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COORDINATING EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE NETHERLANDS: A HOLISTIC QUANTITATIVE APPROACH TO THE ANALYSIS OF ICT-RELATED AND OTHER WORK-LIFE BALANCE STRATEGIES

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COORDINATING EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE NETHERLANDS: A HOLISTIC QUANTITATIVE APPROACH TO THE ANALYSIS OF ICT-RELATED AND OTHER WORK-LIFE BALANCE STRATEGIES
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  COORDINATING EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE NETHERLANDS © The authors 2011Geografiska Annaler: Series B © 2011 Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography 57 HUBERS, C., SCHWANEN, T. and DIJST, M. (2011): ‘Coordinating everyday life in the Netherlands: a holistic quan-titative approach to the analysis of ICT- related and other work- life balance strategies’, Geografska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography  93 (1): 57–80.ABSTRACT. Due to women’s increased participation in the la-bour force, more and more family- households are now juggling paid labour and care- giving in space and time and do so in many different ways. Much research and policy about how households try to establish a satisfactory work- life balance singles out particu-lar coping strategies, such as telecommuting or the mobilizing of informal help by relatives or friends. While insightful, foreground-ing single strategies may oversimplify the complex reality of eve-ryday life, in which people often skilfully weave together multiple coping strategies. As well, advances in information and communi-cation technologies (ICTs) have further diversified the arsenal of possible coping strategies, but the academic literature has yet to verify whether ICT usage complements or substitutes the adop-tion of other coping strategies. Adopting a holistic quantitative approach this study assesses which combinations of coping strate-gies prevail and which role ICTs play in this regard among one- and dual- earner households in the Utrecht–Amersfoort–Hilversum area of the Netherlands. We also examine systematic variations in strategy combination by socio- demographics, ICT possession, affordability and skills, social network factors, employment and commute factors, spatial factors, lifestyle orientation and other factors. We identify several distinct combinations of strategies and find that ICT- related strategies are frequently adopted by highly educated employed parents in the Netherlands attempting to achieve a satisfying work- life balance and tend to complement other types of strategies. Which combinations of strategies have been adopted depends most strongly on the presence of young children, but also on employment factors and characteristics of the environment surrounding the dwelling and main workplace. Key words : coping strategies, information and communication technologies, Netherlands, work- life balance Introduction Raising the Dutch female paid labour participation from 52 per cent in the year 2000 to 65 per cent in 2010 is one of the targets of the Dutch national gov-ernment (SZW 2000). This is in line with, and even exceeds, the Lisbon Strategy formulated by the European Council in 2000, which dictates that by 2010 all member states should have female employ-ment rates of 60 per cent. Looking at data from the World Bank, which uses a stricter definition than the EU, by the year 2005 most Nordic countries had already reached this threshold (Iceland, 72.7 per cent female labour participation rate; Norway, 61.3 per cent; Denmark, 60.5 per cent; Sweden, 60.1 per cent; with the exception of Finland, 56.7 per cent). In the Netherlands by 2009 the share had increased to 59.7 per cent (CBS 2010a), but it is highly un-likely that the goal of 65 per cent will be realized (even if there had not been an economic crisis). Headlines in the United Kingdom like ‘Gender equality on the slide?’ suggest that, with the excep-tion of the Nordic countries, other countries are hardly more successful in this regard. According to Professor Scott, the University of Cambridge, whose research is behind this headline, ‘[i]t is con-ceivable that opinions are shifting as the shine of the “super- mum” syndrome wears off, and the idea that women juggling high- powered careers while also baking cookies and reading bedtime stories is increasingly seen to be unrealizable by ordinary mortals’ (University of Cambridge 2008). In light of these recent developments, this article seeks to increase our understanding of what these ordinary mortals do to create an acceptable work- life balance (a term often used to reflect the reconciliation of paid employment and domestic responsibilities). The juggling of responsibilities often implies the  juggling of different kinds of coping strategies. We suspect that households often employ multiple cop-ing strategies (sequentially and/or simultaneously); those aimed at paid labour (for example, adjust-ing one’s working hours) may often be combined COORDINATING EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE NETHERLANDS:A HOLISTIC QUANTITATIVE APPROACH TO THE ANALYSIS OF ICT-RELATED AND OTHER WORK-LIFE BALANCE STRATEGIES byChrista Hubers, Tim Schwanen and Martin Dijst  CHRISTA HUBERS, TIM SCHWANEN AND MARTIN DIJST © The authors 2011Geografiska Annaler: Series B © 2011 Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography 58with strategies aimed at domestic responsibili-ties (for example, taking one’s children to a day- care centre). It is, therefore, remarkable that many studies on work- life balance strategies concentrate on just a single coping strategy (for example, van der Lippe et al . 2004; Wheelock and Jones 2002). Telecommuting – one proclaimed panacea of work- life stress – is a case in point; it is difficult to imag-ine how working one or two days a week from home by itself is sufficient to accomplish a satisfactory work- life balance, especially on the days people do not telecommute. Nonetheless, how telecom-muting is combined with other coping strategies is often neglected in studies about telecommuting and work- life balance (Duxbury et al . 1998; Crosbie and Moore 2004; Peters and van der Lippe 2007; Hilbrecht et al . 2008; for an exception see Johnson et al . 2007). The general aim of the current study is, therefore, to shift focus from individual coping strategies to combinations of strategies. Although some research already exists on the combinations of coping strategies people adopt, this research has in general used qualitative methods (Droogleever Fortuijn 1993; Jarvis 1999, 2005a). As ‘all methods are partial in what they can reveal’ (Perrons et al . 2005, p. 59), the quantitative ap-proach of the current study allows several insights that qualitative methods do not readily afford. It allows, for instance, the systematic interdependen-cies among coping strategies and their relative fre-quency within a specific sample of individuals or households to be examined. As well, it enables the detection of systematic variations in the adoption of coping strategy combinations along lines of gen-der, household structure, occupational level, spa-tial context, and so forth. Our holistic quantitative approach using data from a specifically designed questionnaire seeks to unite the nuanced conceptu-alization, level of detail and insight into processes that is typical of small- scale qualitative studies with the rigorous analytical techniques typical of pure-ly quantitative research. Our study is holistic not only because of its examination of combinations of coping strategies but also with regard to factors evaluated as affecting the choice for combinations of work- life strategies: people’s preferences, the constraints they encounter, as well as the network capital they have regarding coping strategies will all be considered. Additionally, the current article seeks to contrib-ute to the existing literature by paying particular attention to ICT- related coping strategies that have recently been added to the already large arsenal of work- life balance strategies. Although informa-tion and communication technologies (ICTs) may increase the complexity of claims on one’s time (Jarvis and Pratt 2006; Schwanen and Kwan 2008), they are widely believed to facilitate the juggling of responsibilities as they increase the efficiency with which activities are executed (for example, by speeding up the tempo of activities), and re-duce the spatiotemporal fixity of activities which lies at the heart of many work- life balance issues (Kwan 1999). For instance, making private calls or e- mailing from the workplace enables domes-tic responsibilities to be coordinated at- a- distance. Furthermore, by shopping or banking over the Internet, people can perform these activities from sites other than brick- and- mortar stores or banks and outside official shop opening hours. However, the academic literature is unclear about whether ICT usage stimulates, supplements or substitutes other types of coping strategies. Consideration of possible combinations of ICT- related and other kinds of strategies, characteristic of the holistic ap-proach of the current study, will provide initial un-derstanding of the potential impact of ICTs. In order to fulfil the general aim of this study, three distinct research questions have been formu-lated. The first asks which combinations of cop-ing strategies prevail among one- and dual- earner households, and the second how these combina-tions are influenced by individuals’ and households’ background factors. Then, we examine whether new ICT- enabled coping strategies are indeed adopted, by whom, and how this affects the adoption of other kinds of coping strategies. To address these ques-tions, we will analyse survey data from 525 Dutch respondents in the Utrecht–Amersfoort–Hilversum area. The next sections will present the conceptual framework and introduce the data used for this re-search, followed by a discussion of the results. The article ends with a conclusion and brief discussion of the findings. Studying coping strategy adoption: preferences, constraints and network capital According to some social theorists, standard bi-ographies have been replaced by so- called choice or do- it- yourself biographies in the recent dec-ades (Giddens 1991; Beck 1994; Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 2002). In a standard biography the  COORDINATING EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE NETHERLANDS © The authors 2011Geografiska Annaler: Series B © 2011 Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography 59choices people make while progressing along the life path are highly predictable and dictated by such institutions as the state, family and/or church, which leaves little room for personal preferences. In the industrial era, when the standard biography was considered to be at its peak, this usually meant that security came from matrimony for women and from paid labour for men (Saraceno 1991). Often the only work- life strategy available to women after getting married was to quit their job and become a full- time housewife. In contrast, the individuali-zation thesis argues that changes in the wider eco-nomic, employment and normative context have paved the way for biographies dictated by individ-ual choices in which people are not only enabled but also expected or even forced to create their own personal biographies (Beck and Beck- Gernsheim 2002). Hakim’s preference theory (Hakim 2000, 2003) is generally regarded as a neat operationaliza-tion of the individualization thesis (Duncan 2005). While admitting that the social and economic con-text exerts some influence on women’s employment choices and how these differ from men’s choices, Hakim holds that women’s choices are determined first and foremost by their personal lifestyle pref-erences. Preference theory categorizes women into three different ideal type groups: adaptive women, work- centred women and home- centred women. Work- centred women prefer to prioritize their pub-lic careers, home- centred their home and family life, whereas the priorities of adaptive women shift between work and home depending on their life stage (Hakim 2002). The individualization thesis and preference theory have been criticized for over- emphasizing agency and for neglecting constraints on choice resulting from external circumstances and the importance of the structural and social con-text in the choice process (Crompton and Harris 1998; Brannen and Nilsen 2005; Duncan 2005; McDowell et al . 2005a, 2005b, 2006). As Halrynjo and Lyng (2009, pp. 322–323) note in relation to women’s employment decisions, ‘[s]tudies in line with the constraint- oriented perspective emphasize the impact of objective constraints in terms of scar-city of childcare arrangements, availability and se-curity of jobs, financial resources and work- family policies on institutional and organizational levels’. These authors also argue that by redefining the cur-rent distribution of paid and domestic labour be-tween men and women as resulting from individual choice rather than social and structural context, the individualization thesis and preference theory help to justify existing inequalities in the gender division of household labour. Partially in response to preference theory, geo-graphers have argued that choices are constrained by the spatial distribution of residences, employ-ment and such services as childcare and that their accessibility is often obstructed by congestion and malfunctioning infrastructures (Pratt 1996; Jarvis 2005a, 2005b; McDowell et al . 2006; Schwanen and de Jong 2008). Additionally, Holloway (1998, 1999) and Duncan et al . (2003) have shown how divisions of labour are not only a matter of personal choice but at least partly shaped by (local) social ties. These social ties are important in shaping and maintaining so- called gendered moral rationalities which are cultural norms prescribing what is ap-propriate behaviour for a mother/father and worker, and which influence the real and potential choices people see and make for reconciling paid and un-paid labour. Despite local variations, prevalent gender ideologies hold women primarily responsi-ble for household and care- giving tasks (Holloway 1998, 1999; McDowell 2005a). Therefore, if both partners have access to equal resources, and even when those of the female partner are better (for ex-ample, because she has a better paid and/or more secure job than the male partner), it is still often the female partner who reduces her employment hours in order to fulfil the households’ care- giving responsibilities, which lowers her monetary re-sources (see also Halrynjo and Lyng 2009). In this example, women’s potentially better bargaining position regarding their employment hours is off-set by societal norms concerning domestic respon-sibilities. Moreover, Debacker (2008) found that for Belgian mothers, the impact of preferences on work- life strategies depends on their educational attainment. Preferences were only taken into ac-count by lower- educated mothers in decisions about paid and unpaid work, and not by their high- skilled counterparts. In short, it seems as if people’s  freedom of choice in terms of how to combine work and home demands may not have grown to the extent the in-dividualization thesis suggests. On the other hand, the diversity of ways in which people can juggle responsibilities – that is, the diversity in choice alternatives – may well have become larger. For example, a woman who wants to remain in paid employment after childbirth has multiple options: working full- time or part- time, participating in  CHRISTA HUBERS, TIM SCHWANEN AND MARTIN DIJST © The authors 2011Geografiska Annaler: Series B © 2011 Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography 60a job share, working from home, at fixed or flex-ible hours, on a mothering contract, and so forth. ICTs are generally considered to have increased the choice alternatives available to employed parents who can use them to overcome constraints resulting from the spatial distribution of resources, for exam-ple by working from home (Dijst 2004; Dijst and Kwan 2005). However, the feasibility of each choice alterna-tive depends on the resources available to a person. People, for example, can lack the necessary ICT equipment and/or skills, or the approval of their em-ployer to use these to carry out certain care- giving or paid work tasks at- a- distance. To better under-stand the factors affecting the choice for a particular combination of strategies, we draw on the concept of network capital . Urry (2007) introduced the term recently to understand differences in individuals’ capacities to enter into and maintain social relations with people at a distance through mobility. He de-fines it as the capacity to engender and sustain so-cial relations that generate emotional, practical and other benefits. He contends that it consists of sev-eral elements that in conjunction produce a distinct social stratification in contemporary society (exist-ing alongside class or race, among others), of which the following three are of particular interest to our study:1. relevant others (family members or friends) at- a- distance;2. communication devices to make and update ar-rangements with others; and3. time and other resources to acquire, manage and co- ordinate the above.For our purposes, we redefine network capital as the capacity to combine different productive and repro-ductive tasks and responsibilities. There are several reasons why Urry’s conceptualization is useful for our purposes. First, it emphasizes the heterogene-ous nature of the resources required for juggling home and work demands, indicating that not just social connections matter but also technological, institutional, environmental and other elements. As such, it offers a comprehensive approach well- suited to study the influence of ICT factors in ad-dition to other background factors possibly related to the adoption of certain combinations of coping strategies. Second, in stressing that network capital should not be seen as an individual attribute, but as ‘a product of the relationality of individuals with others and with the affordances of the “environ-ment’”, Urry (2007, p. 198) underwrites the idea that even in times of the choice biography, choices are never purely individual and always depend on available resources. Third, by acknowledging the importance of the ability to use mobile phones and Internet applications, he foregrounds the relevance of skills for effectively using these new technolo-gies in the same way as Flamm and Kaufmann (2006) do. Summing up, we propose that work- life strate-gies can be classified along two axes (Table 1). Following among others preference theory, the first is the life domain , that is, paid labour or unpaid do-mestic/caring work, at which strategies are oriented (Hakim 2000; Mennino and Brayfield 2002; Blair- Loy 2003; Halrynjo and Lyng 2009). Consistent with Urry’s network capital, the other dimension distinguishes different strategies according to the type of agents besides the person in question that are involved when opting for a certain strategy (material goods, professionals, partner or social network) and hence what resources and skills are needed. We realize that the label “individual strate-gies” in Table 1 is to some extent a misnomer, as these do involve other agents (for example, one’s employer). We nonetheless use it to foreground that the individual is the primary agent in the strategies in this category. The dimension distinguishing the agents in-volved in the work- life strategy is characterized by increased complexity in the nature of a person’s Table 1. Dimensions of coping strategy classification.   Life domainType of agents Paid labour Domestic responsibilitiesIndividual Dependent on material goods Dependent on professional workers Dependent on partner Dependent on social network  COORDINATING EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE NETHERLANDS © The authors 2011Geografiska Annaler: Series B © 2011 Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography 61interaction with and dependency on them. While material goods (including ICT devices) can be said to “act” in the sense of mediating the actions of the humans using them, they lack the reflexivity and emotionality that characterize human agentive capacities (Schwanen 2007a). The interaction with professional workers is likely to be more complex because they are obviously endowed with reflexiv-ity and emotionality. In general, however, they can be expected to do the task they were employed for, provided they receive appropriate payment for their services. This mechanism of monetary compen-sation does not apply to most of the help offered by the partner or social network. Lack of a clear- cut contract in the case of informal support makes people more susceptible to, and dependent on, the goodwill of informal helpers, which adds further complexity to a parent’s interaction with them. Also, informal support is often premised on expec-tations of reciprocity and embedded in a wider ex-change of forms of practical or emotional support (Schwanen 2008). At the same time, with individu-alization many individual activity schedules have become more complex and diversified (Dijst 2006; Flamm and Kaufmann 2006), which can compli-cate the synchronization of the activity schedules of informal helpers and receivers. In sum, it can be ar-gued that the more people or materials are involved in a certain combination of work- life strategies, the more complex these arrangements become. Although ICTs themselves form part of the materi-als that have to be co- present for the execution of certain activities, they are often viewed as playing a valuable role in facilitating the activity coordina-tion of working parents and their support networks (Hjorthol 2008; Schwanen and Kwan 2008). A question that remains is what determines the choice for a certain work- life strategy. Summarizing the above literature review, we may expect the adoption of a work- life strategy to hinge on per-sonal preferences and the choice options available, which are a function of such resources as material goods (for example, ICT devices), other persons (for example, partner, professionals and/or social network) and numerous personal attributes (for example, education, occupation factors, available services around the home or workplace). Whether these resources translate into actual choice oppor-tunities depends on existing norms, rules and regu-lations and skills which may work as enablers or constraints. Lifestyle orientation, an indicator of personal preferences, assesses which life domain(s) peo-ple find important. Those considering paid labour more important than leisure or family are expected to adopt coping strategies that outsource or read- just domestic responsibilities to paid labour or that allow paid labour to be performed outside the workplace or standard employment hours. Factors that may enable or constrain strategy adoption in-clude socio- demographics, ICT- related factors, employment attributes and the spatial context sur-rounding the residence and main workplace. Of the socio- demographics , the number and ages of children living at home are expected to be most influential, because the presence of young children in the household increases the domestic workload significantly. Three conditions regarding  ICTs may influence work- life strategy choices: possession, af-fordability and skills (Flamm and Kaufmann 2006). People who possess multiple ICT devices, have to pay less for, or are more experienced in, using them are more likely to adopt ICT- related coping strat-egies. It is difficult to anticipate how ICT- related coping strategies are combined with other types of strategies. On the one hand, they can be combined with, say, using a professional day- care centre, as the mobile phone reassures parents that they can be reached should something be wrong with their child (Schwanen and Kwan 2008). On the other hand, the ability to work from home may make the use of a day- care centre redundant, because the flexibility offered by telecommuting leaves enough time to mind the children oneself (Casimir 2001; Sullivan and Lewis 2001). Telecommuting, however, does not only require adequate ICTs as employment fac-tors also play a crucial role in this respect. Not only should the specific work tasks lend themselves to being performed at a remote location, the employ-ment organization should also support working from home. Organizations and professions show considerable variations in the work- life policies available to employees, with public sector em-ployers generally having a better reputation when it comes to such policies than private companies. Therefore, we expect the work- life strategies avail-able to a person to differ according to both the sec-tor of employment and the specific job they hold. The configuration of a person’s social network may especially affect the adoption of strategies in the domestic domain. Not only the size but also the composition matter, given that outsourcing of domestic responsibilities is more likely to women and to relatives (for example, Gerstel and Gallagher
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