The higher the level of education, the greater the demands parents place on themselves when raising children these days. “Their ideals and behavioral norms show that raising children is much more intensive and resource-intensive than it used to be,” says sociologist Caroline Berghammer (University of Vienna, Institute of Demographics of the Austrian Academy of Sciences). In an FWF-funded project, she is investigating how the level of education affects family life.
For the study “Families and Inequality: Trends in Educational Differences in Family Behavior”, Berghammer and an international team compared data from so-called Labor Force Surveys from various European countries since the 1970s, specifically from Austria, Italy, Ireland, Great Britain , Poland, France and Germany and Norway. According to the FWF broadcast on Monday, this showed that, in addition to the greater demand on their children’s education, college graduates also say they often say they spend very little time with their children – even if it is in fact as much as with comparison people with low education.
Outsource housework to outside service providers
In fact, Berghammer found in her study that more educated women, who tend to work longer hours, spend more time with their children than less educated women (and tend to work fewer hours). You may outsource a substantial part of your housework to outside contractors. For your children, this time brings an advantage.
Across Europe, the survey found that parents are much more likely to say they don’t have enough time for their children. But this is also not uncommon for mothers. In Austria, around a quarter of mothers say they spend too little time with their children. “That’s little compared to southern and eastern Europe, where labor markets are tighter and allow for fewer part-time or home-office options,” Berghammer said.
In her study, the sociologist also found out whether people with higher education in Europe tend to behave in ways that are beneficial to their resources: in the US, they have more stable relationships, become fathers later, but mothers are still more likely to be employed. On the other hand, the less educated tend to be more illegitimate, there are more divorces or separations, and there are more single parents.
As Berghammer shows, this pattern also applies to Europe, although according to the study the landscape is even more diverse. The historical development seems the same in the countries examined: in the 1970s, it was mainly the more educated who divorced, because at the time it was necessary to assert themselves against social norms and be able to pay. The turnaround came in the 1980s, and more and more low-educated people became single parents. The only exception among the countries examined is Norway, where the least educated were more likely to be single parents.
While this trend is still very pronounced in Britain and Ireland as well as the US, there are almost no educational differences between single parents in Austria or Italy. Berghammer also found other country-specific differences: while in Britain, Ireland and Poland many are single parents from birth, with teenage motherhood also playing a role, this is less pronounced in Austria. Overall, children are, on average, seven years old when one parent becomes a single parent. According to Berghammer, cultural differences as well as differences in welfare system development may be responsible for this.