Children''s Care Among Foreign Female Workers in Italy

Giulia Rivellini, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore - Milano
Emanuela Furfaro, Unicatt
Laura Terzera, University of Milano-Bicocca

Children''s care in Italy is a task often entrusted to women rather than men, making it more difficult for them to enter the labour market. This issue is amplified in foreign women where the absence of parental support networks may explain the occupational gap between immigrant women and natives. Nevertheless, very little is known about the strategies that immigrant women adopt to combine work and family in Italy, where welfare system is often inadequate and individuals'' social space is essential for activating a support network. Using data from the first national survey on Social Condition and Integration of Foreign Citizens, the aim of the paper is to describe the effective ego-centered support network as the set of people cohabiting or not that support the respondent in managing the children''s care. We focus on economically active women with at least one cohabiting child aged 5 and below and their structural and migratory characteristics will also be used for further investigating their behaviour towards their network. The identification of the support network for active foreign women is a first step to study the strategies immigrant women follow in order to combine work and family.

Introductionand aim

Children’scare often involves the rethinking of parents’ work and familylife. In Italy, the task of children’s care is usually entrusted towomen rather than men (Istat, 2011) and this is argued to be one ofthe main reasons why female labour force participation remains lowerthan male participation (Istat, 2011). The difficulty in balancingwork and family, aggravated by the absence of parental supportnetworks, may help explain the additional occupational gap betweenItalian and foreign women. The gap between employment rate amongyoung immigrant women and native women increased during the economiccrisis, especially for women with familiar responsibilities withemployment rate being 15 percentage points lower than that ofItalians (Strozza and De Santis, 2017). Moreover female immigrantworkforce appears strongly segregated into domestic and care sector,where a high job informality holds consequences for work-familyreconciliation (Bonizzoni, 2014).

Nevertheless,very little is known about the strategies immigrant women adopt tocombine work and family, in a country, such as Italy, where welfaresystem is ofteninadequateand individuals’ social space may be essential for activating asupport network, especially in the first stages of their family life(Istat, 2014).

Followingthe approach proposed by Amati at al. (2015) and using survey datanot-network oriented, the aim of the paper is to describe theeffective support ego-centered (ESE)-network as the set of peoplecohabiting or not (along with their role relations) who are a sourceof support to the respondent. Inthis study we focus on support for managing the children’s care incase of work (effectivechild support ego-network).

Theidentification of this effective support network for foreign womenemployed with at least one cohabiting child aged ≤ 5 years,represents a first step to study the strategies the immigrant womenfollow in order to combine work and family.

Dataand preliminary analysis

Weuse the first national survey on Social Condition and Integration ofForeign Citizens (SCIF), conducted by the Italian Institute ofStatistics (ISTAT) in 2011-2012. The sample is composed by 9,553households with at least one foreigner, corresponding to 20,379foreign citizens. We focus on women aged 18 and above with at leastone cohabiting child aged ≤ 5 years that are part of the labourforce, for a sample size equals to 2048. However, 54.4% of them doesnot participate into the labour force, reducing the sample to 933women. Notice that out of those inactive women 83.5% declared thatthey do not work because of maternity or because they are in chargeof looking after their children and other non-self-sufficient people.

Womenin our target group are on average 33 years. old, they have onaverage 1.82 children and 26% of them have an Italian partner. Withregards to their households, most of them live with their wholefamily (having reunited or started the family). The majority of themlive with their partner and all of their children (88.3%).

Formost of the mothers examined, that’s also the only family they livewith in the household (80.9%) while only few of them (19.1%) cancount on the presence of at least one more family in the household,either composed by other relatives or by friends.

Thewomen considered in this study have a total of 1076 children. Datashow that 17.9% of the children stay with their parents while workingand only 42.3% go to nursery schools. It is remarkable to noticethat the children’s support network includes, in addition tograndparents, friends,neighbours and the children’s siblings (table 1).

When the child is not at school or is not with his/her parents, who does he/she stay with?

He/she stays alone (1.5%)

He/she stays with adults (94.2%)


Child’s grandparents (7.4%)

Other relatives (4.3%)

Non cohabiting

Grandparents (14.8%)

Other relatives (13.4%)

Neighbours and friends (17%)

Child’s siblings (7.27%)

Paid people (4%)

No need (31.8%)

He/she stays with non adults (4.3%)


Women’sstructural and migratory characteristics will be used for furtherinvestigating women’s behaviour towards their network. Forexample, women with a longer stay in Italy could show a more“comprehensive” effective support networks, or the network couldbe more or less homogeneous based on women’s origin or based on thepartner’s characteristics, as it is for friendship.


AmatiV., Rivellini G., Zaccarin S. (2015) Potential and Effective SupportNetworks of Young Italian Adults,Social Indicators Research (DOI) 10.1007/s11205-014-0706-7, Volume 122, Issue 3, Page 807-831.

BonizzoniP. (2014), Immigrant Working Mothers Reconciling Work and Childcare:the Experience of Latin American and Eastern European Women in Milan,Social Politics 2014, Volume 221, Number 2.

ISTAT(2011), La conciliazione tra lavoro e famiglia, Statistiche Report,28/12/2011.

StrozzaS., De Santis G. (2017), Rapporto sulla popolazione. Le molte faccedella presenza straniera in Italia, Il Mulino, Bologna.

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