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Siesta Break vs Family Time

Does the Spanish Work Schedule Hurt Family Life?

Many Spanish parents work with a split-shift schedule, which consists of a long lunch break, sometimes two hours, that extends working activities until late in the evening. Empirical evidence by researchers Pablo Gracia (European University Institute) and Matthijs Kalmijn (University of Amsterdam) suggests that this schedule has negative consequences on parents’ time in family and child-related activities.

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Work Schedules and Family Time: The Case of Spain

The Spanish work schedule includes a singularity with respect to other European countries. Most people have a split-shift schedule, rooted in the traditional siesta, a long midday rest after lunch. Even though today hardly any Spanish employee actually takes a restful nap during the work break, data from the Spanish National Statistics Institute (INE) reveals that about 45% of employed parents in Spain still have a long lunch break (typically from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.). Especially for parents, this can be counterproductive because it forces many of them to work until late in the evening. Figure 1 shows how the proportion of parents engaging in paid work drops substantially between 2p.m. and 4p.m., while a substantial number of employed parents work from 8-9p.m.

Do work schedules affect family life? This question has been widely discussed in public policy debates in Spain. Spanish parents working the split shift often arrive home from work only when their young children are almost ready to go to bed, reducing the amount of time available to engage in child-related activities, like family socialising or child care. Given that family and parent-child activities are essential for a child’s well-being and family bonding, studying the conditions under which parental work schedules influence these activities has important scientific and public policy implications.


Study and Findings

The authors use data from the 2003 Spanish Time Use Survey for couples with children aged 0-9. Empirical analyses reveal that, indeed, working a split shift is negatively associated with parents’ time allocated to both family and parent-child activities. The results of Figure 2 are very clear, which show how parents working the split shift spend much less time in family and parent-child activities than those with a standard shift (9a.m. - 5p.m.). Other results reveal important gender inequalities. They find that women spend much more time with children when the spouse works during the evening, while men spend more of their time doing personal leisure activities without family. Finally, the authors find that working the evening-night shift reduces the time spent doing couple activities (away from children) and family activities, but not parents’ solo time with children.


Public Policy Implications

The findings of the study have important public policy implications. Spain has recently experienced an important process of modernisation along many economic and demographic indicators. Yet, the system of work schedules in Spain remains anchored in the long lunch break culture. This contradicts the demands of post-industrial economies and the family needs of contemporary dual-earner couples with child care demands. The fact that only about 15% of parents in Spain report control over their work schedules (INE) and that Spain in general has unfriendly family policies, implies that many parents would like to adapt their work schedules to meet their family priorities. Therefore, a radical change in the design of policies of paid work time would, in the end, allow parents to spend more time doing things they are interested in, including family socialising and child care.


Figure 1: Proportion of Parents Engaging in Paid Work Activities
Source: ‘2003 Spanish Time Use Survey’ (N = 2,832).


Figure 2. Daily Minutes in Family and Parent-Child Activities. Differences by Work Schedules
Source: ‘2003 Spanish Time Use Survey’ (N = 2,832).
Note: Parents with children aged 0-9. Diaries refer to a random weekday from Monday to Friday. The figure shows predicted values ​​on two multivariate linear regression models controlling for ‘age’, ‘gender’, ‘paid work hours’, ‘spouse’s paid work’, ‘education’, 'spouse’s education’, ‘domestic work help’, ‘number of children’, and 'child aged 0-2’. Differences are significant at 99%.