Raising children amid an employment crisis: Towards the transformation of gender relations and the promotion of new parenting practices?
The promises and situatedness of the «family practices» perspective.The economic recession that began in 2008 led to a severe employment crisis. In Southern European countries, although not homogeneously, this crisis resulted in a decrease in employment opportunities, an increase in precariousness and a reduction in real wages that had a substantial impact on family practices, dynamics and organizations (working, caring, consumption and leisure practices, among others). Feminist economics analyses have demonstrated how economic and employment crises historically aggravate or transform pre-existing gender inequalities concerning the distribution of time and workloads and decisions and actions around motherhood and fatherhood, fostering an intensification of women’s work to sustain family well-being – or mere survival. However, these perspectives have not comprehensively addressed how these processes interconnect and can be understood as transformations in family practices. In this sense, our article builds bridges between Feminist economics and the proposals derived from the work of D.H. Morgan. Drawing on the every-day life concept and life course perspective, we approach the study of the use of time (and its transformations) in families in the post-Great Recession context, marked by economic recovery but also by precariousness and the echo of austerity policies. These concepts and perspectives allow us to analyse the impacts of the employment crisis on family practices, paying specific attention to the transformations and continuities in gender relations and parental roles. To do so, methodologically, we propose a qualitative design based on in-depth and separate interviews with the two members of 32 heterosexual couples, with and without university studies and with different employment situations/conditions. The sample is located in two Spanish regions with very different unemployment rates: Andalusia and the Basque Country. The interviews, close to life stories, are divided into four sections: life and couple trajectory; work situation; daily life and decisions at home; and future expectations and perspectives. This article focuses on the interviews with couples with young children, who make up half of the sample. We aim to analyse the impact of the employment crisis on parenting practices from a critical gender perspective. To do so we focus on three major discursive areas: mothers’ and fathers’ (self)identification as earners/caregivers and current work/family articulation practices; (expressed/ deduced) value given to employment and maternity/paternity; and idiosyncrasies of intensive parenting in Spain. Although the fieldwork took place in a pre-pandemic context, the results obtained may be relevant for understanding the new transformations in family practices that may emerge, and indeed are emerging, in the heat of the Covid-19 crisis.
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