Culture or institutions?

What Influences the caring choices of young families?


Steve Saxonberg,Masaryk University (Czech Republic)


We conducted interviews with over 200 families in Sweden, Norway, the Czech Republic and Slovakia about how they made their caring decisions for their children under 3. In addition to asking them how they actually made their decisions, we also asked them what their ideal caring arrangements would have been if there had not been any economic constraints. In addition, we also asked them vignette questions about how they would have acted if policies had been different. The idea was to try and ascertain what possible effects culture and institutions have on caring choices at the micro level. In the Czech and Slovak Republics it appears that the vast majority of the population takes as given the norm of threeness that institutional developments in the communist era developed, under which the mother is expected to stay at home until each child reaches the age of three. Despite cultural differences in the Czech and Slovak republics, there was no difference in their belief in the strong norm of threeness. Similarly, despite cultural differences between Norway and Sweden, we did not find much difference in how parents made their caring decisions, but they differed radically from the Czech and Slovak Republics. While accepting the basic norms behind their countries’ family policies (i.e. that parents should share in the leave time and children should attend daycare), they differed greatly on the perceived best length of parental leave. Although parental leave benefits are for 12-13 months, on both countries most parents thought the children should stay at home from 15-24 months. This great degree of variation among parents could be caused by the greater degree of post-modern values and individualization compared to the Czech and Slovak Republics, but it also reflects the greater flexibility on parental leave policies enjoyed in Norway and Sweden. The findings also indicate that fathers would likely share more equally in parental leave if the benefits were increased from 12-13 months to 18-24 months. This goes counter to much literature that claims that long parental leaves hurt women, but our findings indicate it is important to differentiate between the degree of generosity of leaves rather than just looking at their length.


International seminar


European Centre