It's true that female workforce participation rates have risen since the 1960s from 33% to 58%. But that includes women working only a few hours a week and those unemployed but looking for work. But when it comes to full-time work there has been no significant change:
One of the most stubborn characteristics of the Australian workforce is women's rejection of full-time work. The Australian National University economist Bob Gregory sums up the data: ''Despite the rapid increase in education levels, despite large changes in social attitudes towards married women working in the labour market, despite large increases in labour market rewards and despite increased labour market involvement, the proportion of women 15 to 59 employed full time is much the same as it was 35 years ago.''
Nor have women's part-time work hours increased much:
women's weekly part-time working hours show very little overall rise - barely an hour over 30 years.
The conclusion drawn by Arndt is that husbands are being unfairly castigated for not doing a larger proportion of unpaid work when women have not increased their proportion of paid work.
The response from the female readers is interesting. Some agree that the paid and unpaid work balances out:
In my own household my husband earns 95% of the income (working very long hours) and does 5% of the unpaid housework/child care. I earn 5% of the income and happily do 95% of the unpaid housework/child care.
But then one woman had this ungrateful thought toward her own husband:
Yes Bettina, my husband plays on his iPad on the long commute. Likewise his long lunch is a "work-related activity". Do you really think this tripe helps men? You may like to consider that reading your articles makes many women feel very stabby towards them.
Another took the PC line that there are no natural preferences at work but that it's all due to socialisation:
you do not discuss why women are 'rejecting' full-time work. (No, it's not because as a female I am 'biologically hardwired' to be a snuggly nurturer all my life.) You do not go into any of the cultural or social background which could lead to such a rejection.
But most of the comments, from men and women, agree with Arndt - and that's in a newspaper with a largely lefty readership:
Reader 1: At last, someone tells the truth of what I see around me and what my own experience is. Why would I have kids and spend all week working and commuting?
Reader 2: Arndt's comments are absolutely true. Many academics and journalists are determined to trot out the party line on women and work, ignoring the clear evidence to the contrary. For example, did the media ever pick up on the obvious fact that ABC childcare went broke because contrary to the rhetoric, there is not an enormous unmet need for childcare in Australia, other than in affluent inner urban areas? Childcare centres in the suburbs and the urban fringe, where the majority of kids live, have plenty of spaces, because most of the children's mothers are not working or working in ways that still allow them to care for their children. You never hear this story because it doesn't match the approved story we are meant to be telling.
Reader 3: I generally agree with your article. Put simply, any women I know of about my age (mid 30's) in a relationship with children either do not work, or at least do not work full time. Nor do they seem to be ever intending to work full time again.
My conclusion? Women can be hypercareerist in their 20s and that can be demoralising to their male peers. The men ask themselves why they should bother trying to keep up when society doesn't want them as providers anyway. But the female hypercareerism doesn't last in the large majority of cases.
I've seen that happen many times. I've seen strongly feminist women who have sworn over and over that they weren't maternal types suddenly get jack of it all, pressure their boyfriends into marriage, have a child and quit their jobs.
So one conclusion is that men shouldn't accept that the male provider role is redundant. It's not by a long way.
But there's one more conclusion to draw. Even on the right there is often an assumption that women's greatest aim in life is to be a full-time careerist. Therefore, if you support the traditional family you might be criticised for trying to impose a masculine bias on women or trying to support a policy that women will rise up against collectively.
But the reality seems to be that even after decades of the state and the political class trying to impress a careerist world view on women, that most women aren't buying into it - that they really do want to focus on their families and that they don't see full-time careerism as the path to self-actualisation.
So I don't think traditionalists have much to lose in supporting the traditional family. We can afford to be a bit flexible when it comes to female workforce participation; all that we really need to do as a minimum is to continue to uphold the male provider role in society.