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Combining learning with family responsibilities: European women in comparative perspective

Kirsti Melesk (School of Governance, Law and Society, Tallinn University, Tallinn, Estonia) (Praxis Center for Policy Studies, Tallinn, Estonia)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 29 September 2020

Issue publication date: 23 June 2021




While women in most European societies still carry the largest burden in caring for the family, there is also an important unrealised learning interest among women. This has an impact on women's labour market and career opportunities. This paper aims at analysing empirically the role of family obligations in women's ability to realise their learning interests and how this differs across societal and institutional contexts across Europe.


The paper makes use of the second wave of Adult Education Survey from 2011, including data from 22 European countries. The article focuses on women aged 25–55 – an age group most affected by parental obligations. Logistic regression models are used to compare the effect that children in the household have on women's learning barriers across country groups of different family policy arrangements.


The results confirm empirically the situational nature of family barriers to learning as they grow and decline depending on the age of children. However, the level of intensity and the period when family-related barriers remain relevant for women vary across European countries.


This paper provides new insights into how women's caring obligations shape their labour market and career opportunities, focussing on the ability to take up adult learning. Involving data from 22 countries, including Eastern European countries, provides a broad look into the differing contexts shaping women's opportunities across Europe.



Melesk, K. (2021), "Combining learning with family responsibilities: European women in comparative perspective", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 41 No. 7/8, pp. 826-841.



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