Managing Work and Care: A Difficult Challenge for Immigrant Families


Karin Wall, Institute of Social Sciences, Av. Professor Aníbal de Bettencourt 9, 1600-189 Lisbon, Portugal. Email:


This paper explores the strategies used by immigrant families to reconcile work and care for young children in Finland, France, Italy and Portugal. Drawing upon interviews with couples or lone parents who have children below age ten, it shows that immigrant families rely on a diversity of work/care strategies. These strategies include extensive delegation of care (mostly to formal or non-familial informal care), negotiation of care within the nuclear family (both partners sharing the care responsibilities as well as older child care), mother-centredness (mothers cutting back on working hours), child negligence (leaving children alone) and the superimposition of care upon work (taking children to work). Almost all immigrant families, but especially first-generation ones, suffer from the absence of close kin networks to support childcare, strong pressure to work and from work (long or atypical hours) and various integration problems such as social isolation, lack of information on services, and problems with housing. However, our findings show that migration patterns, among other factors, have a significant impact on work/care strategies. Highly qualified “professional migration” is more associated with extensive paid delegation (often private and high-cost), “marriage migration” with mother-centredness, and “unskilled worker migration” with low-cost solutions supplemented by workplace care, older child care and negligence. First-generation unskilled worker migrant families are more exposed to occupational and residential segregation, atypical working hours, low earnings and difficulties in managing work and care for young children. Findings point to the still weak regulatory function of the different welfare states in the protection of these families.