The publication Men and Family-Men’s changing family roles in Europe was the final outcome of a generic research project between 8 partners, and was coordinated by COFACE in 2005-2006. The project examined how men perceive their role in the family, how can we encourage fathers to play a more active role, how can gender equality take root within the family to ensure the equal repartition of tasks and responsibilities.

Why is men’s involvement in household and family duties so poor as compared to that of women?

A few hard facts work against desired attitudinal changes:

– Persistent gender-unequal pay and employment conditions (a 15% pay gap EU-wide).
– Labour market segregation resulting from a lack of any gender balance in school courses.
– Interest-based sectionalism of the main economic and social actors.
– Workplace atmospheres and career risks.
– Work organisation and parental and family leave policies that do not match families’ needs.
– Lack of essential family services.
– Gender stereotypes perpetuated through the educational system, the media.

Moreover, it seems that re-characterizing the father stereotype is arguably the most decisive factor in bringing about the attitudinal change needed to move men’s and women’s family roles forward. Such an evolution would also have a beneficial influence on attitudinal and behavioural changes towards men as caregivers to dependent elderly parents and other dependent family members.

At a micro-social level, the main obstacles to progress clearly seem to be a failure of couples to talk to one another and the resistance of both to change. The age-old division of tasks is arguably still perceived by many as intrinsic to the affirmation of their respective gendered identities.

Recommendations

Engineering real equality between men’s and women’s rights cannot stop short at the workplace and public sphere, however essential that may be. It must also extend to the private sphere where the family holds pride of place, failing which the existing gender inequalities will be perpetuated indefinitely.

Six broad spheres of public policy action can be drawn, in order:

– Gender equality in employment
– Family service provision
– Flexible working hours and, more especially, parental and family leave
– Education and training
– Information
– Social organisation of time

To this should be added the individualisation of social security rights and tax law, both of which have a positive impact on women’s absorption into employment.

Above recommendations are addressed to local, regional, national and European authorities, as each level has an important role to play.  In order to create favourable conditions, improved men’s take-up of family responsibilities requires a comprehensive approach at all levels of authority.

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