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Negotiating gender equality, atypical work hours and caring responsibilities. The case of Sweden.

Chapter in book
Authors Sofia Björk
Ulla Björnberg
Hans Ekbrand
Published in Work and Care under Pressure. Care Arrangements across Europe
Pages 57-78
ISBN 9789089645425
Publisher Amsterdam University Press
Place of publication Amsterdam
Publication year 2013
Published at Department of Sociology and Work Science
Pages 57-78
Language en
Keywords care of old parents, work and care
Subject categories Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)


We have examined how care responsibilities are negotiated and organized by family caregivers working atypical hours in a time of decreasing public services for child- and eldercare and increasing demands at work. Atypical work hours were found to be not the most important factor behind the experiences of pressure among the interviewed working parents. Far more important in this respect was how the commitments to the cared-for elderly and children were experienced. Committed time thus seems to be more difficult to manage in negotiations than contracted time. Yet, also important seemed to be how the negotiations between the family members turned out. An overarching question in our analysis was: What is the impact of gender equality ideals on how care is managed and shared within families? Based on our findings, gender equality as a fundamental norm (in our country context at least) seems to support the ability of parents and kin caregivers to find and negotiate solutions to their families’ caring needs. At the same time, our results show that, despite men’s increasing involvement in childcare, a certain gender inequality persists in both childcare and eldercare. Among our interviewees involved in childcare, the degree of this inequality varied greatly from couple to couple, but in most families it was the mother who had taken the main responsibility for the care of the children. Of the families involved in eldercare, it was most often daughters who were the main caregivers, although there were also exceptions in which the role had been assumed by sons. Overall, the care responsibilities were formed through, and shaped by, gendered caring identities which, reflecting broader moral ideals, generally placed higher expectations on women than on men. Caring ideals and identities in turn were shaped in relation to gendered discourses on these ideals and available alternative identities, such as professional identities. These identities were then crucial for the caregivers’ constructions of moral boundaries determining, for them, an acceptable care arrangement, and thus also the boundaries of their own responsibilities, with repercussions for their committed-time arrangements. The interviews gave evidence of a risk that the new circumstances of eldercare provision may render the division of responsibility between the public and the extended family less clear-cut, and that the close kin may, consequently, be exposed to added stress in situations where the cared-for family members’ emotional well-being is not adequately attended to. Since the municipalities still have the ultimate responsibility to see to it that the citizens’ rights are met, the public authorities increasingly take on the role of administrators and supervisors of the care providers’ work. At the same time, however, the fragmentation of the care providing system – both within the municipalities themselves and in the relation between the municipalities and the companies operating in the care market – tends to erode this responsibility of the public. In practice, then, the increasing public supervision of care providers does not seem have resulted in any unburdening of the family carers. On the contrary, as became obvious also in the interviews for this study, the latter often feel a need to monitor and control that the publicly provided care is in fact delivered as contracted. This was the case for some of our interviewees to such an extent that they felt it to be easier to provide the care by themselves.

Page Manager: Webmaster|Last update: 9/11/2012

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