Parents’ life patterns, holidays and working hours

Parents' life patterns


The last decade has provided us with a rich selection of bulletins announcing the immediate collapse of the family unit, due to the increased divorce rate and the growing number of single parent families. However, as a rule, Danish children are still living in a traditional nuclear family unit with both their biological parents. More than 75% of Danish children live in such a family unit, just over 15% live with their mother only and the remainder (10%) live in a step-family, i.e. where one of the biological parents is replaced by a step-parent (1993).

As with the concept “work”, the concept “family” is regarded in different ways. In most family units, both parents work outside the home. The children go to school or child day care institution or are looked after outside the home in some other way most of the day.

For some parents work, i.e. their job, is not the central factor in their lives. The central factors are being together, living together as a family and working in the home. For these parents wage income and working life are not the most significant things in their lives although they do contribute to supporting the family’s existence. Family life, relaxation with one’s partner and children, different ways of spending time together, play and activities and the practical everyday household chores (like washing, cooking and home maintenance) are the important things in their lives. However, as the family unit and family life are accorded different values and significance, parents have also different “role value” in the family unit itself.

For this reason, this section will not attempt to outline the characteristics of four types of “women’s life patterns” as described in Christensen (1989) “Life Patterns in Denmark”. Instead, this section covers “parental life patterns” in which the different parental roles within the family with children can - despite sex and tradition, education and work - be randomly distributed.

Housewife life pattern - One of the parents, most often the mother, is the “housewife” and is wholly or partly supported by her partner. Household chores include looking after the nuclear family’s house/home, building and maintaining family contacts while the other parent, usually the father, goes out to work.

There are, however, a number of variations of this role:

  • the homeor family contact can either be a means or an end for the housewife
  • the homeand family contact can form an entity and are one of the housewife’s aims in life
  • the familycan be a means which gives the housewife an opportunity to pursue her own interests, hobby, etc.
  • and finally, these three first aims can form a cohesive entity.

In any case, the housewife does not normally expect to be a “slave” to either her partner nor to her children.

Support life pattern - One of the parents, in this research most often the mother, is wholly or partly supported by her partner. She co-operates with her husband,  supporting him, collaborating to project his image or career so that he can be successful in his work. She is not dependent on having a job so she has time to pursue interests of her own which might well be an interesting part-time job. She doesn’t see his job’s demands as pressure but as interesting, exciting challenges which she greets with enthusiasm, interest, loyalty and engagement.

Shared responsibility life pattern - In this life pattern, which is the most common in families with children, both parents go out to work. They will often spend the same amount of time at work which demands just as much engagement as the family. Their family and their place of work are two mutually independent units. What is required of both parents in terms of demands, obligations and chores in the home and for the family is the same for both parents and they therefore divide responsibilities equally between them. There is no significant differentiation between men’s work and women’s work in the home. Relaxation and activities of very different kinds take place with partner and children after work and at weekends, possibly with other family members, friends, neighbours and their children.

Single parent life pattern - Where a single adult is responsible for supporting himself/herself and a child/children. The single parent has to cope with all the household chores on his/her own or with the children but also decides alone how time, resources and activities are distributed.

These are the concepts of life patterns and parental life patterns in their “pure” forms, as used in research. However, two parents’ individual life patterns can conflict, giving rise to misunderstandings, problems and conflicts within the family unit. Coexistence and a mixture of the different parental life patterns within the family are, however, contributory factors to the development of society and culture.

Re parental life patterns - The number of fathers who live a “housewife life pattern” is probably greater than the table suggests. In their responses these fathers suggested that they ought to be categorised under “shared responsibility”. Despite the evidence of several research projects that there is a tendency towards a more even distribution of daily obligations in the family unit, women continue to bear the lion’s share of the burden.

The equality idea has apparently gained most ground in academics’ families and in families where both parents are trained within the social/health/teaching sector.

According to Hjorth Andersen (1991:19), 40-49 year old fathers participate less frequently in household chores than younger fathers. The older the children, the more frequently they participate in daily chores in the home. Children in single parent families help most with daily household chores.


Parents’ holidays

(Table Steenhold (1993,d)

The laws about holidays are not adhered to by all parents, probably because many of them have extra sources of income in their holidays. According to Hjorth Andersen (1990:2), 11% of parents in families with children have some kind of work other than their principal source of income. 14% of men have a source of extra income as opposed to only 8% of women.

At the opposite end of the scale, 24% of fathers and 29% of mothers state that they have more than 30 days holiday a year. Despite the fact that total free time increased between 3 and 5 weeks a year, there is nothing to indicate that the parents believe that they have more free time - quite the contrary!


Parents’ working hours

(Table Steenhold (1993,d)

The general attitude is that time can be split into working hours and free time although not all parents structure their daily lives in this way.

According to Hjorth Andersen (1991:51), 67% of the parents in families with children are able to make this split while 17% of the fathers and 16% of the mothers cannot do so. There are good grounds for assuming that the parents who cannot make the split are also those who work hardest.

Earlier research projects (Hjorth Andersen (1991), Platz (1988), Andersen & Holt (1990)) have indicated that parents in families with children work a great deal, on average approximately 40 hours a week for men and 33 hours a week for women. As table 5.2.1. indicates, children do not affect their parents’ working hours to any significant degree.

Andersen (1988:50, fig. 3.2.) states that the total average daily number of working hours for men and women in the 25-44 years age group is between eight and nine hours for paid and unpaid (i.e. household) work. This is at least one hour per day more than any other age group.

The fathers’ average working day is long: 9.25 hours at work plus an additional average travelling time of 45 minutes. This applies regardless of whether the fathers have small or slightly older children.

Household chores take up just under 1.5 hours of the fathers’ day when they have small children and one hour when the children are of school age. In the case of mothers who go out to work, their average working day is a couple of hours shorter and travelling time shorter than fathers’.

According to Platz (1987), the total number of weekly working hours for families with children is approximately 75 hours, distributed as just over 40 hours for men and a little over 30 hours for women.



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