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Why Odd Times Suit Working Mothers

Non-Standard Work Schedules and Childbearing in the Netherlands: A Mixed-Method Couple Analysis
Source: IuriiSokolov

The increasing labour force participation of women is considered one of the most significant social changes of the past decades and has had a profound impact on the household division of labour and childbearing decisions. The growth in female labour market participation and the resulting difficulties in combining work and family duties does not only impact the number of hours women work, but it also impacts their working times.

Katia Begall, Melinda Mills and Harry Ganzeboom examined the effect of working at non-standard times on the transition to first childbirth, and from the first to the second child in the Netherlands. Non-standard schedules refer to paid employment outside standard office hours, carried out before 7 am and after 6 pm or anytime on the weekend. Using quantitative couple data from two waves of the Netherlands Kinship Panel Study and semi-structured qualitative interviews with a subsample of respondents from the same panel, the authors explored the relationship between non-standard work hours and fertility decisions from different perspectives and in a longitudinal research design.


Fathers can participate more

Results show that couples with a female partner working a non-standard schedule had a lower probability of having their first child. This negative effect of working schedules was found to be largely explained by the intention to have a child. However, the chances of having a second child were higher when male or female partners worked non-standard schedules. This positive effect is attributed partly to the higher involvement of fathers in childcare when one of the partners works non-standard schedules. In the qualitative interviews, both fathers who worked non-standard times or days and their partners stated that these fathers were around more often during the day, which enabled them to spend more time with their children and do things “normal (Dutch) fathers” do not often do, such as picking the children up from school.

In this sense, non-standard schedules not only afforded more time, but actually enabled fathers to adopt a different role within the family. A shared perception among fathers in the qualitative sample who worked non-standard hours was that they knew more about the daily lives of their children.


Mothers adjust their work schedules to meet family needs

The analysis of qualitative data also showed that women tend to adapt the working life according to the family situation: they choose jobs that match their family needs and, if necessary, change their hours or even withdraw from paid employment. Some form of schedule change as a response to the family situation was present for virtually all couples interviewed in the survey. This flexibility in adjusting working hours is guaranteed by law in the Netherlands, which grants employees a high degree of control over the number of hours and times they work.

Many couples in the survey had a preference for the personal care of their children rather than relying on formal care arrangements and non-standard schedules served as a means to achieve this.


*This PopDigest has received funding from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° 320116  for the research project FamiliesAndSocieties.
FamiliesAndSocieties ( has the aim to investigate the diversity of family forms, relationships and life courses in Europe, to assess the compatibility of existing policies with these changes, and to contribute to evidence-based policy-making. The consortium brings together 25 leading universities and research institutes in 15 European countries and three transnational civil society organizations.

Author(s) of the original publication: 
Daniela Vono de Vilhena / Sigrun Matthiesen