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In Switzerland, the share of working mothers has tripled since the 1980s

The 10th edition of the series Social Change in Switzerland focuses on the changes in the professional activity of mothers of pre-school children over the last four decades. The article by Francesco Giudici and Reto Schumacher analyses the situation of these women according to their individual characteristics, such as number of children, level of education, nationality and marital status. It shows that part-time work has become commonplace, while the housewife model, which was still the most widespread choice in the 1980s, is now much less popular.

In their article about "Working mothers in Switzerland: evolution and individual-level variables", which is published in French and German, Francesco Giudici and Reto Schumacher base their study on federal censuses of the population carried out in 1980, 1990 and 2000 as well as the structural survey 2010-2014. They show that the presence in the labour market of mothers in a couple with a child under 4 years old has almost tripled since 1980, with significant regional and sociodemographic differences. The francophone cantons have seen the biggest increases. The canton of Valais, for example, has seen the number of young mothers in work rise from 18% in 1980 to 69% in 2010-2014.

Four individual-level variables were examined. Firstly, the size of the family: nowadays, the more children a mother has, the less she works. In the past, the small proportion of women who worked were much less affected by the number of children they had. Next came the level of education: women who have been through tertiary education are more likely to work, as was also the case back in the 1980s. However, the differences in professional engagement depending on socio-educational levels have tended to reduce, apart from among women who are less qualified than their partner. For these two factors - family size and educational level - the authors believe that the cost-benefit assessment of childcare services, which have become more common, plays an important role in the decision whether to work or not.

Other individual-level variables: nationality and marital status. Francesco Giudici and Reto Schumacher have noted a reversal between the numbers of working mothers who are Swiss and those who are foreign: in the 1980s, Swiss mothers in a couple with a child under 4 years old worked much less than foreign mothers in the same situation. However, nowadays, foreign mothers are proportionally less likely to be in the labour market. According to the authors, "although it is possible that the changes in the foreign population in terms of nationality has played a role, it may also show the end of the bourgeois family model among Swiss couples". This increased equality within couples can also be seen when comparing the professional situations of married and unmarried women: mothers living in a common-law partnership work more than married women, but the different has significantly reduced, falling from over 50% in 1990 to less than 10% in 2010-2014.

>> Francesco Giudici and Reto Schumacher (2017). Le travail des mères en Suisse : évolution et déterminants individuels / Erwerbstätigkeit von Müttern in der Schweiz: Entwicklung und individuelle Faktoren. Social Change in Switzerland No 10. Retrieved from

Contacts :

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.