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Decline of male breadwinner family across Europe

03 July 2014 | Tags: fathers, families, working fathers

There has been a decline in male breadwinner families across Europe, according to new findings from NatCen Social Research, the Institute of Education’s Thomas Coram Research Unit and the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Two-parent families where only the father works have become a minority in many European countries and make-up only around a fifth (22%) of families in the UK, according to analysis of data from the EU Labour Force Survey between 2001 and 2011.

  • The biggest falls in male breadwinner families were in Spain down to 28% of families in 2011 from close to half (49%) in 2001, Greece 36% down from 46% and the Netherlands 17% down from 27%.
  • Levels in Germany (25%), France (22%) and the UK (22%) were more stable but are among the lowest in Europe.

The research, part of the ESRC funded Modern Fatherhood project, will be discussed today (July 3) at the Modern Fatherhood conference – Fathers, Work and Families in 21st Century Britain – at The University of London’s Institute of Education.

Dr Sara Connolly, a Reader in Personnel Economics at UEA’s Norwich Business School, said: “We are seeing not only a greater level of equality in economic provisioning between parents but also a growth in new working models involving more part-time and other flexible forms of employment.”

Work and family life

Further research being presented at the conference will look at conflict between UK fathers’ working and home lives and how this varies across Europe.

Of the eight countries looked at in the European Social Survey, UK fathers reported the highest levels of conflict between paid work and family life.

  • 35% of UK fathers said they always or often worry about work problems when not working; 17% said this never happens.
  • 37% of UK fathers said they are always or often too tired after work to enjoy the things they would like to do at home; 8% said this never happens.
  • However, only 10% of UK fathers said that family responsibilities prevent them from giving the time they should to their job always or often; 26% said it never happens.
  • Fathers in the UK and Greece were most likely to say that work interfered negatively in their family life, while fathers in the Netherlands were least likely.

The research also shows that it is those fathers who worked longer hours who were most likely to report conflict between their working and homes lives.

Dr Svetlana Speight, NatCen Social Research said “This research shows that in the UK many fathers allow their job to undermine their family life. It suggests that there are lessons we can learn from countries like the Netherlands where fathers appear to have a better work life balance.”

The impact of work on family life is of particular interest in the context of analysis of the EU Labour Force Survey being presented at the conference, which shows significant changes in UK fathers’ working arrangements between 2001 and 2011. 

The research shows fathers working a shorter working week and a significant decline in the proportion of fathers working evenings, nights or weekends.

  • The usual working week of fathers working full-time in couple households has fallen from 47 to 45 hours per week. 
  • The proportion of fathers who say they never work evenings rose from 33% to 52%, those never working nights rose from 66% to 76% and never workings at the weekend rose from 26% to 45%. 
  • In 2011, fathers were also much less likely than in 2001 to be working shifts - a fall from 24 to 21%. 

Professor Margaret O’Brien, Director, Thomas Coram Research Unit said: “Nearly one third of British fathers still usually work over 48 hours a week and a tenth over 60 hours a week. If the coalition government is really serious about being family friendly it should sign up to the EU Working Time Directive which will take pressure of British families and allow parents the choice of sharing work hours between them in a more balanced and modern way.”


For further details contact Leigh Marshall: 0207 549 8506 or 0782 803 1850, Laura Potts 01603 593007 or; James Russell 0207 911 5556 

Notes to editors:

NatCen Social Research is an independent, not for profit organisation. We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone.

The Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU) at the Institute of Education carries out research related to children and young people in and outside their families. This includes care, education, health and social service settings.  With a research income of around £2 million per year, TCRU runs government funded research programmes, provides expert advice to policy makers, and develops successful dissemination strategies at both national and international levels. TCRU’s staff are world leading experts in the areas of early childhood education and care, children's workforce studies, parenting and family life, qualitative and cross-national methodologies.

The University of East Anglia (UEA) is ranked in the top one per cent of universities in the world and was ranked joint second for student satisfaction in the 2013 National Student Survey. It is in the UK Top 10 for research citations and is a leading member of the Norwich Research Park - one of Europe’s biggest concentrations of researchers in the fields of environment, health and plant science.

NatCen Social Research, Thomas Coram Research Unit and the University of East Anglia

      have been awarded funding from the Economic and Social Research Council’s Secondary Data Analysis Initiative to investigate fathers, work and families in twenty-first century Britain. The project aims to bridge the information gaps on fathers and establish the UK's foremost analysis about the lives of fathers using data from four large-scale survey series: Understanding Society, the European Union Labour Force Survey, the European Social Survey and the British Household Panel Study. Although principally focused on fathers in the UK, this study also includes international data to enhance understanding of the role that factors in society play in shaping fathers' work and family life.