Business and marriage in Slovakia

The man's role as breadwinner persists in the principle and practice of family business in a Slovakia grappling with liberal ideals and an increasingly western orientation.

A study of married couples in joint business ventures carried out by PhD student Marie Dlouha shows that traditional gender roles persist in Slovakia.

Dlouha highlights the importance of understanding gender and entrepreneurship in a country that increasingly gravitates towards a "western" economic and political mentality.

What kind of equal?

Slovakia became an independent state in 1993, following the fall of Communism and the subsequent dissolution of Czechoslovakia. Under Communist rule, women were seen as equal participants in working life and rates of employment were high.

- "This was a mirage", says Dlouha, "Vertical and horizontal divides characterised Slovakian working life, excluding women from certain jobs and roles in the workplace." 

Double burden

The advancement of women's rights in the public sphere created what is known in second-wave feminism as the double burden.

- "Women worked full-time in jobs and roles defined by these gender divides, at the same time as they continued to carry out the lion's share of the domestic duties," Dlouha explains. 

Slovakia became an EU member state in 2004. Slovakia's re-orientation towards the west, and a movement toward liberal political attitudes is evident in the new working generation.

- "The divides that were evident under Communist rule are not as rigid for the younger generation; those who have yet to start families," says Dlouha, "What will happen when this generation starts having children is not yet clear."

However, Dlouha's work with married business partners may serve to provide some insight.

Gender and entrepreneurship - Marie Dlouha is a visiting scholar at Nord University Business School (photo: Per Jarl Elle).

Rigid division of labour

Dlouha's 2014 - 2015 survey of 11 married entrepreneurs operating a joint business demonstrates that despite a shift to liberal, "western" attitudes in the political realm, traditional gender roles remain entrenched, even for couples who operate a business together.

Dlouha asked participants about division of duties in the home and at work, with the aim of illuminating situations and arrangements that participants characterised as "normal" or "natural".

- "Participants conveyed the general understanding that, in Catholic Slovakia, the women work and take care of the home and children, while the men have primary responsibility for the household income. In businesses owned and run by married couples, it is usual for the man to carry out the heavier, manual work. He makes the decisions, while the woman looks after communication, administration and operations."

Women work - men earn

- "The survey shows that both men and women view the division of tasks as "natural". Women tend to view the division as desirable and highlight the importance of the man's role as earner, or breadwinner, with the woman inhabiting the traditional support role."

The idea of the double burden hinges in part on an understanding of work as paid work. The survey shows that understandings of work are integral in solving conflicts between partners.

"- Where the woman's traditional work in the home was appreciated and respected in the same way as the man's work in the business, conflicts regarding division of labour and overwork were more easily resolved."

Marie Dlouha is a doctoral candidate in sociology at Karls University in Prague and is currently on a research visit to Nord University Business School.