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Good parents and bad jobs

Depending on the country, nonstandard work shifts can mean work-life reconciliation or a tough labour market

Nonstandard work shifts (NSS) are a controversial feature of labour markets. To some, they represent degradation of working conditions; to others, the flexib­ility needed to enter the labour market in tough times and reconcile work with home life.

Figure 1 shows the variety of ways in which economic conditions, labour mar­ket rules, family policies, and social norms interact.1 Across the EU, we see the slice of total work hours made up by those in NSS ranges from less than 10% to 40%. In some countries, like Greece, NSS are less likely worked by parents, whereas in others, such as the Netherlands, it’s more likely.

Source: European Labour Force Survey 2010, author’s calculations; sample - working population, aged 15+


But to what extent do parents choose NSS and to what extent do they become a victim of them? In many eastern EU countries, part-time and NSS workers are less protected by national labour laws—meaning parents are unlikely to opt for these arrangements, but rather are pushed into them. In the Netherlands, how­ever, NSS work is highly regulated, making it attractive for households trying to reconcile childcare and employment. Here, surveys indicate that NSS allow parents to desynchronise their schedules and engage in “tag-team parenting”, effectively minimising the hours children are in formal childcare.

In countries like the Netherlands, NSS are facilitating the slow transition away from the male-breadwinner to a one-and-a-half-breadwinner model. We should not ignore that women are overwhelmingly overrepresented in these part-time ‘and-a-half’ positions. But, perhaps, neither should we neglect households’ de­sire for a little flexibility.

Melinda Mills, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

[1] Kadri Täht and Melinda C. Mills (2016), Out of Time, Springer.