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Equality ends when couples become parents

In an article for the series Social Change in Switzerland, René Levy summarises three studies which enable us to understand why becoming a parent has a very different impact on men's and women's lives. Noting a stark difference between couples' values of equality and their practices, he demonstrates that this difference has structural reasons that could be changed.

In Switzerland, becoming a mother still has an impact on a woman's professional life. René Levy uses three empirical studies, carried out over the last 15 years, to explain this. They shed light on continuing large gender inequality.

First observation: women change their relationship with work when their first child is born. For most couples, parentality leads to part-time family and professional occupations on the mother’s side, whereas a large majority of men have a standard full-time professional life, regardless of their family situation.

Second observation: while most couples claim to have egalitarian values during the first pregnancy, only a minority stay coherent with this ideal when it comes to the distribution of domestic tasks a few months after the birth. Reality shows that becoming parents leads to a sharp return to traditional practices, independent of original intentions.

These two observations shed light on the third observation: When comparing Switzerland to other European countries, and comparing about one hundred Swiss "micro-regions", it becomes clear that the existence of parental leave and access to childcare is crucial. This determines the scope couples have for applying their ideal of an egalitarian balance between work and family.

René Levy concludes that the failure to adopt egalitarian measures has long term effects: not only does this have an impact on a woman's financial situation in retirement, it also influences children's gender identities, maintaining the reproductive cycle of gender inequality.

>> René Levy (2018). Devenir parents ré-active les inégalités de genre : une analyse des parcours de vie des hommes et des femmes en Suisse // Der Übergang in die Elternschaft reaktiviert die Ungleichheiten zwischen den Geschlechtern: eine Analyse der Lebensläufe von Männern und Frauen in der Schweiz. Social Change in Switzerland No 14. Retrieved from www.socialchangeswitzerland.ch

Contact: René Levy, +41 21 903 11 32, rene.levy@unil.ch

The series Social Change in Switzerland documents the evolution of Switzerland’s social structure. It is edited by the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS, the Life Course and Inequalities Research Centre of the University of Lausanne LINES , and the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives (NCCR LIVES). The aim is to monitor change in employment, family, income, mobility, voting, or gender in Switzerland. Based on cutting edge empirical research, the series targets a wider audience than just academic experts.