Working life pattern  


In this research, information about how parents earn a living is used to contribute to the overall impression they gave, partly during the interview and partly in connection with the overall impression given by the family’s responses. The method was analysis of the way the individual families’ earned an income in order to survive. The dominant means in Danish society is capitalist production. Production of handmade goods is subsidiary.

Certain production methods demand certain ways of living but certain ways of living also presuppose the presence of organised social structures i.e. economic, judicial and political structures.

Production methods and life patterns contribute to the creation of the individual’s personal style of working or doing business which - to some extent - exerts an influence on everyday life and family life and similarly affects other family members to a greater or lesser degree. In this research the ways parents earn a living, against the background of their education and employment, were characterised as one of the following three types:

Wage-earner - Not as clear cut a category as the other two. The pattern of work is more variable and therefore more difficult to classify.

The person in paid employment sells his time and earns a wage which he spends in his free time. Work is a means and free time is an end. A wage-earner has no ownership rights in the company and the price level at which the company pays for his time is usually the result of professional or political negotiation between a trades union and an employers’ association. Loyalty is often demonstrated as solidarity with one’s fellow workers or with the trades union and extra work is rewarded with overtime payments or “time off in lieu”.

Freedom and free time - which are strictly separate from work - are spent spending money and realising oneself via hobbies and pastimes of different kinds or via alternative individual work or activities.

Self-employed  - Here the person concerned works within his own privately-owned small/large company or production unit as an “independent specialist”, who either produces raw materials (e.g. as in agricultural farming) or is involved with technical or electronic product development. The self-employed person is resourceful, independent and his own master. Responsibility and skill in the way he carries out his work are the best guarantee for being able to maintain and develop independence and competitiveness.

Where freedom/free time/work are concerned, the family and free time are often inseparable and the self-employed person does not have much freedom. His (or her) business, work and family are typically all rolled into one.

Career-oriented - The person’s work patterns are characterised by his own demands on himself, commitment, challenges, responsibility and flexible working hours. The job most often involves problem-solving and decision-making and he/she is often rewarded if his/her results are good.

He/she gives first priority to loyalty to the employer or to the company and the aim is to gain success in a job which can be a good springboard to a new, more exciting or better paid job. For the career-oriented person the ideal freedom is flexible working hours (i.e. deciding for oneself when to get the job done) and free time as a “reward” for a job well done.

The career-oriented person spends his free time pursuing pastimes which are most often carefully selected, worthy and prestigious activities and relaxing in ways which strengthen and develop the personality. The family is the career-oriented person’s support base.

Concerning patterns of working life and ideals about bringing up children: Parallel to his own research on the daily life of the family with children (Bjarne Hjorth Andersen, 1991), Hjorth Andersen (1993) also measured the variable ideal about children’s upbringing.

The ideal is concerned with being capable of obtaining and promoting the family’s own particular symbol and utility values through the children’s upbringing, these values being qualitative results of this capacity.

In a research report entitled “Can you ask people about their way of life?”, respondents were asked to choose a maximum three characteristics (out of a total eight different characteristics) which they considered particularly important that they teach their children.

The eight characteristics were these (the figure at the far right is the percentage share of responses):








consideration for others












good behaviour














prudent with money

none of these characteristics are important





It is interesting to note that in the distribution of responses, the three most frequently chosen characteristics (1, 2, and 3) correlate relatively closely to the three patterns of working life. The responses from:

wage-earners and

self-employed people 

were relatively similar and contrasted to responses from the career-oriented people. The desire for “socially-oriented virtues” like good behaviour and obedience were most prevalent among the self-employed and the wage-earners, while

career-oriented people were more concerned about imagination and tolerance. (See also the pattern of family communication.)

Concerning working life patterns generally

The distribution of the three working life patterns was, for men and women respectively: wage-earners 67% and 89%, self-employed 12% and 7% and for the career-oriented pattern 21% and 4%.

There have been two earlier Danish research projects concerning working life patterns whose research base was a representative sample of the population. Hjorth Andersen’s result was 58%, 16% and 27% (Hjorth Andersen (1991:134)) while Djurfeldt (1989) arrived at 44%, 15% and 41%. Neither Hjorth Andersen nor Djurfeldt made the split men-women.

There is however, no correlation between the results of these two research projects. With reference to his own work, Hjorth Andersen has admitted that it is difficult to make (working) life patterns fit in with the conceptual and ideological contexts which life pattern researchers have developed.

The treatment of working life patterns in Steenhold (1993,d) used in this book probably underestimates the percentage of self-employed. If that is so, then the wage-earning group is inflated correspondingly. On the other hand, the career-oriented working life pattern is far more easily calculated.



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