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

–  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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