The major trends in family structures and their shifts across the industrialized world over the past decades are well known: fertility rates have declined below the level sufficient for the replacement of the population and childbearing occurs later and more often outside marriage. Marriage, too, is being postponed and is more often foregone, and couple relationships—both marital and non-marital ones—have become more fragile. These changes have led to increasingly complex family compositions and to a previously unprecedented diversity of family forms and relationships over the life course. The new family trends and patterns have been paralleled by changes in gender roles, especially an expansion of the female role to an economic provider for a family, and lately also transformation of men’s role with more extensive involvement in family responsibilities, mainly care for children. In contemporary family scholarship there is an increasing awareness of gender and family changes being interconnected, and conceptualization of the gender revolution has gained terrain (Goldscheider 1990; Puur et al. 2008; Esping-Andersen 2009; England 2010). Developments related to women’s new role are seen as weakening the family and have been attributed to the first phase of the gender revolution, while more recent family changes and the emerging caring male role have been linked to the second phase (Goldscheider et al. 2015).

To understand the everyday realities of modern societies we need to recognize that the family is a dynamic entity, characterized by growing complexity with respect to decision-making processes regarding transitions over the family life course and organization of family life. Indeed, the family can no longer be described simply as a set of well-defined roles; it is negotiated on a daily basis, constructed by interactions between partners at the micro-level (Morgan 2011), and influenced by macro structures of the political and economic spheres. Work and family lives are increasingly influencing each other as both women and men engage in earning as well as caring activities, often reinforced by the labour market developments with specific skill demands, together with increasing employment instability and precariousness. Gender relations and related values and attitudes have become more fluid, changing dynamically over the life course in the context of blurring boundaries of family and work life. Also, different policy contexts affect new constructions of gender in doing family in various ways, impeding convergence to a singular pattern of family life courses across countries.

In this chapter we seek to shed more light on these complex developments in the European context. First we present the changes in family patterns over the past fifty years, before addressing the transition of gender roles and views on their interplay with the demographic developments. Next, we discuss new challenges related to transitions in and organizations of contemporary family life based on an overview of theoretical as well as empirical advances of research. A brief conclusion ends this chapter.

Increasingly Diverse Family Biographies

Family patterns in Europe have undergone extensive changes in the past half century. The early to mid-1960s marked the end of the “Golden Age of the Family” (Skolnick 1978; Sobotka 2011), with high marriage and birth rates at relatively young ages, few divorces, and a low prevalence of non-traditional family forms. By the late 20th century, fertility rates had declined well below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman on average, while marriage and parenthood had been delayed to more mature ages, new forms of couple relationships emerged while the propensity to marry decreased, and family dissolution became quite frequent even among couples with children (Frejka et al. 2008). People are increasingly refraining from long-term commitments in respect of partnership formation and childbearing, which indicates a de-standardization of the family life course (Bruckner and Mayer 2005; Elzinga and Liefbroer 2007), but in the long run may lead to a re-standardization of family patterns (Huinink 2013). In any case, there is a considerable diversity in the extent of and the pace at which these new patterns emerged across Europe (Neyer 2013).

Acknowledging the importance of the social context for family dynamics as suggested in the literature (see e.g. Frejka et al. 2008; OECD 2011), we display the trends by welfare regime/policy configuration types (Esping-Andersen 1990; Korpi 2000), highlighting the details of changes in family patterns. We distinguish among the Dual-Earner policy configuration type or Social Democratic welfare regime with extensive policy provisions facilitating a work-life balance for both women and men; the Liberal or Market-Oriented regime with limited and usually means-tested state support to families and the dominance of market-based solutions regarding welfare provision; the General Family Support policy configuration type or Conservative welfare regime in which men’s primacy in the labour market has not really been questioned while the range of state support to families and to women to combine paid work and family responsibilities varies greatly across countries; the Familialistic or Mediterranean welfare regime with nearly no or extremely limited policy provisions to families and pronounced gender role differentiation; and the Transition Post-Socialist cluster which represents a hybrid model and is also rather heterogeneous in terms of state support to families and to women to combine labour market participation and family life (Hobson and Oláh 2006; Saraceno 2008; Cerami and Vanhuysse 2009; Neyer 2013).

The de-standardization of the family life course in Europe that has led to increasingly diverse family biographies started with the decline in childbearing (Van de Kaa 1987; Lesthaeghe 2010). As shown in Fig. 1, the baby boom of the 1950s-early 1960s was followed by a dramatic decrease of period fertility rates, below the level necessary for the simple reproduction of a population. This occurred first in the Dual-Earner and the General Family Support clusters, in the early 1970s. Countries of the Familialistic regime entered the low fertility path in the early 1980s, followed by the Liberal regime and the Transition Post-Socialist cluster in the same decade. Fertility rates continued to decline in all but the Dual-Earner and the Liberal regimes to and even below the so-called critical level of low fertility, i.e., 1.5 children per woman on average, known to accelerate population ageing if sustained for a longer period (McDonald 2006). The German-speaking countries in the General Family Support policy configuration type also have shown very low levels of childbearing, though more or less counterbalanced by reasonably high fertility rates in other countries of that cluster. In the first years of the 21st century, the trends turned slightly upwards, generating hopes for a fertility recovery, but the increase has stopped and/or reversed in recent years, with childbearing at or somewhat below the critical level in the majority of European countries.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Source INED (2013) for the years 1960–2008; Eurostat (2015) for the years 2009–2013.

Period total fertility rates (average number of children per woman) in different welfare regimes/policy configuration types, 1960–2013.

Period rates are, however, not seen as an optimal measure of fertility, as they are highly influenced by variations in timing and spacing of births (Sobotka and Lutz 2010); cohort fertility or completed family size is considered to be more reliable. As seen in Fig. 2, cohort fertility varies across countries as well as over female birth cohorts, that is, women born in the mid-1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s (the latter based on predicted cohort fertility). In all countries we find higher fertility levels for the older cohorts, in line with the decline seen for period fertility rates. Focusing on women born in the second half of the 20th century, the picture is more diverse. For the mid-1960 and -70 cohorts, fertility did not decline for countries of the Dual-Earner cluster, nor for France, Belgium, or the UK, where even the youngest cohorts display fertility levels of about two children per woman on average, unlike in other countries and clusters. In contrast, we see completed family sizes at or slightly above 1.5 for the 1965 and 1975 cohorts for Switzerland and the German-speaking countries, and for the 1975 cohort for the Familialistic cluster, along with Bulgaria, Poland, and Romania, and only somewhat higher levels for other countries in the Transition Post-Socialist cluster. Taken together, Figs. 1 and 2 thus indicate that the European policy agenda should continue to be concerned about demographic sustainability given these low fertility levels (see also Oláh and Fahlén 2013, for a more detailed discussion).

Fig. 2
figure 2

Source INED (2013) for cohorts: 1935–1965; Myrskylä et al. (2013) for cohort 1975.

Total completed cohort fertility (average number of children per woman) of selected birth cohorts.

The decline of period fertility rates has been accompanied by the ageing of fertility, that is, a rising mean age at first birth (Frejka et al. 2008). In the 1960s and 1970s, women in Europe had their first child in their early to mid-twenties, with the youngest first-time mothers in the Transition Post-Socialist cluster and the oldest ones in the Familialistic cluster. The postponement of first births started during the 1980s in all but the Transition Post-Socialist policy configuration type, where such a trend first emerged in the early/mid-1990s. In the beginning of the 21st century, motherhood is entered at around age thirty in Liberal regime countries and at the late twenties in other clusters. Ages of first fatherhood are a few years above that of first motherhood, because men start their family careers later than women. In any case, as Figs. 1 and 2 suggest, early entry into parenthood, as in the Transition Post-Socialist cluster, is not necessarily accompanied by high fertility levels, whereas a late start of childbearing may not be a hindrance for achieving reasonably high fertility rates, the latter seen in the Dual-Earner and the Liberal regimes.

When discussing changes in fertility behavior, an important dimension to be addressed is the upsurge of extramarital childbearing in connection with new partnership patterns. Indeed, marriage had nearly ceased to be the dominant form of couple relationships in the Dual-Earner, the General Family Support, and the Liberal clusters by the late 1970s, as non-marital cohabitation has become increasingly prevalent. The Familialistic regime joined the trend in the early 1980s, and the Transition Post-Socialist cluster followed from the early 1990s. In these latter groups, the decline in marriage rates was suggested to be strongly related to growing economic uncertainty and housing shortages (Sardon 1993; Philipov and Dorbritz 2003).

Independent of the cause, marriage formation has been increasingly postponed from the early-/mid-1980s in most regime types, and since the mid-1990s even in the Transition Post-Socialist cluster (Frejka et al. 2008). By the early 21st century, first marriage is entered around age thirty by women, but somewhat earlier in the Post-Socialist cluster. In fact, the mean age at first marriage has been above that of first parenthood in the past decades in the Dual-Earner policy configuration type as couples entered marriage after the birth of their first or second child. A similar pattern has also emerged lately in the Liberal and the General Family Support clusters.

As the propensity to marry declined, births have increasingly occurred in consensual relationships. In the early 1960s, when marriage rates were still high, the proportion of out-of-wedlock births was around 10% or less in European countries. This share has increased rapidly in the Dual-Earner cluster since the 1970s, currently accounting for about half of all births there. Other clusters displayed moderate levels of non-marital childbearing up until the late 1980s. Since then, the share of such births has nearly doubled. The Familialistic regime joined the increasing trend during the early 2000s. In recent years, nearly one-third of births occurred out-of-wedlock even in these countries. However, we do find quite large variations across countries in the different clusters with respect to non-marital childbearing, and the association with fertility levels is also far from clear-cut (Oláh 2015).

In addition to influencing fertility, the new partnership patterns have had implications for family stability. Couple relationships have become less stable over time as consensual unions, which are more fragile than marriages, have spread and divorce rates increased. The propensity to divorce doubled between the early 1960s and the late 1990s, and divorce rates remained modest only in the Familialistic regime cluster, where it has increased mainly during the last decade (Spijker and Solsona 2012). Declining relationship stability can also affect childbearing. On the one hand, it can reduce fertility as the time people spend in couple relationships shortens, and as women and men may choose to have fewer children because of the prospect of either having to raise their children alone or not being able to be involved with the children because of separation or divorce (Lillard and Waite 1993). On the other hand, high rates of family dissolution can raise fertility rates as second and higher-order partnerships are increasingly formed during the reproductive ages, and couples may opt for joint offspring even if they already have children from previous relationships (Thomson 2004). In any case, the high and/or rising instability of partnerships contributes to the increasing diversity of family biographies in Europe.

Changing Gender Roles

The changes in family patterns outlined in the previous section, especially the decline of fertility rates to (far) below the replacement level, have been paralleled by a substantial increase in female labour force participation over time (Bernhardt 1993; OECD 2012). In Central-East European countries (i.e. the Transition Post-Socialist cluster), high female and maternal employment levels were common in the state-socialist period. In Western Europe, the upsurge of female economic activity and mothers’ employment occurred first in the Nordic countries (i.e. the Dual-Earner cluster), where the new family patterns emerged first. These countries were also the first to experience a change in women’s employment aspirations resulting in the new female work pattern, according to which women do not withdraw from the labour market upon marriage or motherhood, but remain employed until reaching retirement age (Gornick and Meyers 2003; Oláh and Fahlén 2013). Countries of the Liberal and the General Family Support clusters joined the trend during the late 1980s, followed by the Familialistic cluster in the mid-/late 1990s. Anomalously, the end of the state-socialist era brought a substantial decline in female labour force participation in the Transition Post-Socialist cluster imposed by the economic restructuring, followed by some increase in female economic activity as the countries’ economic performance gradually improved. Nevertheless, cuts in family policy provisions, especially regarding childcare for the very youngest (i.e. children below age three), along with rigid labour market structures increased the difficulties with respect to work-family reconciliation (Matysiak 2011).

In any case, by the early 21st century gender differences in labour force participation in Europe had greatly diminished (see Fig. 3). The gender gap is rather small in the Dual-Earner cluster and has been quite limited in the Transition Post-Socialist regimes, even though there are lower activity rates for both men and women. More recently, the gender gap has also diminished greatly in the Liberal and the General Family Support regimes. The Familialistic cluster has been characterized by the largest activity gap, as gender role differentiation has been most pronounced there and traditional gender norms have had a strong hold (Lewis 2006; Plantenga et al. 2009). Women’s increasing economic activities have also boosted their engagement in higher education (Blossfeld 1995). By the mid-1990s, female educational attainment surpassed that of men in the main childbearing ages in all regime clusters, and it reached the same level as men in the broader working age population (Oláh 2015). The new female educational advantage has been most pronounced for the Familialistic cluster, despite female employment rates being lowest there.

Fig. 3
figure 3

Source Eurostat (2016).

Gender differences in labour market activity [women’s activity rate in proportion of men’s rate; ages 20–64] in different welfare regimes/policy configuration types, 1992–2014.

The substantially reduced gender employment gap notwithstanding, women earn on average 16% less than men, and this difference is even larger among top earners, about 21% (OECD 2012). The female wage disadvantage is strongly related to their weaker position in the labour market, as women have continued to bear a disproportionately large share of family responsibilities despite their growing involvement in paid work. Hence, part-time work is much more common among women than men and is increasingly used. Currently, about 45% of employed women work part-time in the Liberal and the General Family Support clusters, and one-third in the Dual-Earner cluster, compared to 20 and 10% in the Familialistic regime and the Transition Post-Socialist countries, respectively (Oláh 2015), given more rigid labour market structures in the latter clusters. The share of male part-time work varies between 5 and 15% across regime types.

Gender differences are more modest for unemployment levels, which vary between 5 and 20%, with the highest rates displayed in the Familialistic and the Transition Post-Socialist clusters where economic problems have been pronounced since long before the recent economic crisis. Youth unemployment levels have been much higher though, which can hamper family building, especially among the less educated, men and women alike (Mills et al. 2005; Oláh and Fratczak 2013).

Taken together the trends suggest that the new female gender role has increasingly incorporated dimensions of economic independence and support responsibilities that until quite recently belonged to the male domain, and has promoted a redistribution of responsibilities for the economic provision to a family between men and women. However, this transformation has hardly been accompanied by new patterns in the gender distribution of housework and care, given the rather limited changes in sharing unpaid work among women and men in most countries (Bianchi et al. 2000; Anxo et al. 2011). Much of the decrease in the gender gap for unpaid work is due to women investing less time in domestic duties because of their greater involvement in paid work, than due to a substantial increase in men’s household- and/or care work contribution (Sayer et al. 2004; Craig and Mullan 2011). It has resulted in a double burden for women and increasing tensions between work and family life.

Among younger cohorts, more and more fathers seem to embrace the idea of active parenting (Seward et al. 2006; Hobson and Fahlén 2009; Smith Koslowski 2011). Their efforts have received increasing policy support at both the national and European levels (Hobson 2002; Moss 2014). However, the company level, especially employers’ and co-workers’ attitude towards active fathers, is likely to be of particular importance for the transformation of the male gender role (Brandt and Kvande 2002; Haas and Hwang 2009; Behnke and Meuser 2012). Moreover, mothers need to accept fathers as their equals when it comes to parental care for children in order for the new male role to become established (Allen and Hawkins 1999). Until men’s contribution to domestic tasks and care work can match that of women in paid work, the gender revolution will remain incomplete (Esping-Andersen 2009; Goldscheider et al. 2010).

Making Sense of the Interplay Between Family Complexity and Gender Role Changes

Contemporary scholarship of economics, demography, sociology, and gender studies has recognized for a long time that new family patterns and evolving gender roles are interlinked. Given declining fertility and nuptiality, increasing instability of couple relationships and a nearly simultaneous growth of female labour force participation, women’s increasing economic independence has been seen as a main cause of family changes in economic theorizing, which identifies gender role specialization as one of its main paradigms (see Becker 1991). Labour market developments in the 1980s and 1990s, especially rising educational demands and greater flexibility along with higher levels of job uncertainty, made this paradigm increasingly contested. An influential argument, presented by Oppenheimer (1994, 1997), pointed out the benefits of collaboration among spouses/partners with respect to economic contributions to the family, as by pooling resources couples can better adapt to new challenges in the labour market. As women’s educational attainment approaches that of men, they are also better prepared to share with their male partner the responsibilities of providing for the family (Blossfeld 1995; Blossfeld and Drobnic 2001).

In sociology in contrast, it has been argued that ideational changes, such as the spread of individualism and thus the greater emphasis on self-realization, together with changing aspirations for paid work, are the main driving forces behind the postponement of family formation (both marriage and childbearing) and the increasing fragility of couple relationships in modern societies (Bengtson et al. 2005; Steel et al. 2012). In this respect, the Second Demographic Transition (SDT) theory is of particular importance (Van de Kaa 1994; Lesthaeghe 2010). According to the SDT theory, the weakening of normative constraints in advanced societies in combination with access to effective contraception led to fundamental changes in sexual relations, loosening the links between marriage and childbearing. This in turn resulted in delayed marriage and births, rising childlessness, non-marital cohabitation, and partnership instability. Critics pointed out that even though the SDT conceptual framework included structural components of market economy and improving living conditions, labour market developments and the related increase in economic uncertainties were largely ignored when explaining family changes (Perelli-Harris et al. 2010). Moreover, the SDT lacks an explicit gender perspective, notwithstanding its acknowledgement of women’s increasing educational attainment and economic activity as part of societal changes (Bernhardt 2004). These latter aspects seem to be crucial for contesting the explanatory power of the SDT framework, especially with respect to family changes of the last decades and their interplay with labour market developments, in particular women’s employment.

Indeed, in more recent studies increasing attention has been paid to gender equality in the public sphere and gender equity with respect to family life seen as the main drivers of family change (McDonald 2000, 2006; Esping-Andersen 2009, Neyer et al. 2013), linking back to the hypothesis on work-family incompatibility (Liefbroer and Corijn 1999; Brewster and Rindfuss 2000). These dimensions have been synthesized in new theoretical frameworks on multiple equilibrium (Esping-Andersen and Billari 2015) and the gender revolution (Goldscheider et al. 2015) aimed at explaining past trends as well as recent family changes from the point of view of the ongoing transformation of gender roles. Both concepts focus on the interplay between family related behaviour and shifts in women’s and men’s social roles reflected in their gendered responsibilities for economic provision and care in a family.

The multiple equilibrium framework addresses the evolution of the family from the male breadwinner model to the dual-earner—dual-carer model with special focus on the female revolution, following the transformation of gender roles on the path towards gender egalitarianism. Family related demographic behaviours are seen as strictly associated with transitions across family equilibria, aiming for consistency between people’s evolving preferences and behaviours (Esping-Andersen and Billari 2015). In contrast, Goldscheider et al. (2015) distinguish between two phases of the transformation of gender roles. The first phase of the gender revolution is characterised by a strong rise in women’s labor force participation and a gradual adaptation of the public sphere to this change towards increasing gender equality, while gender roles within the family remain unchanged. This stage includes transitions from the male breadwinner model to the modernised male breadwinner or dual earner-women’s double burden model. The second phase of the gender revolution starts with increasing involvement of men in the family chores, marking the transition towards the dual-earner—dual-carer model. Both conceptual frameworks highlight the relevance of the transformation of gender roles outside and within the family, in line with McDonald’s views on the importance of gender equality and gender equity for fertility change (McDonald 2000, 2006). In addition, they call for attention to men’s situation, which until relatively recently has been quite neglected (for exceptions see Goldscheider and Kaufman 1996; Puur et al. 2008; Goldscheider et al. 2010), even though the decline in male wages and men’s labour force activity along with growing labour market uncertainty have been recognized (Oppenheimer et al. 1997; Booth et al. 1999; Mills et al. 2005).

The role of social context in the interplay of gender and family changes has been addressed in the Capabilities approach, originated in Amartya Sen’s (1993) framework of capabilities and their relation to the institutional environment. The approach has been applied focusing on gendered agency and capabilities to form and maintain stable relationships and have and care for children (Hobson and Oláh 2006; Hobson 2011). Studies on fertility and partnership changes and women’s increasing labor market activities frequently rely on the policy regime framework, first presented by Esping-Andersen (1990), addressing the constraints and opportunities for individuals and families that affect the organization of paid and unpaid work and family formation. More recent welfare regime typologies (Lewis 2009; Thévenon 2011) and policy configuration approaches (Korpi 2000; Korpi et al. 2013) also highlight the linkages between variations of family, fertility and reconciliation policies.

In addition to theorizing about transitions over the family life course and their interlinkages with gender role changes, another major topic of scholarly attention has been the organization of family life. Studies of families and the division of work within households show that family members do gender as they do housework and childcare (Berk 1985; West and Fenstermaker 1995). Acts are performative in the sense that they construct, corroborate, and reconstruct identities in relation to jointly agreed-upon definitions. The performativity makes it possible to create and maintain an illusion of two essential and polar gender identities, at the same time enabling the reconstructions of gender (Butler 1990). This ‘doing gender’ approach emphasizes that we are assessed by and held accountable for based on gender in nearly everything we do (West and Zimmerman 1987; Jurczyk et al. 2014). This accountability, in turn, influences the social constructions of roles such as husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. Rooted in the concept of doing gender, the ‘doing family’ approach, looking at practices resulting in gender differences (Morgan 1999, 2011; Smart 2000; Nelson 2006), takes into account the fact that social habits are reproduced through everyday interactions. It argues that family life is not a given per se, but rather a social construction, because families embed their everyday family lives in internal daily routines, practices, and external social activities interlinked with changes in gender roles and family relationships.

Following upon the logic of the interplay between demographic changes and transformation of gender roles as outlined above, we will now address both transitions as well as the organization of family life. These are interpreted in the context of the de-standardized family life course and the growing complexity of family forms and relationships. In our overview of research, we focus first on women’s new role and its implications for family dynamics, considering both women and men as main actors. Next we turn to the topic of gendered transition to parenthood, a borderline issue between family transitions and family life organization. The latter aspect is more thoroughly addressed in the discussion of new gender roles in doing families. Finally, we focus on coping strategies in family and work reconciliation under conditions of uncertainty and precariousness, an issue of growing importance for understanding transitions in family life.

New Challenges of Transitions in and Organization of Family Life

In this section we discuss recent research outcomes of family dynamics in a comparative perspective, especially regarding partnership transitions and parenthood and the organization of family life, and their association with changing gender roles. The results we present here refer to the main outcomes of Work Package 3 of the FamiliesAndSocieties project: The new roles of men and women and implications for families and societies. First, we focus on the reversal of the gender gap in education, a main driver of the transformation of gender roles, and its impacts on family patterns, especially on couple formation and fertility. New conceptual approaches are needed in order to study these processes. It is important to take into account both the more diverse ways of starting a family in modern societies compared to that of previous decades and the education-specific mating squeeze, resulting from the expansion of higher education, affecting women in particular. Next, we focus on the gendered transition to parenthood in Sweden, Switzerland, and Austria, countries with different institutional and gender systems and advancements in transformation of the family regarding economic provision and caring duties.

Men’s involvement in family life can also be approached from the perspective of its organization. To illustrate how evolving gender roles are reflected in doing family, outcomes of two comparative studies are discussed addressing time spent by fathers with children and the gender gap in household work in different family types across Europe. Finally, coping strategies in family and work reconciliation under conditions of uncertainty and precariousness will be discussed.

Women’s New Role and Its Implications for Family Dynamics

Women’s new social role is closely connected to their educational attainment. Aggregated data show that women have outperformed men in formal education in the past decades, and consequently they now have increasingly as much or more education as their partners, unlike in the past. The reversal of the gender gap in education has far-reaching implications for family dynamics and needs to be taken into account not only in studying behaviours relevant for demographic development and social relations but also in applying an adequate analytical approach. Moreover, to account for the increasing importance of non-marital cohabitation as well as a growing proportion of children born in consensual unions instead of marriage, the conventional concept of the “marriage squeeze” should be extended to include this partnership type. Van Bavel (2012) proposed to address imbalances on the “mating market” instead of the “marriage market” only, and to pay attention to education accounting for an education-specific mating squeeze. Relying on data from the European Labour Force Survey (LFS) and Eurostat official statistics on population, his co-authored study demonstrates the importance of the mating squeeze for family formation in modern societies (De Hauw et al. 2014).

Indeed, the expansion of higher education among women and resulting patterns of assortative mating affect family formation, fertility, and divorce (Schwartz and Han 2014; Grow and Van Bavel 2015). Contrary to expectations, highly educated women are not more likely to remain single. Rather, they appear to partner more often with men with less education than themselves. How exactly this is related to the timing instead of the likelihood of partnership formation is, however, still an open question (De Hauw and Van Bavel 2016). The reversal of gender inequality has also resulted in remarkable shifts in educational pairing: educational hypergamy (women marrying up) is declining while homogamy and hypogamy (women marrying down) are becoming more prevalent (Esteve et al. 2012). In a study of Klesment and Van Bavel (2015), based on EU-SILC data, educationally homogamous couples constitute more than half of the sample and the share of hypogamous couples exceeds that of hypergamous couples (except for Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Romania). Between 2007 and 2011 the proportion of highly educated homogamous couples increased similarly to the share of hypogamous partnerships with highly educated woman.

New patterns of educational pairings affect the decision-making processes related to fertility, as a comparative study based on the EU-SILC panel data on 17 countries reveals (Nitsche et al. 2015). Homogamous highly educated couples show a distinct childbearing behaviour in most societies studied. They tend to postpone the first birth longest, while transition rates to subsequent (second and third) births are highest for them compared to other educational pairings, especially to couples with a highly educated woman and a lower educated man. This suggests that homogamous highly educated couples recuperate their postponed transition to the first birth by progressing to second and/or third births faster. Moreover, differences in childbearing behaviour within the group of highly educated men are in contrast to what may be expected based on the conventional economic models of the family. Hypergamous couples with a highly educated man and a lower educated woman display significantly lower second and third birth transition rates than homogamous highly educated couples across the majority of countries. There is no country in which second or third birth transitions rates among this type of couples are higher than rates of homogamous highly educated couples. These findings are in line with Oppenheimer’s (1994) hypothesis on pooling resources in a couple instead of Becker’s (1991) economic model.

The Gendered Transition to Parenthood

In our research on the gendered transition to parenthood, country-specific studies based on both qualitative and quantitative approaches provide in-depth insights into combining parenthood with working careers. Leaves for child care are considered a crucial policy measure to support reconciliation of work and caring responsibilities. Especially fathers’ entitlements and use of leave play an important role in reversing the asymmetry in the gendered impacts of parenthood on work performance of men and women. When becoming a father, men tend to strengthen their economic provision to the family, also by increasing their working hours, while women take leave from employment to care for a child and quite often either stay at home or switch to part-time work until the child starts day care. Below we discuss two country specific studies on leave practices in Sweden and Switzerland, countries with contrasting leave systems, different stages of family change and transformation of gender roles.

The study on Sweden, a Dual-Earner cluster country, explores how both men’s and women’s “new” roles are related to their time spent in paid work and in care, taking into account children-parents ties (Evertsson et al. 2015). By combining analyses of quantitative survey data (YAPS—Young Adult Panel Study, Sweden) and qualitative interviews conducted with middle-class first-time parents, new insights into the division of parental leave in Sweden are provided. The findings suggest that fathers’ family orientation and willingness to share caring responsibilities are the main determinants of longer leaves of fathers. Reasons for couple’s unequal leave use vary from mothers’ preferences to stay home for a long period, and fathers’ refusal to take leave, or work-related reasons, to the economic situation of the family. Father’s work conditions are more important for his leave duration than the work conditions of mother for her leave length; and income difference is sometimes used as a motive for a father to take a short leave irrespective of who earns the most. In any case, the duration of the father’s parental leave significantly affects his contribution to child care even when both parents resume paid work, i.e. the longer the father’s leave, the more likely child care is to be equally divided in the long-term. These qualitative findings indicate that traditional norms and ideals about the mother as primary care taker hinder an equal sharing of the leave during the child’s first year, despite ideals of gender equality and equal parenting being highly regarded by the parents interviewed. Thus family income and factors related to the parents’ work conditions seem to interact with norms and ideals, and they produce different outcomes across couples. The study also suggests several mechanisms through which fathers’ parental leave uptake may causally influence the share of care between parents when a child is older. Fathers’ parental leave uptake is linked to a closer relationship between the father and the child and also contributes to a greater understanding between the parents, both when it comes to sharing home tasks when a child is small and to combining paid work with unpaid work, including care.

The institutional context in Switzerland, a Liberal regime country, is completely different from that of Sweden: employed men do not have access to any statutory leave when they become fathers. However, companies may implement their own regulations on leaves. The case study of a public administration organization that implemented a one-month paternity leave to be taken over one year, based also on mixed methods, shows limited gender equality effects in terms of gender roles perceptions and participation in care and domestic duties and uptake of paternity leave (Valarino 2014; Valarino and Gauthier 2016). The opportunity of a one-month paid paternity leave did not substantially change men’s employment patterns or a division of family work but it did enable fathers to strengthen their sense of competence regarding care obligations and appropriation of their new father identity. However, the traditional idea of different abilities of men and women in relation to the newborn prevailed. Also, the important role of the workplace and job characteristics was confirmed. The limited effects of implementation of paternity leave at the company level in Switzerland seem to strengthen arguments that national efforts are necessary for progress in transformation of gender roles at both societal and family levels.

A crucial role of men’s perception about parenting in relation to take-up of parental leave was also confirmed by the in-depth analysis of the transition to parenthood in Austria, a country of the General Family Support cluster. The decision for sharing parental leave, even if displayed as a joint decision, was father-centred as the decision was oriented towards the father’s wish and willingness, in close connection to the perceived organizational necessities. The decision for the father’s leave was expected to be as beneficial as possible for him, and both partners valued the father’s leave higher than the mother’s (Schmidt et al. 2015 ). More attention was given to his work situation, while mothers’ leave seemed rather to be self-evident. Regardless of the parental leave arrangement, masculinity remained hegemonic in being superior to femininity, even if feminine aspects of caring were incorporated due to following findings: (i) only the man was deemed to be in the position to agree to the interruption of his career; (ii) the woman supported her partner‘s claims for external recognition or gratefully presented him as an exceptional example of a good father; (iii) as taking up parental leave and doing care work contradict hegemonic masculinity, this was compensated for by the construction of a father’s leave taking as a highly masculine act of being courageous.

New Gender Roles in Doing Families

As discussed earlier, on-going transformation of gender roles, reflected predominantly in shifts of women’s position in the social sphere and within the family, imposed changes in the gendered economic provision for a family and organization of family life. Women’s increasing employment was not accompanied by a reduction in women’s household chores and care responsibilities, nor by substantial engagement of men in household duties or care. More and more scholars indicate that a redefinition of men’s role within the family is crucial for progressing in transformation of gender roles (see e.g. Esping-Andersen and Billari 2015; Goldscheider et al. 2015). Along with empowering mothers as economic providers, the new role of fathers should be strengthened. New fatherhood is generally defined as a present, more involved and caring father (Tanturri et al. 2016). There is some evidence that fatherhood is in transition in Europe in terms of both social norms and practices, however that process is strongly diversified across countries (Goldscheider et al. 2015). The transition from the male breadwinner model to the dual-earner—dual-carer model is more advanced in the Dual-Earner cluster (i.e. Nordic countries), while more traditional perception of fatherhood still prevails in the Familialistic and Transition Post-Socialist clusters (i.e. the Mediterranean and in Central-Eastern Europe).

Assuming that fathers’ time with children reflects how the country is progressing in new fatherhood, Tanturri et al. (2016) relied on Time Use Survey data to examine fathers’ involvement in the family in Sweden, Italy, France, and the United Kingdom, that is in countries of various welfare regimes and with a range of policies on work-family reconciliation. Three indicators were used: the total time of fathers spent with their children, the time spent alone with children, and the time fathers allocated to childcare. The results show that the Dual-Earner cluster (Sweden) progressed most in the transition to involved fatherhood, followed by the Liberal cluster (United Kingdom). Fewer advances were seen for the Familialistic and the General Family Support clusters, respectively. Italian fathers spend more total time with children than did fathers in France, while the opposite holds for the time spent alone with children. French fathers allocate a similar quantity of time to child care as fathers in the UK and in Italy, however the share of time for caring alone is visibly higher in France. In searching for factors that matter most for fathers’ involvement with children, it was found that the most involved fathers are those with a high school certificate. Hence, the increasing number of more highly educated men may strengthen the progress of new fatherhood. Another stimulating factor seems to be the growing prevalence of dual earner couples—men are more engaged with their children especially when their partner works full time, compared to male breadwinner families. Also, more favourable working conditions (being a clerk or working less than 35 hours a week) increase fathers’ involvement in family life, while working long hours diminished fathers’ time dedicated to children.

Another aspect of the interrelationship between changing gender roles and doing families refers to patterns of housework division between men and women in different family models by their labour market involvement. A comparative study of ten European countries, relying on data from the European Social Survey, investigated how housework is divided between men and women across various family models and how the patterns vary across welfare regimes with different work-family reconciliation policies and gender norms (Fahlén 2015). The results suggest the importance of occupational position within the couple to understand how time is allocated to cope with work and home demands: dual-career couples (both partners are at the higher occupational levels), female-career couples and female single-earner couples divide the housework more equally than do dual-earner couples. However, this result can be attributed to the fact that women do less housework when being more engaged in paid work but not to increased housework by their partner. Moreover, outcomes on men’s and women’s actual housework hours suggest that occupational position matters more for women than for men. Smaller gender differences in the division of housework were shown in Dual-Earner cluster countries, with more institutional support for work-family reconciliation and less traditional gender norms. Moreover, the results suggest that dual-earner families and dual-career families are confronted with different challenges to combine work and home duties. They also have different capabilities to cope with these challenges, especially in countries with weaker support for work-family reconciliation. The gender gap in doing housework is largest in countries with more traditional gender norms for both dual-earner and dual-career couples, especially so in the Transition Post-Socialist cluster (i.e. Central-Eastern Europe).

Coping Strategies in Family and Work Reconciliation Under Conditions of Uncertainty and Precariousness, and Impacts on Fertility

Low fertility is a major concern in Europe, strongly influenced by career expectations, couples’ education, and possibilities of combining work and family life. The labour market prospects, especially job uncertainty and instability are being broadly voiced as crucial factors for becoming a parent and/or having subsequent children, despite significant cross-country differences with respect to fertility and the labour market situation. Hence, we focus here on coping strategies of families as expressed in the fertility intentions of both women and men, reducing the knowledge gap of especially men’s responses to economic uncertainty.

The comparative study by Fahlén and Oláh (2015) on the interplay between societal economic conditions, individual economic uncertainty, and short-term childbearing intentions in ten European countries representing different welfare regimes made use of the data from the European Social Survey (2004/05 and 2010/11). The aggregated short-term childbearing intentions of childless people and of one-child parents were analysed in relation to changes in unemployment and employment protection. In addition, the micro-level association between childbearing intentions and perceived economic uncertainty was addressed. The study reveals that economic uncertainty impacts short-term childbearing intentions across welfare states, but the association varies by gender and parity. Childless men and one-child fathers are those responding most to changes in unemployment risks, while job protection is important mainly for the childbearing plans of one-child mothers and childless men. Also the micro-level findings confirm that perceived economic uncertainty is an important factor for childbearing plans, however this impact again varies by gender, age, parenthood status, and the institutional context. Especially, the low intentions among fathers in the Transition Post-Socialist cluster (Central-Eastern Europe) indicate that in institutional contexts that promote a more traditional gender division of work and care, a highly uncertain economic situation in terms of employment-, income security and unemployment risks substantially reduces fathers’ intentions to have a second child. This offers additional arguments in favour of supporting women’s employment and gender equality to counteract negative impacts of economic uncertainty on the family economic situation and consequently, on fathers’ plans to have more children.

Research on childbearing decisions seen as outcomes of coping strategies in work and family reconciliation under economic uncertainty and precariousness in Switzerland, a Liberal cluster country, goes beyond the approach usually applied to examine the relationship between employment and fertility, in which only women’s job characteristics (e.g. employment status, work hours) are focused on (Hanappi et al. 2014). To understand more clearly the linkages between the institutional context, employment uncertainty, and fertility of men and women this study investigates how subjective perceptions about job stability and job prestige influence fertility intentions of both women and men living in a partnership. In addition, a mediating role of gender attitudes, defined as approval/disapproval of maternal employment, is taken into account. The results of the analyses of data from the Swiss Household Panel confirm gendered impacts of stability and prestige of jobs on fertility intentions, moderated for men by gender attitudes. Perceived job instability reduces women’s intentions for a first child but motherhood sets off any employment-related effects. Contrary to expectations, job instability increases fertility intentions of men who disapprove of maternal employment. The job prestige matters only for men—its direct effect on first and subsequent child intentions is positive. However, this effect turns negative for men who do not approve of maternal employment. In searching for possible explanations, references have been made to the Liberal welfare regime promoting the family with male breadwinning, the labour market being unsupportive of reconciliation of employment and childrearing, and the gender system being at the early stage of transformation. In general, these outcomes confirm that impacts of the job instability on fertility intentions vary by gender and parity and are strongly associated with gender attitudes.


Because the interplay between family changes and transformation of gender roles is increasingly recognized in contemporary scholarship of the family, in this chapter we addressed both processes in Europe. We acknowledged their context dependence focusing on groups of countries by welfare regime/policy configuration types in our discussion on the evolution of family patterns and gender roles. Within this general conceptual framework we presented new evidence on implications for family dynamics generated by women’s new role and changes in men’s role enforced by women’s emancipation. Hence, the main research outcomes discussed either from a comparative perspective or based on country-specific studies depict gendered patterns of partnership formation and transitions to parenthood as well as of the organization of family life with emphasis on involved fatherhood. As family life is increasingly influenced by labour market developments, coping strategies in family and work reconciliation under conditions of uncertainty and precariousness have been addressed as well.

Changing family patterns resulted in increasingly diverse family biographies even though originating in common trends. In addition, in most societies in Europe, transformation of gender roles in the public sphere has progressed much further than in the family. Differences in timing and intensity of gender and family changes produced differences in outcomes, especially comparing Dual-Earner regime countries with societies of the Familialistic and the Transition Post-Socialist clusters. However, within-cluster diversity cannot be neglected either. Both types of differences reflect the importance of the institutional settings, economic structures, and culture for the evolution of family patterns and gender roles alike.

As discussed, new research findings highlight the crucial role of the gender gap reversal in education for partnership formation and fertility. However, women’s increasing importance as economic providers to the family is challenged by the gendered transition to parenthood. Especially fathers’ entitlements to and use of leave, influenced also by workplace and job characteristics, are crucial for men’s family involvement and sharing childrearing. Societal and institutional support varies across clusters, impacting family life. Similarly, patterns of housework division between women and men differ by family models based on the labour market participation of partners, and across welfare regimes.

Changes in doing family have been more affected by women’s paid work engagement than by men’s job characteristics. Transitions towards dual earning, in turn, may counteract negative impacts of economic uncertainty on fertility intentions, in particular on men’s plans to have children. This new research evidence presented here, based predominantly on microlevel data and integrating qualitative and quantitative approaches, extends existing knowledge on new gender roles and their implications for families and societies.