Welfare states and working mothers : the Scandinavian experience / Arnlaug Leira
Author(s): Arnlaug Leira
Date: 1992

What is the relationship between women and the welfare state? How do women reconcile paid work and family responsibilities? These questions are of central political concern to nearly all Western indsutrialized countries and have provoked considerable scholarly disagreement. In this timely book, Dr Arnlaug Leira presents both a theoretical and an empirical analysis of the relationship between women’s lives, employment practices and childcare provision.

Focusing upon the social construction of motherhood in Scandinavia, Arnlaug Leira shows how, contrary to common perceptions, there is no shared model of welfare policies and women’s work. Instead, the position in Norway is significantly different from that in Sweden and Denmark. The author then presents an ethnographic analysis of the lives of working mothers in Norway. She details the complexity of the strategies by which women cope and support one another in combined earning and childcare in a situation where state provision is limited.

From her empirical material, Dr Leira convincingly argues for a theoretical approach that treats women as both earners and carers rather than, as has been the tendency, viewing them as either mothers or active in paid work. She also highlights some of the key processes in the gendering of welfare state citizenship, the hierarchy of work forms that accords primacy to wage-work, the presumption that caring is to remain predominantly a private responsibility, and the gendered division of labour.

Welfare states and working mothers will be widely read by students and specialists of sociology, social policy and administration, political science and women’s studies. It will also be of interest to policy makers, social workers, teachers and nursery school workers.