English title: Work–Life Balance in Europe: A Response to the Baby Bust or Reward for the Baby Boomers?

Author(s): John MacInnes -

Language: English

Type: Journal article

Year: 2006


The academic analysis of work–life balance (WLB) has too often followed the public policy debate without sufficient reflection on its origins, the accuracy of the assumptions it tends to make, or the analytical adequacy of the concepts it uses. This paper suggests that what are usually assumed to be the causes of the debate (longer hours and greater stress at work, along with the collapse of the male breadwinner division of parenting and employment responsibilities within couples) are nothing of the sort. Rather the debate's origins lie in states’ concerns about demographic trends, especially low and falling fertility, which they fear threatens the future of the labour supply and viable dependency ratios between those in work and those dependent upon them. The WLB debate can thus be seen as part of a specifically liberal discourse about ‘population ageing’ that seeks to legitimate the rolling back of a welfare state by arguing that current levels of support cannot be sustained in a globalising world. This analysis reveals two new features of WLB policies. First, most are quite contradictory. What makes them popular (such as enabling the ‘baby boomer’ generation to withdraw from work on favourable terms) also makes them unlikely to address their goal of specifically supporting parenting and avoiding a ‘baby bust’. Conversely effective support for parenting may require far more fundamental change than most WLB policies envisage. Second, demographic change has heightened the importance of the inter-generational transfer of resources between those now retired from employment, those currently in it, and those yet to enter it. This reveals a key feature of WLB policies to be how far these transfers are socialised or left to the family.

Volume: 8

Issue: 2

From page no: 223

To page no: 249

Refereed: Yes

DOI: 10.1080/14616690600644988

Journal: European Societies

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