Livia Oláh, Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology.
Livia Oláh, Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology.

“We see a trend of increasing divorce and separation and increased risk of poverty for women and children, especially single mothers and elderly women. Thus it is very important to make sure every individual regardless of gender should be able to support themselves and their children. This is a key issue”, says Livia Oláh, Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology, Stockholm University.

Scandinavia could be seen as an example for many EU countries, says Dr. Oláh. For example, in Southern Europe (Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Portugal and Spain) there are currently limited opportunities for parental leave, while the traditional gender roles in the family and society remain strong. The birth rate in these countries is also so low that it is considered to be at a critical level, in that it accelerates aging.

“It is important to have a balanced age structure, not least from an economic perspective. Too few births accelerate the aging process in a society. As the proportion of elderly in the population increases too quickly, the economy cannot cope with the rapidly increasing expenditures on pensions, health care and care for the elderly, especially when the labor force, and thus the tax base, is shrinking”, says Dr. Oláh.

“In Sweden, we seem to have a winning concept: both women and men are in employment, the number of children born is sufficiently high to ensure a balanced age structure, and Sweden is also one of the countries with the lowest percentage of people living in poverty”, says Dr. Oláh.

Increased gender equality is needed in the EU

The EU as a whole needs long-term work on gender equality. This includes both behavioral and attitudinal changes and policies that make it possible to combine work and family. It is particularly important to strengthen fathers’ participation in the family. Rules on paternity leave at EU level would give clear support for such changes. In many countries of the EU there is still limited access to childcare for children up to three years, and large investments are required for this group in particular.

“Public childcare is also important to reduce the differences in children's and young people's life chances regardless of family background. The opportunity to take leave of absence from work should also be extended to the care of relatives who are elderly or have a disability”, says Livia Oláh.

The family concept needs to be expanded

Livia Oláh emphasizes that policy-makers and employers need to have a dynamic view of what a family is, to meet the needs of future families. One cannot assume that every family consists of a mother and a father who are married and have two children. The family concept needs to include childless people, bonus (step) parents, same-sex couples, single parents, couples who live-apart-together, grandparents and other constellations, she says.

“Politicians need to have an open and inclusive perspective because we do not know what new family forms will emerge in the future. When we have a greater proportion of older people in the society, and a development in which we live longer, we also need to strengthen and expand the contact between generations in order to enhance well-being, both for families and individuals in the community”, says Livia Oláh.

More about the research

The project “FamiliesAndSocieties” will hold its final conference in Brussels on 18th of October 2016. Please read more at: http://www.sociology.su.se/english/about-us/events/final-conference-familiesandsocieties-1.300911

Also see www.familiesandsocieties.eu