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Marie-Agnès Barrère-Maurisson, Martine Buffier-Morel, Sabine Rivier, Partage des temps et des tâches dans les ménages | Hans-Peter Blossfeld, Sonja Drobnic, Careers of Couples in Contemporary Societies: From Male Breadwinner to Dual Earner Families

La Documentation française, coll. « Cahier travail et emploi », Paris, 2001 (143 p.) | Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001 (396 p.)
Jacqueline O’Reilly
p. 554-557
Référence(s) :

Marie-Agnès Barrère-Maurisson, Martine Buffier-Morel et Sabine Rivier, Partage des temps et des tâches dans les ménages, La Documentation française, coll. « Cahier travail et emploi », Paris, 2001, 143 p.

Hans-Peter Blossfeld et Sonja Drobnic, Careers of Couples in Contemporary Societies: From Male Breadwinner to Dual Earner Families, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001, 396 p.

Texte intégral

1The world of work has changed a lot, especially for women; but little has changed at home. Even though women have surpassed men in the educational system; even though many mothers are going out to work full-time, they are still coming back home to do more work than their spouses. Marie-Agnès Barrère-Maurisson et al. show that the full-time working mother still ends up doing more: caring and cleaning, and having less time for herself, compared to her full-time working partner. It is only women who don’t work who have the same amount of personal free time as full-time working men! Hans-Peter Blossfeld and Sonja Drobnic come to similar conclusions: “neither labour-market structures nor marriage roles have accommodated themselves to women’s increasing labour-force participation.” So while women have changed a lot, men haven’t. This is the key message coming out of these two very interesting, and very different studies, examining the impact of public policy on the development of dual career families and the domestic division of labour.

2The book by M.‑A. Barrère-Maurisson et al. is a relatively succinct and hard hitting report coming from an international research project on the household division of labour. I would have liked to have seen more reference to some of the other evidence from the international research project, but some elements of comparison are provided by the book from H.‑P. Blossfeld et S. Drobni. The key question guiding the research presented by M.-A. Barrère-Maurisson et al. was “Dans quelles conditions des mesures de politique publique peuvent-elles infléchir la division du travail entre les hommes et les femmes, entre activités rémunérées et non rémunérées ?

3In the first part they look at the division of work in the family. They distinguish between five different types of time: ‘travail’, ‘parental’, ‘domestique’, ‘personnelet physiologique’. Using the results from the questionnaire they compared time use between single person households, traditional breadwinner households with only one earner, and dual income households where the partner worked either full or part-time. We can see that since 1982 there has been a decline in the number of traditional breadwinner households and an increase in dual earner households. These double earner households are more likely to be found in the higher status managerial occupations. Part-time employment would seem to contribute to reducing some of the inequalities between couples. They conclude that for women to achieve equality in professional life they often find themselves in very unequal family situations.

4The second part of the book examines the interface of policies related to reforming working time arrangements in the work place and policies which impact on the family. These include policies related to the reduction of working time and the introduction of the 35 hour week, the use of le temps partiel, modulation, et les comptes épargne-temps. In terms of the family, she reviews the introduction of legislation on légalité professionnelle, ‘mainstreaming’, and la politique des emplois de service. The authors claim that there has been a lack of synchronisation between these different policies. While on one hand there have been policies to facilitate equal treatment in the work place, between men and women, the objectives of family policy have been to encourage the care of children within the household.

5In the third section, they examine how both firms and individuals have reacted to these policies. Here they differentiate between the varied ways in which these policies are implemented by firms and the gendered differentiation in the use of compte épargne-temps. With regard to working time reductions these can be implemented in order to improve productivity and job creation, generate a better work-life balance, or improve légalité professionnelle. The externalisation of domestic work has been limited.

6They conclude by arguing for a more equitable distribution of domestic labour as well as a guarantee of equal status in employment. On both a practical and conceptual level they propose the need for ‘indicateurs sociaux de la division familiale du travail’. This requires a more integrated conceptualisation of individuals and their differing time demands both in terms of work, the family and personal leisure time. This is a short, but insightful and comprehensive analysis of policy changes and their practical outcomes in recent years in France.

7The work of H.‑P. Blossfeld and S. Drobnic is a fairly substantial academic volume on the characteristics and development of dual earner households in different types of welfare states. These include Conservative welfare state regimes (Germany, the Netherlands, Flanders (Belgium)), Mediterranean (Italy, Spain), Liberal (Britain & the US), Social Democratic (Sweden and Denmark), or (former) State Socialist regimes (Poland, Hungary and China). Although the validity of regime typologies in comparative research is increasingly being questioned, this allows the editors to draw some general conclusions from the country studies. Overall, the standard of analysis from the authors is very high and the editors are to be commended for having drawn together such a substantial team of researchers on a such a central issue. Unfortunately, France is not included in the analysis; maybe because it doesn’t fit very well in these regime typologies? One of the more depressing results of their study is that even in countries with more progressive regimes such as those found in Scandinavia women ‘still suppress their own long-term job opportunities, earnings profiles, and other job-related interests when they raise young children.’ (p. 7)

8There are two introductory chapters and a conclusion which serve to draw out the comparative aspects of the national accounts. The national chapters are largely concerned with using event history analysis to examine how married women move between different employment statuses, and the factors which are associated with making transitions between paid work and unpaid housekeeping. In the introduction, the editors seek to review the literature on employment, mobility and status. They argue that early stratification research looked at market relationship and work, ignoring the division of work and power structures within the family. Later research acknowledging gender differences tended to take on an individualistic approach, neglecting the interaction effects of decision making within the household. Earlier research on stratification, even when it tried to take account of women separately from their husbands, failed to link work and the family i.e. the economic and domestic division of labour.

9The key questions which interest H.‑P. Blossfeld and S. Drobnic are: 1) To what extent are transitions between full- and part-time work and unpaid housework gendered and how do these vary across societies? 2) Does it make any difference if the couple are very similar in their status backgrounds, or if they marry people that have a higher or lower social status? 3) Do class specific differences in the division of labour become more or less important across marriage cohort in different countries and how can we interpret these?

10Why is it that women with equal status to men in the work place, are not able to achieve equal status in the home? H.‑P. Blossfeld and S. Drobnic provide a very useful review of the literature around this topic in chapter 2. Here they critique the Economic Theory of the Family as it is unable to explain why there has been a shift in the domestic division of labour in later cohorts. These are treated purely in terms of being exogenous factors to be explained in terms of the expansion of education and new labour market opportunities. They argue that other approaches using the concept of patriarchy are not very helpful as their argument is tautological, the concept is amorphous and practically impossible to examine empirically. They also critically review the ‘resource-bargaining model of economic exchange’ and the ‘marital dependency model of non-economic exchange’, the ‘doing gender’ approach of symbolic exchange, and the identity-formation model with a trade-off between segregated roles versus multiple roles. This is a very useful chapter. In their conclusions H.‑P. Blossfeld and S. Drobnic argue that the ‘doing gender’ approaches give more emphasis to identity-formation and give more leverage in explaining why men have changed so little, than economic and bargaining approaches. Although their own research methods do not allow them to explore this aspect so well, this is clearly an area for future research.

11One of the main messages that comes through the book is the relationship between male status and its impact on female employment. As they show, traditional theories have argued that male wages effectively depress female labour market access. However, many of the chapters in this book show that this is not the case anymore, in many, but not all of the countries. They look at the impact of a husband’s resources on wife’s labour force participation. What we find is that in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Spain is that this tends to reduce female participation. In Scandinavian countries and (former) socialist countries it tends to support women working in paid employment. It is only in the UK that there is no effect. Don’t British wives listen to their husbands? Maybe not. In their conclusions they draw together the evidence from the national chapters and seek to show in which countries the husband’s resources, as well as the impact of pre-tax, pre-transfer income inequality between couple households have a negative or positive impact on their partner’s labour market participation. In conservative and Mediterranean welfare regimes this tends to have a negative impact, dampening women’s involvement in paid work; in social democratic and (former) state socialist countries, with the exception of Poland, the impact is positive where women are more likely to be working. In liberal regimes, again, there does not appear to be any affect.

12H.‑P. Blossfeld and S. Drobnic raise the question whether the impact of creating more equality for women in the labour market, implying an extension of dual earner households, might unintentionally lead to a higher degree of class inequality, where lower income families loose out. But, they argue, the potential of increased inequality between households is mediated by the welfare state and in particular through policies related to the tax system, insurance institutions and family related policies. One could add to this that their work need also include the impact of welfare services, in particular the availability, extent and cost of child-care provision.

13Overall, this is a very good book. It has a very interesting review of literature on households and decision making, which provides a useful synthesis of different approaches. It integrates individual employment decisions to the activities and status of other household members. Further through the cross national comparison they identify how institutions serve to symbolize, create and sustain a particularly dominant pattern of gender relations in the home and the work place. This is quite an accomplishment.

14Both books provide complementary reading. They also both highlight how the direction of labour market research is increasingly moving into the domestic realm. Focusing on employment decisions within the family brings to light not only how individuals negotiate these options, but also how welfare state policies impact on framework within which these decisions are made. From this point of view both books represent an important contribution to the future direction of sociological research on work and economic life.

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Jacqueline O’Reilly, « Marie-Agnès Barrère-Maurisson, Martine Buffier-Morel, Sabine Rivier, Partage des temps et des tâches dans les ménages | Hans-Peter Blossfeld, Sonja Drobnic, Careers of Couples in Contemporary Societies: From Male Breadwinner to Dual Earner Families », Sociologie du travail, Vol. 47 - n° 4 | 2005, 554-557.

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Jacqueline O’Reilly, « Marie-Agnès Barrère-Maurisson, Martine Buffier-Morel, Sabine Rivier, Partage des temps et des tâches dans les ménages | Hans-Peter Blossfeld, Sonja Drobnic, Careers of Couples in Contemporary Societies: From Male Breadwinner to Dual Earner Families », Sociologie du travail [En ligne], Vol. 47 - n° 4 | Octobre–Decembre 2005, mis en ligne le 29 novembre 2005, consulté le 21 février 2020. URL :

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Jacqueline O’Reilly

Sussex University, Falmer, Brighton, Sussex BN1 9RH, UK

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