A ‘daddy day’? More time to spend at home? A sense of well-being for men doesn’t necessarily come from working part-time. In fact, they’re happier if they can ‘simply’ work full-time. That was one of the conclusions of sociologist Sean de Hoon’s doctoral research into the impact of family relationships and parenthood on disparities in happiness, income and health. He will defend his thesis on Thursday 13 April.
Traditionally, social inequalities in income, health and happiness were attributed to individual characteristics, such as level of education. But this doesn’t explain everything. Why do men still earn more than women even though women now have a higher level of education on average?
A focus on environmental factors – such as family and the country a person lives in – is needed to explain these and similar inequalities. In a doctoral thesis financed by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), sociologist Sean de Hoon conducted research into the role of spousal relationships and parenthood on disparities in income, health and happiness. In his research he used statistical analyses and data from large-scale survey-based studies.
Full-time and part-time
For one of the studies in his thesis, De Hoon researched disparities in happiness in relation to working part-time or full-time. Which environmental factors are significant?
His research revealed that there is only a difference in happiness between full-time and part-time workers among people with school-age children. In this situation, women who work part-time are happier. According to De Hoon, this is because they experience fewer conflicts between their work-related and family-related responsibilities. Men, however, are happier when they work full-time. “This allows them to fulfil the traditional expectations of the man in the role of the breadwinner,” says De Hoon.
De Hoon also explored the ‘marriage premium’: the fact that married men often earn more than single men. This income perk is often explained through the theory that married men have to take on the role of breadwinner and this causes them to focus more on their work. As a result, they earn a higher income.
But De Hoon discovered that a country’s culture also plays an important role. In countries where more inequality exists between men and women, such as Ireland and Hungary, the marriage premium is also higher. In these countries, there is more pressure to take on the role of breadwinner. The marriage premium is also higher in countries with relatively few divorces (such as Japan). If there is less opportunity for the option of divorce, men will likely invest more heavily in their relationships and correspondingly experience more pressure to live up to the role of breadwinner.
Impact of children
The doctoral candidate also carried out research into the phenomenon of how motherhood has a significant negative impact on women’s income (this is referred to as the motherhood penalty). However, De Hoon’s research showed that the impact of the first child is far greater than the impact of the second or third child, leading to his tongue-in-cheek remark suggesting that: “In order to avoid a drop in their income, women would be better off skipping the first child.”
The researcher believes that taken together, the marriage premium and the motherhood penalty contribute to persistent income disparity between men and women.
Challenging assigned roles
Based on his research, De Hoon argues that policy-makers who wish to reduce disparities would be well advised to attempt making the roles assigned to men and women less traditional. “One way of doing this would be to ensure that men get more involved in parenting, childcare and running the home. An example of a policy measure is a ‘daddy quota’. This is a scheme in Scandinavian countries that specifically reserves part of the parental leave for fathers.”
The doctoral thesis: Family interdependencies: Partnerships, parenthood and well-being in context
About Sean de Hoon
Sean de Hoon (Dordrecht, 1987) obtained his bachelor diploma in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences and his research master diploma (with distinction) in Migration, Ethnic Relations and Multiculturalism at Utrecht University. His doctoral research has been financed with an NWO Research Talent Grant.