First-Time Parents' Perceptions of Work-Family Balance in Spain: Which Are the More Satisfied Couples?

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
TW1.2.04 (Tower One)
Irene Lapuerta, Universidad Pública de Navarra, Pamplona, Spain
Maria-Jose Gonzalez, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain
Teresa Martin-Garcia, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid, Spain
Marta Séiz, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid, Spain
This study examines dual-earner couples’ perceptions of balance between paid and unpaid work in their transition to their first child in Spain. Firstly, we explore to what extent couples with egalitarian practices during pregnancy make traditional care arrangements after the baby is born or are able to maintain co-responsibility in child care. In particular, we analyse different reconciliation strategies (use of family policies, informal networks and couples’ time) and their consequences for gender inequalities and family well-being. Secondly, we study whether the strategy used produces satisfaction for both members of the couple. We consider that individuals’ satisfaction with work-family balance may not only depend on their expectations about their own roles as mothers and fathers, but also on those concerning the partner’s involvement in care activities.

The empirical approach is based on the discourse analysis of 31 dual-earner couples who had an egalitarian division of domestic work during pregnancy. They were interviewed at two points in time: when they were expecting the first child (2011) and one and a half year later (2013), when most of them have already returned to paid work. For the first wave we conducted three interviews (one for each member of the couple and a joint interview) with a total length of two hours and a half. In the case of the second wave, both members of the couple were interviewed separately during one hour each. These couples had to make decisions about care and work in a rather unfavourable context characterized by a severe economic crisis and the weakening of men’s working conditions.

The results indicate that mothers become the primary caregivers in almost half of the couples. However, there is a significant degree of dissonance within and among couples concerning satisfaction with work-family balance. Many mothers were unsatisfied when the child was one year and a half, whereas most fathers were fairly satisfied and only very few expressed some discomfort with their role balance. Nonetheless, assuming more care tasks does not necessarily produce dissatisfaction in the case of mothers, provided they perceive a high degree of commitment to childrearing and deep emotional ties with their children on the part of fathers. Men more often express a greater gap between ideals and reality, without really feeling much remorse as they feel justified by their job constrictions and the economic crisis. Our findings also highlight the importance of a good policy design in order to favour gender balance over the life course and children well-being.