Vanessa Cunha

Vanessa Cunha
Vanessa Cunha (University of Lisbon, ICS-ULisboa)

Research fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences from the University of Lisbon (ICS-ULisboa). Her main topics of research are low fertility and postponement; childbearing decisions and transitions; work-family life balance and gender equality. She coordinated the research project The double postponement: men and women coping with childbearing intentions in their late 30s and early 40s (2012-2015) and currently she is involved in the research project Men’s Roles in a Gender Equality Perspective.
Institutional contact: vanessa.cunha@ics.ulisboa.pt

Negotiating gender roles in family life: the caring father and the work-family balance in dual-earner couples with young children

The concern with work-family balance is a recurrent topic in the Portuguese political agenda since the mid-1970s, and it has often been emerging intertwined with gender equality endorsement. This is due to the longstanding gender imbalances in family life regarding paid and unpaid work, even though dual-earner/full-time couples with young children are the foremost prevailing reality for several decades.

Recent national statistics and survey data on couples’ division of paid and unpaid work (ISSP-2012) reveal the persistent state of affairs: men work more hours in paid work and take on the smaller share of the housework and childcare; women take the majority of leaves to care for sick children and there is a strong feminization of routine and time-consuming tasks. So, this means that the onus of reconciling family life and work life has been falling largely on women’s shoulders, and that there is still a long way to go for couples to achieve more balanced ways of sharing this crucial domain of family life.

If this is the broad picture, figures also show the emergence of a more equal sharing pattern regarding housework and even more childcare in the younger couples. So things are gradually shifting, and men’s growing commitment in the parental role is a chief key-driver. In fact, nowadays most fathers of young children attempt to bring about a new father by emotional closeness and daily-involvement in the caring role.

In this presentation we will draw on several interviews from a recent research project, wherein both fathers and mothers from dual-earner couples with young children were interviewed separately. We will examine how fathers’ involvement in the parental role is being negotiated, engendered and achieved in the couple; how this may imply undoing gender in daily life for men and women; and how it promotes more balanced ways of reconciling paid and unpaid work.