Gender cultures and the division of labour in contemporary Europe: a cross-national perspective



Drawing on the vast literature concerned with the cultural aspects of gender, this article explores the ways in which individuals living in different national contexts value the ideal of a dual earner/dual carer couple at the expense of the male breadwinner model. Via a comparison of fifteen European countries included in the Family and Gender Roles module of the 2002 International Social Survey Programme (ISSP), three attitudinal patterns were identified: the unequal sharing that portrays a male breadwinner norm, the familistic unequal that also endorses a gender-segregated arrangement though with a greater wish for men's involvement in housework and childcare, and the dual earner/dual carer model, which, despite covering nearly 40 per cent of respondents, is very unequally distributed across countries. It is proposed that societal gender cultures are of major importance to an understanding of cross-national variations in attitudes and their relationship with the real forms of gender division of labour. The connection between couples' attitudes and practices is thus examined in order to assess the extent to which support for the dual earner/dual carer model encourages couples to engage in more equal sharing of paid and unpaid work. Findings reveal the importance of the normative dimension insofar as the impact of attitudes on practices seems to depend on the historical pathways of gender cultures and the ways in which they underpin welfare policies and female employment.