Work, Family and Happiness

Research programme, Department of Sociology, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Interdependencies between work, family life, and happiness form the starting point of the research programme. The objective is to investigate how changing social contexts, from macro-societal to micro-interpersonal, affect social participation, social cohesion, social inequality, and well-being, and vice versa.

Work conditions are undergoing dramatic changes under the influence of modernisation, digitisation, globalization, population ageing, and the influx of women into the job market. Modern careers no longer assume life-long dedication to a single organisation. The labour market has polarized into a sector with high incomes and job security, and one with low incomes and little job security. Productivity demands have increased, and organisations are transferring activities to low-wage countries. Structural imbalances characterize the labour market, e.g. the discrepancy between workers’ expectations for upward mobility throughout their working life and the inability of organizations to accommodate large numbers of older workers, the mismatch between the technical skills that organizations require and the skills that inadequately educated workers have to offer, and the lack of change in the formal and informal rules of the breadwinner model (which assumes a gendered division of paid and unpaid work) and women’s integration into the labour market. The research programme addresses these structural imbalances, asking questions about organisations’ and policy makers’ responses, and the emergence of new inequalities and new forms of social exclusion against the backdrop of welfare state policies.

Processes such as individualisation, secularisation, multiculturalisation, and emancipation underlie the changes that have been taking place in families. The growth in partnerships outside of marriage, divorce, remarriage and the formation of stepfamilies have created complex family networks. Increases in longevity have created families where members of successive generations are living together for six decades or more; it is not uncommon to have two generations of retirees in families. The growing wage gap between poor and rich countries, the increased demand for care services in developed countries, and improved transportation and communication services have contributed to a rise in transnational families, where members live across national borders. Family constellations are relevant in view of gendered care responsibilities and care provision. The research programme examines the risks for social inequality and social exclusion that are connected with different divisions of care responsibilities between men and women in families, the (informal) market, civil society, and public arrangements.

Linkages between families, the labour market, civil society, and welfare state policies shape work and care arrangements, and vice versa. Institutional frameworks support individual autonomy, support the choice to assume caring obligations, or impose dependencies between men and women and between family generations. Work and care arrangements are a reflection of cultural values shaped by socio-economic and political contexts. People take decisions relating to work, care and their personal life with reference to moral and socially negotiated views about what conduct is right and proper. The research programme explicitly considers preferences and norms together with institutional frameworks when addressing the interdependencies between work, family life, and happiness. Attention is also paid to the issue of whether the assumptions underlying policy measures concur with the meanings attached to them by public servants and citizens.

Institutional frameworks shape the conditions for the satisfaction of human needs, determining the livability of societies. The research programme focuses on livability to address changes in quality of life, identifying winners and losers in social transformations.

In examining the interdependencies between work, family and happiness, the research programme distinguishes and recognises a spectrum of levels and units: the individual, dyad (parent-child, partners), family, organisation, labour market, region, historical generation, and country. Efforts are made to find out what welfare state policies, organisational characteristics and labour market arrangements actually entail by using and gathering information on incentives or disincentives for work and family life, and on conditions for happiness. The research programme adopts theoretical pluralism, selecting and tailoring theoretical frameworks to fit the problems under investigation.