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Transitions to parenthood in Europe

Transitions to parenthood in Europe: A comparative life course perspective

Ann Nilsen
Julia Brannen
Suzan Lewis
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  • Book Info
    Transitions to parenthood in Europe
    Book Description:

    This book takes a life course perspective, analysing and comparing the biographies of mothers and fathers in seven European countries in context. Based on an innovative, cross-national EU study, it examines the ways in which working parents negotiate the transition to parenthood and attempt to find a 'work-life balance'. Using in-depth qualitative biographical data, the book offers a deep understanding of working parents' real lives by locating them within diverse national, workplace and family contexts. It provides rich insights into how policies and practices at the institutional level play out in individual and family lives, how they shape the decisions during both transition phases and in parents' daily experiences of juggling work and family life. It highlights some difficult and complex issues about the sustainability of contemporary working practices for bringing up children that are highly relevant in times of economic retrenchment. 'Transitions to parenthood in Europe' will be of interest to an academic readership at all levels of the social sciences, as well as employers, managers, trade unions and policy makers.

    eISBN: 978-1-4473-0742-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. List of tables and figures
    (pp. iv-iv)
  2. ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)
    Ann Nilsen, Julia Brannen and Suzan Lewis

    Becoming a parent, especially for the first time, marks a major turning point in most people’s lives. In this book we explore and examine conditions related to young working parents’ decisions and experiences in the transition to the life course phase where they become mothers and fathers, and also the contexts and conditions under which they manage their everyday lives as employees in different national and workplace contexts. All this takes place against a backdrop of current concern across much of the Western world about the demographic imbalance characterised by large birth cohorts nearing retirement age and much smaller birth...

  3. TWO Cross-national comparisons: the history–biography link
    (pp. 9-26)
    Ann Nilsen

    Different approaches to sociological studies rely not only on a variety of theoretical perspectives and concepts; approaches and perspectives typically also involve the use of sets of concepts that are closely knitted to form coherent frames of understanding. In a discussion of different ways of approaching and discussing motives for action, C. Wright Mills (1963 [1940]) describes how in different times and societies varying vocabularies — sets of terms and concepts — are accepted as standard for explaining motives. He concludes that in order to make sense of these in a sociological way, ‘What is needed is to take all theseterminologies...

  4. THREE Methodological approaches, practices and reflections
    (pp. 27-40)
    Julia Brannen and Ann Nilsen

    In the Transitions project we set out to examine how European men and women working in public and private sector workplaces negotiate motherhood and fatherhood and work—family boundaries in the context of different national welfare state regimes, family and employer support. We adopted a life course perspective, as described in Chapter Two. This enabled us to situate the transition to — and experience of — parenthood within the various structural and social domains in which individuals create their careers in work, education, and as partners and parents. It focused on seven countries in Eastern and Western Europe and on two types...

  5. FOUR Comparing transitions to motherhood across contexts
    (pp. 41-66)
    Ann Nilsen, Maria das Dores Guerreiro, Siyka Kovacheva and Janet Smithson

    As the average age of the birth of the first child has increased significantly for women in most European countries, and the transition period between youth and adulthood for many has been prolonged, the transition to motherhood must be seen in relation to other life course trajectories and discussed with reference to social class and educational level, as well as institutional arrangements such as welfare provision, workplace regulations and systems of education in national contexts. This chapter therefore examines and compares different types of trajectories and transitions to motherhood. It takes a biographical case approach and analyses selected cases of...

  6. FIVE Comparing transitions to fatherhood across contexts
    (pp. 67-88)
    Lars Plantin, Margareta Bäck-Wiklund, Siyka Kovacheva and Maria das Dores Guerreiro

    Expectations of men as parents have changed over the last century, from the traditional position of the distant breadwinner to a more equal and nurturing father (Plantin et al, 2003; Edwards et al, 2009). As well as breadwinning, caring activities and time spent with children — forms of emotional work — are important dimensions of fathering that can have an impact on child development and family harmony (Coltrane, 1996; Lamb and Lewis, 2004; Dermott, 2008).

    As discussed in Chapter Two, European society has been marked by major social change over the past 50 years: the rise of the Women’s Movement, an increase...

  7. SIX Supports and constraints for parents: a gendered cross-national perspective
    (pp. 89-106)
    Janet Smithson, Suzan Lewis, Siyka Kovacheva, Laura den Dulk, Bram Peper and Anneke van Doorne-Huiskes

    This chapter considers the range of resources available for working parents in different national contexts. We draw on material from countries with different levels of public and private support, working hours and childcare, to provide a systematic overview and some cross-national comparisons of types and sources of constraint and support for working parents. Unlike Chapters Four and Five and the following chapter, the analysis is not based on the case studies of individual parents. Rather we conceptualise differences across countries with reference to thestructural characteristicsthat provide support or constraints – the resources that can be drawn on to make...

  8. SEVEN Being a working parent in the present: case comparisons in time and place
    (pp. 107-128)
    Julia Brannen and Nevenka Sadar Černigoj

    This description of the daily life of parents could have been written by any of the teams in the different countries and could refer to either public or private sector employees. In fact it was written by the team in Bulgaria, the poorest country in our study and one that is still suffering from the reversals and changes that took place from the early 1990s – the fall of the communist bloc and the arrival of private markets. A clue to its authorship lies in the words that end the quotation – ‘[parents’] feeling of helplessness and alienation’. However, as we shall...

  9. EIGHT Conclusions
    (pp. 129-140)
    Suzan Lewis, Ann Nilsen and Julia Brannen

    The chapters in this book have each contributed to a wider understanding of the transitions to and the experiences of parenthood across different European countries. The analysis of biographical cases was carried out taking account of a multilayered set of conditions: the nation state both over time and in the present; national institutions such as the system of education and welfare state provisions; gendered aspects of the labour market; and gendered expectations and practices across countries. In this final chapter we look at four key issues that are central to understanding the phenomenon of working parenthood that has been the...