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Swiss face conflict over family and career

How to combine having children and a job is a big concern for many Swiss Photothek

Although the family remains firmly anchored in Swiss society, many people still feel they have to choose between having children and a career, research has found.

This content was published on April 18, 2008 - 12:45

The Family Monitor, the first study to give an overview of family life in Switzerland, also revealed that at times some people felt overstretched by being parents.

The monitor, which was carried out by the gfs.bern research institute for the Zurich-based Beobachter magazine, included data from 1,016 adults, including 500 families, from across the country.

"There is just not enough basic solid data on the family in Switzerland," Balz Hosang, editor in chief of Beobachter, told swissinfo at Thursday's media conference to launch the study.

And this despite the fact that related issues such as youth violence, plummeting birth rates and lack of childcare have been preoccupying the media and politics, he said.

Claude Longchamp, the director of gfs.bern, said the private research was the first to give society's view on families in Switzerland. In other countries, including Germany, this task was usually carried out by the state, he added.

Longchamp said that the family unit was still seen to be a safe and secure place, centred on love and responsibility.

In all, 61 per cent of Swiss have dependent children, the study revealed, with two thirds of those questioned saying that having a family gave their lives a meaning.

Career issues

However, when people were asked about their priorities, children slid down into seventh place, after health, financial security and a happy relationship with a partner. Professional fulfilment was in eighth place.

This was put down to continuing conflict between having a career and children.

"This polarity was very strongly expressed in the study and shows that reality in society is not quite in line with the wishful thinking in politics or the media," Longchamp told swissinfo.

In general more women than men said that having children was a goal and younger generations placed more importance on their jobs. Those in urban areas and with higher incomes also tended to be more career-focused.

"[The results show that the decision between] a career or children is still the most important in life," Longchamp added.

Parents' limits

Almost half the parents questioned reported they often or sometimes felt stretched to the limit when raising their children.

Media reports have recently focused on cases of youth violence and abuse with blame often placed on the parents.

Longchamp warned against a small number of such cases clouding the real picture.

He admitted that the biggest fear of some parents was that their children might fall into bad company where violence was a problem

However, he said there were other related issues, including upbringing, dealing with parents and society, and drugs.

Political agenda setting

Family organisations were also present at the media conference, including Pro Familia, whose Secretary General is Lucrezia Meier-Schatz, a politician from the centre-right Christian Democrats.

Meier-Schatz, whose party supports family policies, told swissinfo that she welcomed the study, which is to be repeated in the future. She said such initiatives would help with political agenda setting.

"To have an influence on public opinion we will have to live with the fact that the majority of Swiss citizens are over 50 years old and usually it is these people who decide what should be done on a political level," she said.

"The study says that the majority of people have children over 18 or don't have children. Only 37 per cent have children under 18. This information is important for improving the situation of younger children and their parents."

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Zurich

Monitor statistics

61% of people over 18 years old in Switzerland have a dependent child.

13% of parents send their children to crèches or after school lunch clubs.

50% of Swiss say having children limits their personal freedom.

58% of Swiss say children stop loneliness.

37% of Swiss who do not have children say they never wanted a family.

44% of parents with children under 18 years old spend at least four hours a day with them.

15% of children have step siblings.

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Defining the family

The study used three criteria:

The people interviewed were all over 18 years old, all living in Switzerland and of Swiss and other nationalities. There is not enough data concerning families of migration background to provide a separate analysis.

People with children were defined as all those in the population with children of any age.

People with dependent children were defined as those who had at least one child of under 30 years of age who lives with his or her parents and/or is financially dependent on them.

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