Family-friendly policies needed as women are still the major carers in society

The increased involvement of women in the European workforce, while in tune with the Europe 2020 agenda to raise employment, and reduce poverty and social exclusion, results in a greater burden on women since they are also mainly responsible for child and elder care. Family-friendly measures to allow for reconciliation, including those to enable fathers to increase their share of caring roles, should be encouraged.

The WORKCARESYNERGIES support action brought together research findings from twenty EU Framework Programme research projects1, on topics such as family policy, female equality and empowerment, ‘flexicurity’ (flexibility and security) of jobs, and social cohesion; and highlighted specific themes to aid policy making. All projects focused on universal issues of ‘work-care’ - how families in different societies and settings combine work and caring responsibilities, including child or elder care.

The project results were disseminated by local key mediator teams, at 77 local information and discussion events, to community groups, trade unions, policy makers and NGOs in Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal and the United Kingdom. The focus in each country was chosen to reflect current local concerns, but many of the themes and policy messages were universal.

The WORKCARESYNERGIES dissemination project was a very successful two-way transfer of knowledge from the EU to local level, enabling examples from other EU countries to be used as benchmarks. Novel methods for an exchange of information and cross-fertilisation of insights included the screening of short films which sparked debate. These films can be viewed at:

Local dissemination, discussion and policy outcomes:

Austria - Work-care tensions

  • Balancing more women working with the tradition of caring for small children at home, especially at a time of economic crisis, and with increasing numbers of grandparents still working and unable to take traditional childcare roles, is a challenge.
  • Mothers in Austria, and the wider EU, still bear the main responsibility of combining work and family duties.
  • Reconciliation of work and family is possible if all parties contribute - the state, by providing financial and care support, and public communication of modern role models; employers, through family-friendly work time arrangements and offering work-related opening hours; and families through social networks and intergenerational support.
  • Reducing gender wage gaps between men and women would avoid the automatic reproduction of traditional role models. When children are born, partners usually revert to the male ‘breadwinner’ and female caretaker model. This initial allocation of paid and unpaid work continues throughout most women’s lives, having a negative impact on women's careers, incomes and social security coverage, especially in old age.
  • The concept of ‘flexicurity’ has become a key aspect of modern European policy. Policies should ensure flexibility and security for both men and women – not flexibility and security for men, but flexibility without security for women.

Austria – Work-life balance

  • A culture of long working hours, in combination with time and target controls, risks blurring the boundaries between work and private life. Flexible working times, and more autonomy for individuals to manage their workload, could lead to clearer boundaries and a more successful work-life balance
  • The social and economic value of unremunerated work should be made more visible through public campaigns and awareness-raising.
  • More information is needed on regional differences in the availability of care, especially of elder care, at a time of privatisation of care services. Better education and training of care staff would improve the quality of care, build trust, and create opportunities for career advancement in social work.

Denmark - Flexibility in work and care

  • The existing family policy model in Denmark has clear advantages, such as enabling women to take one year’s maternity leave without negative career consequences, and childcare is comprehensive and high-quality.
  • However, these family-friendly policies are at risk from recent trends including an increase in weekly working hours, and budget cuts by local authorities in services brought about by the financial crisis.

Hungary - Social cohesion

  • Part-time employment by mothers promotes social cohesion, attracts inactive people to the labour market and reduces poverty. In some EU Member States, the ‘one-and-a-half-breadwinner’ model is relatively widespread, but these types of jobs are scarce in Central and Eastern European countries, such as Hungary.
  • Incentives to increase the extremely low labour market participation of mothers with young children in Hungary include shifting resources from cash benefits to services, to allow parents to combine childcare with work, lowering travel-to-work costs, and providing affordable, good quality childcare.

Italy - Social care and work-care balance

  • Reconciliation of work and care is not yet fully part of political and public debate. Intervention during schooling is needed to develop awareness of gender and generational equality.
  • Strategies to cultivate a work-life balance exist but they are informal or fragmented, and need public support to improve quality of life and economic and productive performance.

Poland - Elites and work-care relations

  • To tackle gender equality and the problems women face in reaching higher positions in science, politics and other sectors, awareness should start at primary school level. Textbooks and other educational materials should be revised, teachers trained and psychological barriers towards atypical careers addressed.
  • Assistance with grants and help for women to update their knowledge and research is needed.
  • Monitoring of promotion of men and women in scientific institutions, and creation of gender-balanced structures is needed.

Portugal – Work-care and gender equality in private and public contexts

  • There is a shortage of good quality affordable childcare, especially for children under the age of three. Pre-school and school provision for children over this age is often for short hours and does not meet the needs of parents where both work.
  • In the absence of affordable childcare, it is generally women who take time out of the labour market, or who take on insecure part-time employment to fulfil caring responsibilities. This has lifetime consequences for women’s economic security.
  • Flexible work arrangements should be regulated and accompanied by social protection for workers to improve quality of work.

Scotland (UK) - Social quality

  • To encourage fathers to take up paternity leave schemes, they should be offered a period of more than the current two weeks’ leave allocation; paternity leave should be well compensated, and employers should support men taking paternity leave.
  • For fathers to be more involved in childcare there should be shorter working hours and incentives for employers to introduce family-friendly policies.
  • Policies should promote gender equity in the labour market and reduce the gender pay gap, and ensure working parents have access to high quality affordable and flexible childcare.

UK – Labour market transitions

  • Low skilled individuals have difficulty getting access to education and training to enable them to join the labour market. If sanctions are imposed for not taking up work, there is danger that disadvantaged individuals will leave schemes to work in the informal economy. The introduction of a Universal Credit in the UK could improve the attractiveness of low paid work to the unemployed.
  • There are concerns about the quality and pay of work that mothers with caring responsibilities can access. Although the UK government has made parental leave more flexible, with higher remuneration, and extended it to fathers, there still remains a significant pay penalty for those who interrupt working in order to care for others.
  • The quality of available jobs for older people should be enhanced, along with possibilities for gradual retirement and policies to keep skills up-to-date.
  • There is a need for a variety of elderly care providers.

In an uncertain economic climate, there is more need than ever for policy makers to address the quality of available jobs and how these are distributed across the population.


1 For a full list of projects, see:

WORKCARE SYNERGIES - Dissemination of Synthesized Framework Programme Research Findings (duration: 1/1/2010 – 31/12/11). FP7 Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities, Activity 8 “Strategic activities”, Research area 8.1 “Measures to support dissemination of research results”. Coordination and support action.


Contact: Dr. Michaela Gstrein,; Dr. Liliana Mateeva,