I clicked on this article in the Canberra Times with great anticipation:
‘Yes, let’s dispense with the male breadwinner myth!’ I inwardly cheered. ‘Let’s allow men to be released from the pressure of providing for the whole household, hurrah!
Excited, I then read this bit:
“Australia has [a] very high ratio of part-time work compared with its peers and women hold nearly three-quarters of all those jobs. That’s helped create the 1.5 worker household – with a full-time dad and part-time mum – which has become one of the bedrocks of modern Australia.”
‘Yes!’ I thought. ‘Men should be allowed to work part-time too, it shouldn’t just be women who get this privilege of being able to keep one foot in the workforce while still raising a young family! Let’s normalise part-time work as a viable career step for everybody and finally achieve the elusive work-life balance! Hurrah!’
Woah there crazy lady, not so fast.
The rosy picture painted by the article’s writer disintegrated quickly thereafter. The writer’s solution to this apparent workplace inequality between the sexes? WOMEN SHOULD WORK MORE.
I’m sorry, what?
Yes! Yes! cheered the writer. Only a tiny percentage of women with small children work full-time. This is dreadful, they’re under-utilising their degrees and wonderful qualifications and THE ECONOMY IS SUFFERING.
Women with small children are already working more than full-time
I cannot begin to tell you how heartily sick to death I am of being told that women should ‘work more’ for the sake of the economy.
I am tired of women in part-time work being waved out the door by colleagues who cheerily say ‘Have a nice day off!’ when they’re at home with the kids the next day. (For the record, my own colleagues don’t do this.)
We wouldn’t dream of waving a child-care worker or kindergarten teacher off to work, saying, ‘Have a lovely day off!’. Why do we do it to parents? It’s not a day off, it’s a day spent actively involved in the growth and development of our nation’s future workforce in the formative years of their lives.
The economy is a set of arbitrary figures
The real issue is not the true effect on the economy, it’s about how economic value is calculated by the bean counters who decide what gets to be ‘in’ the economy and what gets to be ‘out’.
And please don’t tell me they can’t count unpaid work because no money changes hands.
They somehow manage to calculate a hypothetical rental value for the house you own and live in, so they can say how much it contributes to the economy by simply existing.
So don’t tell me they can’t possibly calculate the value to the economy of a parent caring for their own children inside that house. The truth? It’s not because they can’t; they just don’t.
A better solution: value unpaid caring work
So what’s a better solution to this apparent inability of women to pull their economic weight? A great place to start would be valuing unpaid caring work a whole lot more realistically.
I’ve written before about why we should place an economic value on child-rearing. Rearing children with a solid work ethic who are capable of compassion, innovation and life-long learning is crucial to the future success of our economy. It should be counted.
The reality of full female – and male – workforce participation
Every article I read, including the one mentioned above, that calls for greater female workforce participation fails to mention what this might look like in practice.
The truth is that that a better gender balance will only occur if men are willing – and enabled by our legal and social framework – to step up to the plate and decrease their work hours while taking on substantial child-rearing and housework responsibilities.
It’s not as simple as 24/7 universal, affordable and quality childcare = full-time working mothers. Fathers’ lives also need to change.
Otherwise what we end up with is babies and small children in 5o hours a week of long – albeit affordable and quality – daycare, being fed takeaway food in unclean houses because their parents are so exhausted.
That’s not in anyone’s best interests – though I’m sure the increase in GDP would look fabulous.