Sunday, April 21, 2013

A man who supports his family now a bad thing?

The Sydney Morning Herald has run an article by a senior writer, Mike Wade, complaining about the survival in Australia of.... the male breadwinner.

Yes, the idea of a male breadwinner is offensive to contemporary liberalism:
An economic dinosaur lives on in Australia: the male breadwinner. Despite decades of sweeping social and economic change he's survived surprisingly unscathed. And there's evidence our male breadwinner model is especially potent.

Researchers have found the male breadwinner is proving much more resilient in Australia than many comparable countries...
 
Why the panic about male breadwinners? It seems that new research shows that only a minority of mothers with young children choose to work full-time:
The male dominance over full-time employment is most pronounced among parents with small children. About 85 per cent of all fathers with a youngest child under the age of five work full-time - but for mothers in that category, the rate is about 19 per cent.

There are also signs the long-running increase in female participation rate, under way since the 1960s, has stalled. The proportion of women aged 15-64 in the workforce is now lower than it was four years ago.
 
I've pointed to this trend many times at this site: in my workplace there are no women with children of any age who work full-time - they are all part-timers (about a third of Australian women overall return to full-time employment in the long-run).

What do liberals think the solution is? Here's one suggestion:
Patricia Apps, professor in public economics at the University of Sydney, argues that if childcare worked more like the school system, women's workforce participation would surge...
 
She wants the care of children to be entirely socialised. And then we get this comment from Mike Wade:
The dominance of the male breadwinner means men have far more retirement income than women because they spend more time working. The superannuation industry estimates nearly 90 per cent of women have insufficient super to support a comfortable standard of living in retirement.
 
Mike Wade might feel woozy having to recognise the fact, but the super that husbands earn will help to support those 90% of women. It is family income, not husband income.

How did we get to the stage where it's thought wrong for men to go out to work to support their families and wrong for mothers to look after their own young children?

Well, part of the answer is that liberals believe that career is more important than family. And one reason for this is that they believe that women achieve more autonomy - more independence from men - through careers. Sweden's EU minister, Birgitta Ohlsson, recently attacked housewives on the basis that:
Having your own money is a source of both power and independence for women.
 
So if career is necessary for "equal freedom" then that is what liberals will push for: they will want more career involvement from women and less from men. It doesn't really matter to the political class if women are choosing to work part-time, that is considered the wrong outcome and so action is taken to get a different result.

There are any number of problems with all this. For instance, if independence really is the aim then why marry in the first place? And if you value autonomy above all else, then why have children? Little wonder that in Sweden, where such liberal values have been pushed the hardest, a record 47% of people live alone.

And the liberal view glosses over the fact that we are not just interchangeable units of labour, but men and women, and that part of our fulfilment in life comes through distinct paternal and maternal roles.

And is it really in women's overall interests to discourage a culture of the male breadwinner? Won't larger numbers of women just end up going out to work to support an unemployed partner? Won't there be fewer men earning that superannuation to support women in their retirement?

But, most of all, what kind of society pushes against men working to support their families?

6 comments:

  1. But, most of all, what kind of society pushes against men working to support their families?
    -
    One hostile to the existence of that society.

    We really do have a hostile elite. Including a hostile academic elite.

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  2. Men are also less attracted to "powerful, independent women" as potential wives and mothers of their children.

    Not that that matters to the liberals...

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  3. I find the article quite depressing.

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  4. Interesting, Mark, that your workplace has so few full time working mothers. Just on my hallway alone, lawyers/secretaries/paralegals, I can count 7 women who have children under 18 who are working full time.

    I think the situation in the US is very different from the situation in Oz.

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  5. The dominance of the male breadwinner means men have far more retirement income than women because they spend more time working. The superannuation industry estimates nearly 90 per cent of women have insufficient super to support a comfortable standard of living in retirement.

    There's another implication in that statement - it is only to be read as criticism if you assume that divorce is an ordinary thing and that we should expect a high rate of divorce. (Because obviously, in a society where there is not a high rate of divorce, the so-called 'breadwinners' in the family would be expected to support their spouse in many circumstances.) One way of countering Wade's argument would be by attempting to lower the rates of divorce, and encouraging stable marriage, amongst others things, as an altruistic institution - one that encourages spouses to share, and to take care, of those in their immediate family group.

    I suspect Wade would not want us to come to that conclusion either. So apart from this -

    How did we get to the stage where it's thought wrong for men to go out to work to support their families and wrong for mothers to look after their own young children?

    We might also ask

    How did we get to the stage where we want to encourage a high rate of divorce and the breakdown of marriage as an institution in society as a whole?

    There aren't going to be any simple or easy answers to these questions, but it's certainly worth examining the arguments and values of those such as Wade that are, at the moment, unexamined.

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