Made in Scandinavia?

In order to get a sense of what may be specifically Norwegian/Scandinavian in the sample analysed in this book, Julia Brannen, Peter Moss and Ann Mooney’s study (2004) of working and caring in four-generation families in Britain, and Julia Brannen’s later study of fathers and sons (2015) are particularly relevant to bring in as comparative contrasts. These studies work with approximately the same cohorts as we do.[1] In this way the three studies speak to each other with regard to temporality, but are separated by place. Both the British and the Norwegian samples are diverse when it comes to social class, but in the 2004 British study there are fewer cases of geographical and upward social mobility, which reflects the sampling process. It may, however, also illustrate the different timing of industrialisation and urbanisation in Norway and the UK, and also the earlier and stronger emphasis on education as a tool for attaining social equality in the Scandinavian countries. The focus of the British studies is primarily parenthood, which also distinguishes it from ours, which focuses more on childhood and youth. Where the British studies look at how different generations of parents organised work and caring for their children, our study looks closer at how children experienced their parents’ work and care. Yet, the studies also touch upon many of the same issues and this makes the comparison relevant.

The social context described in Brannen et al.’s studies indicates well- known social and historical similarities and differences between the UK and the Scandinavian countries. The greatest differences are represented by England’s early industrialisation and urbanisation, the impact of the two world wars, the fading of the British Empire and the large-scale immigration that followed beginning in the late 1950s, the decline of the welfare state and the strong neoliberal trends under the conservative governments from 1979 onwards. Deindustrialisation processes have also had much more sinister consequences in Britain in terms of high unemployment, massive privatisation and austerity in the public sector. Some of these trends were also seen in the Nordic countries from the 1980s (see Chap. 4); however, it did not stop the expansion of the welfare state as it did in the UK, and Nordic unemployment rates were never even close to those in Britain. This has given quite different conditions for processes of gender equality in these two national contexts in the post-war period. Brannen et al. characterise the British welfare regime as ‘a mix of liberalism and maternalism’ (2004: 53), which provides quite a different different from ours, as the 2004 project includes both men and women from the same families and uses biographical narrative interviewing. It has fewer numbers of chains (12 versus our 34), but since more family members are interviewed in each chain, the number of informants are not so different (71 versus our 88). The focus of the 2015 study is fatherhood and migration and it compares 30 father-son pairs (89 informants) of white British, Irish and Polish decent.

political climate from the social democratic and equality-oriented welfare regime of the Nordic countries. It has been much more difficult for British women to take up paid work on a stable basis after the housewife era, partly because of the lack of subsidised public childcare facilities and partly because of cultural norms and policies which until the mid-1990s expected the mother to take the main responsibility for the family and the father to be the main provider. It was only from the late 1980s that women with small children startet to take up gainful work (something that happened ten years earlier in Norway), and as late as 2000, only 54 per cent of British women with a child under five were in gainful employment (the similar figure for Norway was around 80 per cent: Kitterod and Ronsen 2012). The social differences in employment according to the mother’s educational level are also much larger in Britain than in Norway: British mothers with high-level education worked as much as the Norwegian average for all women in 2000 (Brannen et al. 2004: 49). Even though Norway’s daycare provision was established later than in the other Nordic countries and the family ideology has been stronger (Melby et al. 2008), the situation has been very different from that in the UK, where government policy has largely neglected the needs of working parents and their children since the Second World War (Fox Harding 1996; Knudsen and Wsrness 2001; Leira 2002).[2] There is a striking difference in the attitude to childcare outside the home between the British and the Norwegian informants, which may be related to this lack of a general provision of high-quality public daycare in the UK. Whereas most of the British informants in all generations in the 2004 study are sceptical of letting childminders take care of children or ‘dumping’ them in nurseries (Brannen et al. 2004: 73, 208), most Norwegian informants see daycare for children as a positive thing for children as well as for parents. Worries about leaving the child to ‘stranger care’ are simply absent in the Norwegian narratives. The concerns in Norway rather relate to what age the children should be when they start attending daycare and how long they should spend there each day (Ellingsster and Gulbrandsen 2007).

However, the lack of daycare in the UK seems to have established a stronger bond between women in different generations: in the British study all three generations put emphasis on the importance of having grandmothers living close by, something which is mentioned only by a few of our older informants and hardly by any of the younger (an exception is Hilde in the interview at 40).

I will highlight a few interesting differences between the findings in the two British studies and our study, which may be related both to different welfare contexts, different timings and different cultural norms. The most striking difference is that the weaker gender-equality policy in the British context seems to have had consequences for the feelings of gender among the middle and youngest generations. Whereas the oldest generations in both Britain and Norway describes a childhood of poverty, lack of social security and opportunities, hard and gender-divided work, but with positive relationships to their parents’ skill sets, the younger generations in the British studies emerge as somewhat different from the younger generations in Norway. In the middle generation of the British study, both women and men have more traditional gender attitudes and practices, and also less disidentification with their own parents compared to their Norwegian contemporaries. The youngest British generation, however, appears to condense traits both of the Norwegian middle generation (in terms of parental relationships) and the Norwegian younger generation (in terms of their less normative views on gender and organisation of the family).

The British studies clearly indicate that British fathers came later into childcare than Norwegian fathers. While there is a growing acceptance of mothers’ employment among the British men of all generations, the gendered assumptions about what children need is less negotiable (Brannen et al. 2004: 126; see also Plantin et al. 2003). For the two oldest generations of men in the British studies, what children need is to be looked after by their mothers. Some of these men are described as ‘family men’ who have placed high value on being present in the family, but nevertheless seldom sharing much of the care work. It is only in the youngest generation that we find hands-on fathers, most of whom are unemployed working class (Brannen et al. 2004: 118).

The women of the middle generation in the British study share the psychological perspective of our middle generation, but to a much more limited degree the negative relationship between daughter and mothers. Most of the British women born in the 1940s rather seem to idealise their stay-at-home mothers who ‘were there’ and did not let their children come home to an empty house, and they do not connect this recollection with the fact that they themselves to a much higher degree took up paid work when their children started school, albeit part-time and with frequent interruptions. In comparison, the vast majority of women of this generation in the Norwegian sample worked close to full-time and only one stayed at home until her children came of age. Another difference from the Norwegian sample is that, in spite of the extension of state education in Britain in this period, girls’ education was not experienced as equally important as for boys in the middle generation in the British study. The equality-oriented ‘policy for the daughters’ of the 1960s and 1970s in the Nordic countries in combination with a relatively anti-authoritarian upbringing and a child-centred school system may indeed have had a huge social effect on later processes of gender equality. In addition, other studies of young women outside Scandinavia from this period indicate that they typically have been met with much more gender-traditional expectations, for instance, parents encouraging them to spend time on their looks in order to find a husband, instead of getting an education (see, for instance, Esseveld 1988; Breines 1992; Ravesloot et al. 1999).

In the British studies, the critique of parents instead emerges in the youngest generation (those born in the 1970s). In contrast to their Norwegian contemporaries, they grew up with stay-at-home mothers as the norm (albeit not necessarily as practice) and with fathers who did not take much part in the childcare because they were the main breadwinners. The daughters of this generation criticise their mothers for having been too homebound and with limited horizons, and their fathers for not being present (the 2004 study). The sons criticise their fathers for their lack of emotional skills and see themselves as very different when it comes to showing their children affection (the 2015 study). The case of the couple Rachel and Graeme, belonging to the youngest generation of Brannen et al.’s study (2004: 191-197), may illustrate this dynamic of change, which is quite similar to the pattern in the Norwegian middle generation, but in a later historical context, which allowed for a more radical practice for the young couple: Rachel made a conscious decision about not becoming like her overprotecting full-time housewife mother. Graeme, for his part, wanted to become a more caring parent than his own absent and divorced parents had been. In this young couple, Rachel was at the time of the interview the sole breadwinner in the family, whereas Graeme had given up his job to take care of the children (in combination with studying for a university degree). Thus, their critique of their own families of childhood led Rachel to a strong work orientation and Graeme to a strong caring orientation. In most cases, however, this generation’s critique of parents did not lead to such a radical change of gender practice. There is a much higher frequency of part-time work among the youngest generation of women in the British study compared to the Norwegian study, as well as a greater readiness to adapt work life to the needs of the family.[3] Among the young fathers, the discourse about the new fatherhood is often more of an ideal than a practice (Brannen 2015: 95). The mixture of different attitudes among the young men resembles the Norwegian middle generation, for instance, by being ‘in principle men’ or by presenting themselves as ‘modern men’ in their need to legitimise traditional gender arrangements as practical or chosen by the wife. In the Norwegian sample this pattern is seen in the youngest generation with Morten, but otherwise it belongs to the middle generation. However, those in the youngest generation in the British study resemble their Norwegian contemporaries in supporting gender equality in the individualised version, and to a large extent take gender equality for granted in their own lives. Even though family lives are not governed by one set of normative principles, as in the two elder generations, structural issues of gender frame their practices, something which is often hidden and unaddressed. Quite a few of the young middle-class fathers find that long working hours—actually longer than those their fathers worked—are a necessity in order to make a career. As Brannen (2015) points out, the job status and job flexibility in men’s jobs decide to a large extent the possibilities they have in terms of becoming caring fathers. We see some of the same tendencies with the young Norwegian fathers work?ing in the private sector, but the provisions of the welfare state contribute to reducing the consequences of this on their partners.

If the Norwegian case demonstrates a condensed process of modernisation, the British case illustrates a condensed process of gender equality in the family and definitely under less favourable conditions. What consequences will this have for their feelings of gender? Plantin et al. (2003) demonstrate in a comparison of young British and Swedish fathers how the longer period of discourse and practice on fathering in Sweden has served to develop caring identities and skills in the Swedish fathers, whereas the English fathers appear much more ambiguous and confused. Thus, the point is that becoming a caring father in practice also has a transformative effect on men and how they see themselves (see also Aarseth 2009b). Julia Brannen (2015: 145) refers to Victor Seidler’s claim that there are tensions today in what men are expected to be and who they are striving to be, as they are at odds with neoliberal notions of individualism that shape both labour market conditions and affect gendered subjectivities. It may therefore not be surprising that there are still signs of a generational delay when listening to the descriptions of their children—the young sons interviewed in Brannen (2015). These young boys, born around the millennium, describe relationships with their fathers that resemble our youngest generation: they report good and warm relationships, but also wish that their fathers had more time. They share masculine interests and activities, but are also worried about their fathers’ hard conditions at work. Even if practice and discourse do not always overlap, the fathers in this generation have, after all, been more present and caring than in the previous generation, and thus they also provide their sons with a transformative model of masculinity (Brannen 2015: 166).

The division between the British and the Norwegian studies that sets out from the middle generation may also be related to the fewer numbers of upwardly mobile families in the British study compared to the Norwegian study. The cases of upwardly mobile daughters found in the middle generation of the British study do actually express more critique of housewife mothers and a stronger identification with fathers, thus resembling the pattern in the Norwegian study in the same generation. The authors indicate that there could be a connection here: ‘It is possible that a weaker mother-daughter tie ... may be an integral part of the process of intergenerational change and innovation’ (Brannen 2004: 200). Brannen (2015) also finds that ambivalence between fathers and sons is more prominent in cases of social mobility, whether upwards or downwards. Another study from Britain, Steph Lawler’s examination (2000) of mothers and daughters, lends support to this idea. Lawler’s sample consists of14 women at approximately the same age as the middle generation, and interviewed, as in our study, in the early 1990s. There are more cases of upward social mobility here compared to Brannen et al’.s study, and the sample focuses on the emotional aspects of the mother- daughter relationship rather than on the intergenerational shifts in the organisation of care. In Lawler’s study, the negative and ambivalent relationships between daughters and mothers are much more prominent. The daughters’ critique resembles what we heard from our informants: the mothers are accused of not seeing who the daughters ‘really were’ (Lawler 2000: 101). The daughters talk about invading and controlling mothers, occupied with keeping their lifeless houses clean. They are determined to become another kind of mothers themselves—with more emphasis on talking and having open communication, and on securing their own daughters’ independence. This new motherhood project of theirs has not been without tensions and contradictions, but we get the impression of the same kind of friendly mother-daughter relationships as we heard about from the youngest generation in our study (albeit that in Lawler’s study we only have the mothers’ versions of this, not the daughters’). This emphasis on independence and being allowed to be who one ‘really is’ was most prominent among the class travellers. They recall feeling ‘held back’ by their mothers with regard to education (whereas their fathers were seen as more encouraging). Thus, Lawler analyses their negative relationships with their mothers in terms of insecurities around their class positions and a fear of returning to the mother’s position: ‘they experience tremendous anxieties around an identification between the self and the mother’ (Lawler 2000: 102). They often describe themselves and their mothers in pairings like intelligent/stupid (in a similar fashion to some of the working-class daughters of this generation in our study). In Lawler’s study, women who grew up middle class did not express any fear of becoming like their mothers and no working-class women expressed this fear either, although these women could also be critical of their moth?ers’ limited role and might say that their mothers failed to understand them. However their mothers did not represent a threat to their feeling of being ‘authentic selves’ (Lawler 2000: 105). In the Nordic sample, where class journeys dominate, we find something in between: the critique of mothers for not understanding them or seeing them for who they were is similar, but the fear of becoming like their mothers is not salient. As we saw in Chap. 6, the upwardly socially mobile informants in this period found that it was their parents who were ‘displaced’, not themselves. It seems reasonable to explain this difference by the special features of the Nordic class journey in this period, especially the ‘lock chamber’ model (see Chap. 1), where neither society nor the mothers held the daughters back—quite the contrary. The compressed story of modernisation in combination with gradual class moves and the support from the welfare state contributed to a perception of the journey as a move from rural to urban culture rather than from working class to middle class, as was the case in Britain. It gave a feeling of travelling along with and not against notions of what was felt to be normal.

Open Access This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits use, duplication, adaptation, distribution, and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, a link is provided to the Creative Commons license, and any changes made are indicated.

The images or other third party material in this chapter are included in the chapter’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if such material is not included in the chapter’s Creative Commons license and the respective action is not permitted by statutory regulation, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to duplicate, adapt or reproduce the material.

  • [1] In the 2004 study the informants are born in the 1920s, the 1940s and around 1970; in the 2015study of fathers and sons, the informants are born mainly around the 1940s, the 1970s and the2000s. In order to simplify the comparison to our study, these three generations of the British studies will be referred to as the oldest, the middle and the youngest generation. The fourth generationin the Brannen et al. (2004) study—the children of parents born in the 1970s—were not interviewed. In Brannen (2015) this generation is included as boys between 5 and 17 years of age. Theinterviews in the 2004 study were carried out a decade later than ours (1999/2000), which meansthat the youngest generation in the British study was around 30 at the time of the interviews andthus similar to our second interview round with the youngest generation in 2001. The interviewsin the 2015 study were made around 2010, at approximately the same time as our third round ofinterviews with the youngest generation. The design and interview methodology are somewhat
  • [2] In 2002 the percentage of respondents of surveys ‘agreeing’ that ‘a man’s job is to earn money, awoman’s job is to look after home and family’ was only 10 per cent in Norway as opposed to 18 percent in Britain and 34 per cent in Portugal (Crompton et al. 2007: 11).
  • [3] Statutory maternal leave was introduced in Britain in 1976. Two weeks of paternity leave withvery little pay were introduced in 2003, alongside an extension of maternal leave to 12 months.
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >