Western Europe comes closer to achieving gender parity than any other region of the world. But Gallup data suggest that like women everywhere, Western European women are struggling to balance the demands of work and family life, and this balancing act is leaving many of them emotionally drained.
Balancing Work and Family Is the No. 1 Problem for Working Women
Gallup and the International Labour Organization's 2016 global study of men's and women's attitudes toward women and work show women in Western Europe are among the most likely in the world to say they want to both work at paid jobs and care for their homes and families. Sixty-two percent say they want to do both, while just 13% want to stay home. This preference to do both is stronger among women with children younger than 15 at home (68%) than those without children at home (60%).
By far, doing both -- balancing work and family obligations -- is the No. 1 problem women and men in Western Europe see facing women who work at paid jobs in their countries. Among women in Western Europe, those working full time (37%) or part time (41%) are more likely to cite this as the biggest challenge than women out of the workforce (32%).
This balancing act may be exacting an emotional toll on women. Evidence from Gallup's World Poll in Western Europe in 2016 show women are more likely than men to report a range of negative experiences the day before the survey, including feeling physical pain (28% vs 24%), worry (41% vs 36%), sadness (25% vs 20%), stress (38% vs 35%) and anger (16% vs 13%).
These negative experiences ratchet up with the addition of being a parent or having a job. Western European women living with children under the age of 15 in the home are more likely to experience stress (42%) than women without children in the home (37%). Similarly, women working full time (45%) and part time (37%) are more likely to experience stress than women out of the workforce (29%).
The data suggest that negative feelings, such as stress and anger, may decline as women age. However, women over 60 are more likely to report feelings of sadness compared with their younger counterparts. Although working women experience more stress, they are also more likely to experience enjoyment during the day compared with women out of the workforce.
The Upside of Having It All
However, the added stress that comes from juggling both a job and a family does have its benefits. Western Europe's working women and women with children at home are more likely to rate their lives positively enough to be considered "thriving."
|Work full time||49|
|Work part time||48|
|Out of workforce||35|
|Children younger than 15 in household||44|
|No children younger than 15 in household||39|
|World Poll, 2016|
Gallup asks adults worldwide to evaluate their lives on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale, where "0" represents the worst possible life and "10" represents the best possible life. Gallup classifies people as "thriving" if they rate their current lives a 7 or higher and their lives in five years an 8 or higher, and "suffering" if they rate both their current and future life situations a 4 or lower. Those in the middle are "struggling."
Nearly half (49%) of full-time working women are thriving, compared with 35% of women out of the workforce. Motherhood also gives women an advantage when it comes to well-being. Women with children at home (44%) are slightly more likely to be thriving in well-being compared with women without children (39%).
Can women have it all? The debate permeates politics, workplaces and social circles. While the definition of having it all varies from woman to woman, one common notion is that "having it all" includes a great job and a family.
Women in Western Europe may come closest. The World Economic Forum's 2017 Global Gender Gap Report found Western Europe has the lowest gender gap in the world (25%), slightly ahead of North America at 28%. The WEF defines the gap between men and women through economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. 2017 was the first year any region of the world crossed the 30% threshold.
Women in Western Europe want to contribute in the workplace and at home. The balancing act comes with challenges and rewards. Working women experience the stresses of also balancing traditional household roles while maintaining either a full-time or part-time job. For a region that has made so much progress in creating policies that support working women and is often offered as a model for how to treat women, there's a lot of work to do yet.
Sofia Kluch is the Regional Director for Gallup World Poll in Western Europe.
Jessi Gordon is a Senior Consultant at Gallup.