Policies Need to be Found to Reduce Stresses on Working Parents – TCD Co-ordinated Study

Posted on: 10 June 2002

Most Irish working parents, and particularly Irish fathers, would like to spend more time with their families.

This was one of the findings of a new comparative study carried out in four major European cities (Dublin, Paris, Copenhagen and Bologna) on a sample of 400 men and women (100 per city) who were both employed and had at least one child under six.

The study, which was presented at an international conference at Trinity College, also found that Dublin-based fathers had the longest working week (45 hours) and Irish women the shortest (32 hours) and that ‘time for oneself’ was an issue for most people.

Among the other findings of the study was that women carried out significantly more of the domestic and childcare tasks in the home than men did in all of the four countries. In addition, there were also large discrepancies between male and female perceptions of who did what. Men were more likely than women to think both of the partners carried out tasks. Women were more likely to report that they carried out the tasks.

The purpose of the study was to explore people’s attitudes and experiences in coping with balancing work and family, with particular reference to the different perspectives of men and women. Attitudes towards and experience of different workplace social policies were also explored. Another major purpose of the study was to develop new social indicators to measure issues of work life balance which could be utilised in studies with larger, more representative, samples in Ireland and in Europe. The study was commissioned by the European Commission and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Commenting on the study, Dr. Margret Fine-Davis, Senior Research Fellow at TCD’s Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies, stated that, “Ways need to be found to reduce the pressure working parents are under, particularly in relation to time, so that people can have more satisfying lives, both in their private lives and in their working lives”.

“It would also be helpful if employees did not feel such a sense of pressure to work over and above the normal hours to get ahead. Equally, the attitudes in the workplace were found to be very important. Supportive attitudes on the part of colleagues, supervisors and employers appear to make a great deal of difference to the success of working parents in balancing work and family. Long working hours and long commuting times add to the difficulties. Policies need to be found, including improved transportation policies, and greater availability of flexible working patterns, to reduce these stresses on working parents,” Dr. Fine-Davis stressed.

“Women are still bearing the major responsibility for childcare and domestic chores. While men think they are sharing these, women often do not perceive it like that. This unequal division of labour in the household adds additional stress to women to that which they already have in balancing work and family and dealing with often unsupportive attitudes in the workplace. In particular, attitudes towards flexible working patterns, including part-time work and job-sharing, need to be given more status, so they are not seen as hindering men and women’s career development,” Dr. Fine-Davis added.