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Travail, famille : le nouveau contrat par Marie-Agnès Barrère-Maurisson, Paris: Éditions Gallimard, collection Folio Actuel, 2003, 196 pp., ISBN 2-07-042748-X.

  • Diane-Gabrielle Tremblay

…plus d’informations

  • Diane-Gabrielle Tremblay

Corps de l’article

This book deals with work-family balancing and family division of labour issues from a societal perspective, taking into account employment and unemployment issues as well as fecundity and childcare issues in different societies. The analysis is centered on France, but also examines the situation in other countries, for comparative purposes.

The author studies the relationship between work and family and considers that the two spheres should be considered simultaneously, although many disciplines and researchers consider work and family separately. It must be recognized that recent development of studies on work-family balancing issues in many countries, particularly the U.S. and Canada, has increased interest in a simultaneous consideration of family and work, which is precisely what the theoretical thrust of this book is about.

The book underlines the need for a new approach to family and work issues, and the author stresses the need for a linkage between the two spheres, rather than the usual separation observed in many works. The author presents the need for an analysis centered on the articulation between production and reproduction spheres and indicates this is necessary in the present context characterized by demographic, economic, social, and political challenges. The principle of “family division of labour” is seen as a key to reading the various socio-economic phenomena of our societies as well as their evolution. The book demonstrates and supports the different assumptions underlying the theoretical construct of “family division of labour.”

The first chapter highlights how professional life and family life are simultaneously private and public challenges. On the basis of her previous research on various types of couples, in several sectors, the author shows how firms also use the family division of labour in their employment policies. She also indicates that there are three models of work-family relations based on the major role of one actor. In the first model, the family assumes the regulation between work and family and also between men and women; it is a case of familialistic policies. In the second case, the labour market or firms play the main role; strangely, the author describes this case as a “feminist” case, extending somewhat the meaning of the word. Finally, in the last case, the State assumes the main role, sometimes through local communities or cities; in this case, we have an egalitarian perspective. These cases will be developed more fully later in the book, with international comparisons, while the first chapter is focused on couples and based on studies done in France, that can, however, very easily be transposed to other countries inasmuch as many types of couples and families are found in all countries.

The second chapter presents an overview of the historical evolution between work and the family in the last 30 years in France. This analysis can be extended to other countries, even if specific years and periods will differ from country to country.

Chapter 3 examines the distribution of paid and domestic work and family types and the author presents distinctions between various types of tasks and social times. While many studies only differentiate between domestic and paid work, the author introduces the notion of parental time, as well as professional time, domestic time, personal or free time, and physiological time (eating, bathing, etc.).

Chapter 4 is centered on the different social logics that can be observed in various countries. Without presenting a full detailed analysis of each country, the chapter highlights how societal cohesion is created in each country. The dominant role of the family, of the market or of the state is again highlighted. The author stresses the fact that family structures and work-family balancing issues take on different societal forms in different societies or countries.

She then compares the macro-social modes of regulation of the relationship between family and work in various societies to highlight the differences and the usefulness of such a comparative societal analysis. These comparisons are useful not only for macro-economic analysis of work and family issues that can be extended to Canada and the U.S., but also for analysis of the labour market situation of women and of work-family balancing issues.

In chapter 5, extending the regulationist perspective, the author draws on some elements of the French Regulationist School, enlarging the perspective to include family issues and their analysis. The author states that there are high levels of overall coherence within societies and that within each society, or within each period in a given society, there is a specific mode of regulation of family-work issues which is an expression of a specific relationship between the dominant economic structure and particular family structures. She highlights elements of recent evolutions of European countries, and especially the fact that many have evolved from a State dominance to a plurality of actors in these issues. The author also points out differences in various countries, from traditional countries (Spain, Japan) to more modern ones, where either the State dominates (Sweden, and to a lesser extent France), and USA and Netherlands, where the market dominates the work-family relation. Chapter 5 presents a very detailed analysis of several national situations, contrasting them one with another.

The book can be useful for research on work-family issues as well as for sociology of work or labour economics courses, since the dimensions of work and family should be covered in such courses and this book offers an original perspective to analyse both simultaneously. This literature may not be familiar or well known to feminist economists working on work-family issues in non French-speaking countries and this book certainly offers some interesting theoretical insights for labour economics, sociology of work and feminist economics.