Photo: mrhyata

NEWFAMSTRAT tackles a significant social puzzle:

Despite women’s significant increase in educational attainment and employment participation over the past few decades, gender inequality persists in affluent countries in large part because men and women do not evenly share the unpaid work associated with family. Gender economic inequality is an important societal problem, because it increases the risk of poverty and other vulnerabilities for women as well as children. Indeed, the European Union’s social investment strategy aims to tackle these intra- and inter-generational inequalities because they inhibit economic growth as well as individual quality of life.

Social science research to date, however, has not fully accounted for the inequality between women and men, or exactly why it varies across countries. A related issue is that governments draw on this research nonetheless, to develop policies such as the European Union’s social investment strategy to counteract the inequality and associated risks. In addition, researchers as well as policy makers often ignore that both the reasons for family-related inequalities and their relative economic outcomes can differ substantially among women and among men. Gender equality will remain elusive until we fully understand how both between- and within-gender inequalities are configured in modern societies.

The overall objective of the NEWFAMSTRAT project, therefore, is to fill this void in our understanding through four subprojects, which unpack how both between- and within-gender inequality is configured at multiple levels: individual, couple, organizational, and socio-political.

The objective of the first subproject of individual-level analyses of British, Finnish, and German panel data is to see whether the reasons for family-related wage effects vary among women and among men. In addition to helping us improve theory, results will provide insight into where policies might better support all individuals as workers and parents.

The aim of the second subproject is two-fold. First, we reveal how divisions of paid and unpaid work within British and German couples configure the gender gap across the household wage distribution analyzing existing national data. This is a closer interrogation of the economic consequences of between-gender dynamics at the intimate level, where households make decisions about hours of work and responsibility for family unpaid work. Second, there has always been a tension between an ideal of gender equality in paid and unpaid work, and what economic theory claims is the risk of fracturing couple inter-dependence if both partners equally share paid and unpaid work. Furthermore, less-educated couples often espouse a preference for more gender-traditional couple arrangements, even if they cannot afford to rely on the single, low-wage income of the male. Highly-educated couples, in contrast, generally claim more egalitarian ideals, but face greater employment pressures that might force more traditional divisions of household paid and unpaid work. These tradeoffs between egalitarian attitudes and work-family reality might create stress within a couple. We therefore assess whether equality is equally “good” for all families. Specifically we assess whether greater within-household equality in paid and unpaid work similarly increases or decreases the risk of couple separation among low- versus more highly-educated British and German couples.

The third and fourth subprojects explore the role of employers and organizations in structuring gender equality associated with family. In subproject 3, we gather primary data on the British, Finnish, and German labor markets to examine whether parenthood is a boon or barrier to obtaining a job among low-, medium-, and high-skilled workers.  In the fourth subproject, we use Finnish linked employee-employer panel data to assess the extent to which individuals’ choice of certain occupations or establishments before or after a birth accounts for wage effects of parenthood. We also assess whether wage differences persist when comparing parents with childless workers in the same job and establishment. This is a more precise indicator of the gender and parental wage “gap” than the population-wide gap reported in official statistics and most research to date.

Finally, the socio-political context is taken into account by comparing gender dynamics in Britain, Finland, and Germany as noted. These countries contrast not only in their relative degree of gender equality in paid and unpaid work, but also in the relative degree of income inequality.

Together these analyses will locate the pockets of progress where equality gains continue to be made, as well as where barriers remain and how they differ among women and men in different contexts. The insights can inform not only new theory development, but also better equal opportunity and family policies.

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