In Depth: Men need to be with families too: progress towards caring masculinities in MiC countries

By Teresa Jurado-Guerrero and Irina Fernández-Lozano

Many men do not like to devote their lives only to careers and work, and to pay the price of absence from their families and social environments (Scambor, Wojnicka, & Bergmann, 2012). In all MiC participant countries, men are more affected by overwork (desired work hours being lower than real work hours) than women, with gender differences especially remarkable in Austria and Germany[1] (Eurofound, European Working Conditions Survey, 2015). The demand for a shift in men’s access to work-life balance resources is expressed timidly yet, given the strongly rooted ‘male breadwinner/female caretaker’ model, as well as other structural economic factors.

Trends to caring masculinities are slow and differ by country. They become visible mainly in two ways: in men’s participation in care work in the family and their use of fathers leave. Men are getting more and more involved in unpaid work, especially in care of children, as the MiC country reports show. In Norway, fathers have increased their daily care work of children in the last decades on average half an hour until 2010. In Spain, fathers with children in preschool age have increased their participation in housework and family care, especially in dishwashing and household upkeep on one hand, and in general childcare and teaching, reading and talking activities with children below age six, on the other hand, between 2003 and 2010. In Poland, between 2000 and 2010 among couples with the youngest child below age 6, men participated slightly more in household and family care duties and significantly more in the care of children (12 pp increase). Likewise, the gender gap in care of family members has narrowed similarly in Slovenia since 2005. In Iceland, fathers’ participation in care of their children has increased constantly from 2000 and onward, or since the legislation on equal rights of both parents to paid parental leave was enacted. Repeated surveys among parents of their first-borns show clearly how fathers increase their share in care of children, not only during the paid parental leave but also after that.

Related to a higher involvement of fathers in the care of children is the increasing uptake of fathers’ leave, when it is non-transferable and highly paid. Fathers in Iceland took on average 40 days of parental leave and it increased to an average of 90 days in 2017. In Spain, as much as 80% of employed fathers had used their entitlement to paternity leave (an average of 30 days) in 2018. In Norway 71% of men who fathered children in 2013 and 2014 used the four-week father’s quota or more days of paid leave. In Slovenia, fathers’ use of paid paternity leave increased from 70% of fathers who used 15 paid days in 2004 to 81% of fathers in 2017. In Poland, men’s use of the statutory paternity leave was of more than 38 men per 100 live births and on average they used 13.2 days in 2016. In Germany, in 2006, only 3.5% of fathers applied for the upbringing allowance, while the new parental benefit was claimed by a much higher number of fathers, up to 37% in 2016. Considering the different options of parental leave in Austria, men’s take-up rate is 30,66% within the income-dependent childcare allowance and varies between 10,3% and 26,7% within the different flat-rate allowances depending on the duration of the leave (cf. BMFJ 2018). However, fathers in Austria normally choose shorter time periods of allowance than mothers.

Societal support for male caregivers

There is a variety of ways in which society can contribute creating the proper environment for men to engage in care activities, either paid or unpaid.  Male caregivers need first of all to gain visibility, through lobbying, research, campaigns and other far-reaching coordination activities. In recent times, networks, campaigns and organizations promoting alternative forms of masculinity have spread in several European countries, such as the German office Men in Kindergartens or the Polish campaign to promote the use of paternity leave (“Pole! Go on paternity leave!” 2008). More examples can be found in the contextual reports for Germany and Poland.

Trade unions play a decisive role in putting work-life balance issues in the political agenda. In Iceland, this is the case for the demand of a shorter work week for all working population.  In some countries (like Norway) some companies are already pioneering this change, with positive results in terms of productivity and employees’ wellbeing. A 40 hour work week is quite unsustainable for most dual-earner couples with childcare responsibilities, especially for those in the low and middle-class who cannot outsource domestic work. Therefore, families tend to adopt the ‘one-and-a-half’ earner model (Hook & Wolfe, 2013) by which it is women who end up decreasing their participation in the labour market. Public discourses on work-life balance should underscore the business case for serious commitments with employees’ work-life balance needs, without any gender (or other) bias. Providing employees with family and personal time is in companies’ best interest too. 

The introduction of company certificates can enhance companies’ adoption of good practices. In some countries, Family-friendly certificates are acquiring increasing popularity among companies, but, as in the case of Slovenia or Spain, they do not introduce a clear gender perspective, so indicators end up being targeted at women. Gender Equality Plans are important instruments to contribute overcoming these biases.

In general, companies are taking steps to create parents-friendly environments in workplaces through a variety of measures: from establishing “office core hours” for meetings to mentoring systems for men on leave. As our Austrian and German partners point out, how effective these measures are depends substantially on their being based on (space and time) flexibility for employees, and their having a long-term scope. Supervisors and co-workers engagement with male employees’ adopting work-life balance measures is crucial. As our Icelandic partners put it: “[e]mployees may be more attuned to such [supervisors’ and coworkers’ support] signals as they are more immediate and in any case, costs of caring are accrued on the floor rather than in vaguely worded policy documents”.

To end with, it must be underscored that care goes beyond parenting. A further step to take by national and company level policies must be to overcome the assumption that care equals parenting, as the variety of caregivers’ models will increase with the ageing of society, and alternative forms of care (as care for the elderly or disable) should gain more visibility.


Hook, J. L., & Wolfe, C. M. (2013). Parental involvement and work schedules: Time with children in the United States, Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom. European Sociological Review, 29

(3), 411–425.

Scambor, E., Wojnicka, K., & Bergmann, N. (Eds.). (2012). The Role of Men in Gender Equality - European strategies & insights.


[1] In Austria the percentages are 25% (women) and 32%(men), in Germany 25% and 34%, in Spain 28% and 34%, in Norway 28% and 29%, in Poland 20% and 26%, and in Slovenia 24% and 28%. No data available for Iceland.

Last changed: 23.02.2021