Dr Catherine Hakim on Feminist myths about women, home and work

Dr Catherine Hakim on Feminist myths about women, home and work

2010 ~ Quicktime Audio

-  Social policies that assume all women want to work are unfair and act against the actual wishes of most women

- Such policies are an attempt to promote gender equality but they have never worked, not even in countries like Sweden

- Such policies may also be incompatible with quality care for children

- Social policy should be neutral between working women and stay-at-home mothers

“Can gender equality and family policy be reconciled through work-life balance policies? The European Commission claims the Swedish model proves this can work, not only for Swedes, but for the whole EU. The evidence proves them wrong, on both counts.

Women and men are heterogenous in their lifestyle preferences, but women are most diverse, with a 20-60-20 split between home-centred, adaptive and work-centred goals. This emerges most clearly in high-diversity multi-ethnic liberal societies such as Britain. London has 270 nationalities and 300 different languages – greater diversity than any other metropolis in the world. English is a second language for 40% of London pupils.

Fertility among home-centred women is roughly twice as high as among work-centred women, both among highly-qualified women and less-qualified women. It is undoubtedly home-centred women who will respond most to pro-natalist policies. Full-time employment is roughly twice as high among work-centred women as among home-centred women, for both the highly-qualified and others.

Official surveys on the demand for childcare show that most parents prefer family care, and avoid formal/nursery/collective care wherever possible for children under 15 years. One of the most successful and popular family policies in Europe has been the homecare allowance introduced in 1988 in Finland and in 1998 in Norway. This is the only policy that gives any recognition and reward for the work done by full-time parents in raising children. It is used by fathers as well as mothers.

We have to recognise that gender equality policies may be incompatible with quality care for children. In any case, gender equality and family-friendly policies have not in fact delivered economic equality for men and women in Scandinavian countries. All social policies should be gender-neutral, rather than giving special benefits and advantages exclusively to working women or to mothers.

Government attempts to micro-manage the private lives of citizens seem doomed to failure. There are no successes to report, anywhere. As soon as the Berlin wall fell, social policies in Eastern Germany unravelled, just as they did in China and elsewhere.”

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