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The 35-Hour Working Week in France: Towards a More Egalitarian Family-Work Balance?

Hervé Defalvard, Martine Lurol, Evelyne Polzhuber

At the time of negotiating the 35-hour working week in France, an analysis of a corpus of 52 interviews with the signatories of the Aubry I agreements, brought out many different conceptions of what is meant by “work time”. They included an approach in which both professional and family time were considered as a single unity where women were concerned, but dissociated in the case of men; a more egalitarian approach in the case of female trade union delegates (UDs) and a more traditional one in the case of others. These different concepts are not, however, only dependent on the status of the person involved – UDs or company representatives (CRs) – nor yet on the sex of the signatories. There are in fact three “fault lines” that override these categories and that are discussed in this article. Thus, we will note the question of gendered relationships in the workplace, which, on the one hand, distances the female UDs from the male UDs, and, on the other, brings the latter closer to both the male and female CRs, with whom they share a feminine approach to the reconciliation of working time and family time. Then there is the generation gap, that divides the more senior UDs and CRs from the younger UDs and CRs, who share with their generation (those in their thirties) a more overall, more egalitarian notion of time and who, thus, come closer to adopting the more homogenous attitude of women to time as a whole. Finally, a third fault line was noted that separated the Ile de France and the provinces: the dissociation of time – work and family life in two separate compartments is more noticeable in the provinces than on the IDF, where there is a more homogeneous sense of time, similar to that shared by women and young people.