Here we go again, another piece from Fairfax Media telling people how they should lead their lives.
This particular commentator is outraged at the fact that there are not more women with children out there in the full-time workforce paying copious taxes to the government and making sense of their education. It is only in this way that we can get rid of the dreaded relic: the male breadwinner.
Oh please. Did it ever occur to this male commentator that very many women – yes, the majority – are very pleased with the family arrangement of full-time male worker, part-time female worker and children that need care, love, nurturing, supervision and lots of other child rearing responsibilities that vary with the age of the child. (Parenting doesn’t stop when the child turns one, two, ten, thirteen or eighteen.)
And indeed if the chap had looked into the HILDA data he cites, he would have found that the work/life satisfaction of the part-time working mother is very high. So much for feeling oppressed by the male breadwinner in her life.
In fact, Australia has the balance about as right as it can be. Part-time employment in the US, for instance, is hard to come by and for many mothers it is a choice of working full-time or not at all.
Two or three days a week of work suits very many women, particularly those with small children.
Our chap seems to think that having children in full-time long daycare is somehow costless (forget the cash outlay for the parents and taxpayer) Ron the child and the parent. Just wack in the baby at three to six months from 7 am to 6 pm, five days a week and the relic of male breadwinner can finally slip away.
Quite naturally, many parents baulk at this prospect for their babies and simply opt for more flexible arrangements. The percentage of mothers with children aged under one working full-time is very small and a good thing too.
Read the evanglelising here:
It is time to dispense with a relic lingering at the core of our economy: the male breadwinner.
He’s been surprisingly resilient in the face of sweeping change. Even though women have marched boldly into the paid workforce over the past four decades, fathers still tend to be primary breadwinners and mothers secondary earners.
What does the HILDA survey say about us?
The annual ‘Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA)’ survey has landed.
Australia has 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.
There’s evidence the Aussie version is more potent than in similar economies, where a dual-earner model is becoming the norm. A recent study led by the University of Queensland’s Professor Janeen Baxter concluded Australia has a “much stronger” male breadwinner culture than many other comparable nations, including the US.
Our industrial heritage has probably contributed. For much of the first half of last century, the idea that the man brought home the bacon was enshrined in Australia’s highly regulated wage fixing system – the basic wage for males was set at roughly twice the female rate on the premise that men were responsible for families’ finances.
But the male breadwinner model no longer makes much economic sense.
Young women have been investing heavily in higher education as they prepare for long, well-paid careers. Female graduates have outnumbered their male counterparts for many years – 60 per cent of Australians who completed a university course in 2014 were women.
Even so, the enduring strength of our male breadwinner model means many of those well educated, highly productive workers are relegated to secondary earners when they have children. Some quit the workforce altogether. Meanwhile, an army of less well-trained males keeps soldiering on full-time.
A man’s world: Men still tend to be primary breadwinners in the family. Photo: Louise Kennerley
Only 57 per cent of mothers whose youngest child is aged under five participate in the labour force (mostly part-time) compared with 94 per cent of fathers in that category. The gender gap is even wider among full-timers with small children. Analysis by Macquarie University’s Professor Gabrielle Meagher found that in 2012 about 85 per cent of all fathers with a youngest child under the age of five worked full-time but for mothers in that category, the rate was only 19 per cent.
The long-run increase in female workforce participation has stalled for women aged between 25 and 55 years – in that well-educated cohort participation has been relatively static for more than a decade.
It’s surprising women’s workforce participation, and the work and family policies that underpin it, figured so little in the recent election campaign.
There may be no better way for Malcolm Turnbull to deliver on his vision for growth, innovation and budget repair than by increasing the involvement of women in the labour market. It promises to simultaneously lift productivity and bolster the federal coffers. A higher rate of female workforce participation, especially full-time, would also help redress an enduring economic challenge – the enormous gap between male and female superannuation balances.
Traditional views on gender roles, especially in child rearing, have helped preserve the status quo.
The University of Queensland’s Dr Francisco Perales, who researches attitudes to gender, says adherence to traditional gender roles is relatively strong in Australia compared to other developed nations. Things are changing, but slowly.
“While it is still quite prevalent for people to think women should fulfil a traditional homemaker role and be the secondary earner and so on, our research shows a modest trend towards more gender egalitarianism since 2001,” he said.
But it’s not just community attitudes that discouraging women from working more.
Experts warn government policies to help parents balance work and family have been going backwards.
The high “effective marginal tax rates” on women returning to work after having children – a feature of Australia’s tax and welfare system – have helped entrench mothers as secondary earners.
Then there’s our broken childcare system. The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey, released last week, underscored the need for change when it revealed the average family spend on childcare each week has been growing much faster than household incomes, despite costly government subsidies.
Childcare reforms unveiled in the 2015 budget have been postponed because savings to offset the cost of the new scheme were blocked in the Senate. Some of the proposed changes are positive and long overdue but they are unlikely to deliver a major boost to female workforce participation. To do that, Australia’s childcare system will require a complete overhaul, not more tinkering.
Patricia Apps, professor of public economics at the University of Sydney, argues that if childcare worked more like the school system – where admission is universal and inexpensive for parents – women’s workforce participation would surge, savings would improve, the tax base would grow and the fertility rate would rise.
She estimates the costs of a universal childcare system would be far outweighed by the economic gains.
“What the government doesn’t seem to recognise is if they increased female labour force participation they would make billions,” she said.
Without sweeping change to the childcare regime the male breadwinner model is likely to linger for some time yet.