Family reconciliation in summer, a bad business for women

Project selected in the call for proposals to encourage the dissemination of social science research
Obra Social La Caixa

 -   Obra Social La Caixa

How do families solve the problem of reconciling work and family life when school ends in the summer? Mothers are the ones who suffer most in the field of work, which has probable negative consequences for them, in the short and long term.

Many women become inactive in the summer (neither working nor looking for work) in order to reconcile their time with the needs of their families. This can have a number of negative consequences for them in the workplace, such as reduced career prospects, poorer pay prospects and less secure employment futures.

Based on the data obtained from the Labour Force Flows Statistics (EFPA) of the National Statistics Institute (INE), the analysis carried out for this study shows that, in summer, women move from occupation to inactivity to a greater extent than men. Between the years 2010 and 2019, women who went into inactivity represented an average of 325,730 women in the third quarter of the year, while only 220,260 men took this option. What seems to be a solution to the problem of family reconciliation becomes an ineffective solution, since it generates a greater problem in the long term: there are work interruptions in the female collective and the real and potential salary of women in the Spanish labour market is reduced. It is also worth pointing out the reason for the ineffectiveness of this solution: currently, women who leave the labour market in the summer have a greater professional background than men who move from occupation to inactivity.

1. Summer arrives and many women leave their professional careers

How does the transition from occupation to inactivity occur? During the last nine years, with the exception of 2017, the same pattern is repeated: at the beginning of the school holidays there is a greater number of women, in relation to the male population, who move from occupation to inactivity. These women abandon their professional careers and, for a certain period of time, do not seek new employment. In contrast, this trend is much lower for men.

2. Women mainly take on family responsibilities

Why do women leave the labour market? To a large extent, because they take care of the home, their children and all the family responsibilities, which becomes incompatible with carrying out their work tasks. Almost four out of ten women (35.29%) who go from occupation to inactivity between June and September admit that they do so for this reason: family responsibilities. In contrast, only one in ten men (9.5%) justify leaving the labour market for family reasons.

3. Women who leave the labour market more prepared than men

This higher percentage of women leaving the labour market in the third quarter of the year (graph 2) points to an ineffective solution to family reconciliation. The statistics show that they are more qualified and have more work experience than men who also leave the labour market in the third quarter. Figure 3 shows this: the data indicate that women who leave work and become inactive accumulate more education and have more work experience than men who make the same choice, in almost all the years analysed over the last nine years. This graph shows the ratio of the educational level of women and men in the same age group (25-50 years) with employment in the second quarter and inactive in the third quarter (for the period 2010-2019). 

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4. What if women and men in the same family situation are compared? Mothers vs. fathers

Figure 4 shows the average inactivity rate for each quarter (period 2010-2019) for mothers and fathers between 25 and 50 years of age, differentiating both groups according to whether their partners are working or not. The data are from the INE's Labour Force Survey (LFS).

As shown in the left panel of the graph, in the third quarter, mothers experienced an above-average increase in the transition from occupation to inactivity. It is also evident that more mothers are in an inactivity situation if their partners are working (on average, 864,247 women, with a 21.85% inactivity rate) than when their partners are not working (on average, 185,432 women with a 21.06% inactivity rate). In this regard, it can be deduced that the employment situation of mothers is complementary to the employment situation of their partners.

The data for fathers, depending on whether their partners are working or not, are shown in the right panel of figure 4. The first noteworthy fact is that fathers go into inactivity to a lesser extent than mothers, both in relative terms (inactivity rate) and in absolute figures. Secondly, the seasonal component that is detected in the case of mothers is not observed, since the data are homogeneous throughout the four quarters.

Finally, it is worth noting that there are more fathers who go into inactivity when, in the couple itself, the mothers do not work either, unlike the behaviour shown in the left panel, corresponding to the female case. In this sense, we do not observe the complementary nature of the mothers with respect to the labour situation of their partners, but rather the fathers act in a more autonomous manner in the family nucleus and make the solution of possible family burdens dependent on obtaining economic remuneration.

5. Conclusions

This article has shown that, in recent years, more women than men have left the labour market during the third quarter to become inactive, and that the main reason for this is to take on family responsibilities. This solution is not efficient from an economic or social point of view, as they are women who have a greater academic and professional background than men.

On the other hand, there are many more mothers who move from occupation to inactivity within the female collective, in general, than there are fathers who take this decision within the male collective. This is more generally the case in the third quarter of each year.

The results shown in this article may have negative repercussions on the professional careers of the female collective, as well as on their salaries and retirement pensions. In order to achieve true equality between men and women, Spanish society must make inexcusable progress in two areas: on the one hand, in achieving effective reconciliation of work and family life, promoted by the political and economic authorities, and, on the other hand, in the real distribution of tasks within the family nucleus.