Volume 45 - Article 31 | Pages 957–972

Retraditionalisation? Work patterns of families with children during the pandemic in Italy

By Elisa Brini, Mariya Lenko, Stefani Scherer, Agnese Vitali

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Date received:13 Apr 2021
Date published:14 Oct 2021
Word count:2495
Keywords:breadwinning, couples, COVID-19, employment, families, household employment, Labour Force Survey (LFS), pandemic, women's employment
Updated Items:On October 28, 2021 minor changes were made on page 964, in the first paragraph under 3.2 Changes in couples’ work patterns during the pandemic, at the authors' request.


Background: During the COVID-19 pandemic, employment declined and real incomes fell worldwide. The burden of childcare on families increased and, in many countries, women’s employment fell more than men’s. From a couple-level perspective, changing employment patterns could lead to a retraditionalisation of gender roles between partners, especially for families with dependent children.

Methods: We focus on couples with children under 16 and use quarterly large-scale micro data (the Italian Labour Force Survey) to examine, through descriptive statistics and multinomial logistic regressions, the changes and composition of couples’ work patterns between 2019 and 2020.

Results: During the pandemic, three types of couples declined (dual-worker couples; ‘pure’ male-breadwinner couples, where only men work; and ‘modified’ male-breadwinner couples, where women work fewer hours than men) and three increased (‘pure’ female-breadwinner couples, where only women work; ‘modified’ female-breadwinner couples, where women work more hours than men; and not-working couples). Changes were most pronounced in the second quarter of 2020, to a lesser extent, in the fourth quarter, and among the least educated.

Contribution: We do not find signs of gender roles in paid work retraditionalising among couples in Italy with dependent children. Instead, our results suggest that women’s employment contributed to shield families from earnings losses at least during the second quarter of 2020, very like what happened during the Great Recession. Still, the notoriously low female employment contributed to exposing many Italian families to an increased risk of worklessness.

Author's Affiliation

Elisa Brini - Universitetet i Oslo, Norway [Email]
Mariya Lenko - Università degli Studi di Trento, Italy [Email]
Stefani Scherer - Università degli Studi di Trento, Italy [Email]
Agnese Vitali - Università degli Studi di Trento, Italy [Email]

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

» Culture portability from origin to destination country: The gender division of domestic work among migrants in Italy
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» Unpacking intentions to leave the parental home in Europe using the Generations and Gender Survey
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» Using Twitter data for demographic research
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» Who brings home the bacon? The influence of context on partners' contributions to the household income
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» Youth prospects in a time of economic recession
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