Beyond yesterday’s Dual Career Paradigm

The European Union is undertaking major steps to provide equally high standards for the integration of work and private life for both men and women. Empirical research and good practice confirm the need to switch from a Dual-Breadwinner to a Dual-Earner-Carer-Model.

In a black-and-white world, legislation is demonised as (re)strict(ing) regulation. The current initiative of the European Commission, however, makes it very clear that it aims at providing better standards for men and women. A new EU-wide framework for paternity leave, parental leave, carers’ leave and flexible working responds to both empirical evidence and needs of the workplace of the future. It will promote dual-earner-carer-models instead of dual-breadwinners.

Empirical backing: the Dual-Breadwinner model fails the test of life

Current research confirms the European Commission’s direction. Not only has the global trend towards less working hours halted and even reversed in some countries, some specific gender imbalances persist: On the one side, men are twice as likely as women to work excessive hours, on the other side, women spend more than twice the time of men on care responsibilities. In addition, mothers in many European countries can expect considerable disadvantages on their immediate and long-term salary development in comparison to women without children. In Germany, mothers of two children are reported to have earned up to 42 percent less than childless women by the age of 45.

International practice: the ‘disadvantages’ associated with motherhood are avoidable

The Motherhood Wage Penalty is a well recorded social phenomenon that is often attributed to a loss of human capital during child-related career breaks, stigmatisation and a switch into lower-paid part-time. International comparisons demonstrate, however, that this does not have to be the case. Nordic countries show mostly little to no negative effects of motherhood on wage development, while in the USA, Canada and Australia, the negative effects are less severe than in many European countries. The vastly different welfare state models explain some of the differences. A current study by the Hans Boeckler Foundation offers a closer look at the roles of flexitime models and parental leave on wage development in Germany, including hints as to why Germany is behind.

Reinforced Stigma: long leave reverses positive flex work effect

Longitudinal data of the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) shows that flexitime can have a positive effect while it cannot compensate negative effects of extended parental leave. Mothers returning after up to 12 months earn 6%, mothers that spend more than a year 10% less per hour. The switch from a fixed to a flexitime model is associated with an increase in wages by 4%. Interestingly, however, the result is reversed when the two are combined: women with longer parental leave (>12 months) who switch to flexitime suffer an even greater loss (16%) than those that stay on fixed terms. Researchers explain this by a reinforcement of the stigma of maternity.

The way forward

The German researchers come to similar conclusions as the European Commission which proposes to repeal and replace the existing (2010) European Directive with the following key elements:

  • Paternity Leave: Allow fathers to take at least 10 workings days of paternity leave around the time of birth of the child. This shall be compensated at least at the level of sick pay. (Currently: No minimum standards)
  • Parental Leave: Give at least 4 months of parental leave to each parent, out of which 2 months are non-transferable between the parents. Parents shall be allowed to request to take the leave in flexible forms (full-time, part-time or in a piecemeal way). (Currently: At least 4 months per parent, out of which 1 month is non-transferable between parents)
  • Carers’ Leave: Give all workers the right to 5 working days of carer’s leave per year.(Currently: No minimum standards, except for ‘force majeure’)
  • Flexible Working Arrangements: Give all working parents and carers with children (up to at least 8 years of age) the right to request either reduced working hours, flexible working hours or flexibility on the place of work. (Currently: Right to request reduced and flexible working hours upon return, as well as right to request part-time work for all workers)

Should the European Parliament and the European Council adopt the proposal, the parliaments of the EU member states will be compelled to translate the directive into national law. This will effectively create a common approach to balance work and life for more than 500 million Europeans.

Further Reading:

Read our own take on the potential of individualization and dual-career-couples


European Commission (2019): 2019 Report on equality between women and men in the EU.

Yvonne Lott, Lorena Eulgem (2019): Lohnnachteile durch Mutterschaft – helfen flexible Arbeitszeiten? WSI Report Nr. 49.