’, whereby care is outsourced, reorganised and commoditised, for example by increasing formal childcare facilities and facilities for the old and disabled. In real life, though, the opportunities of women (and men) for an outsourcing strategy may be limited by services not being available or too expensive. As a result, the integration of women into the labour market may not further gender equality because women are forced into part-time, flexible or marginal jobs. In addition, the pursuit of a full adult worker model based on the commoditisation of care is not without difficulty. Care, as Lewis and Giullari (2005) emphasise, is more than just a task. It involves emotional labour and relationship. It is both active and passive, emotional and relational, involving physical and non-physical presence. By implication, the organisational and personal dimension of care work in the family is difficult to substitute. This means that an affordable, accessible and high-quality service infrastructure is not enough; rather, a policy aiming at increasing labour market participation should also have to offer opportunities for participating in care. The most obvious examples in this respect are leave facilities and/or rights to reduce working time for parents. At the same time, it has to be noted that leave facilities may lower the participation rate and/or may deepen the gender inequality because women will take up most of the leave. This raises the question of the optimal design of the care infrastructure, taking into account the policy goals with regard to participation, gender equality, fertility and social integration. In this chapter we will first analyse the employment rates in the EU Member States. An important conclusion, perhaps not surprisingly, is that the European Union still indicates a highly diverse picture. Structural change tends to be slow, partly because of the continued strength of the male breadwinner family. Second, we will illustrate the different care infrastructure across the EU Member States. Given the paradigmatic policy shift from a traditional breadwinner towards an adult worker society, we will focus especially on differences between the Member States in leave and childcare policies. It appears that several countries are in a process of making their care infrastructure more compatible with higher female employment rates, while at the same time being confronted with the different logic of care policy. The actual state of affairs and the ongoing debates suggest that the issue of reconciliation will remain an important policy priority also in the near future.