Care Work: Gender, Labor, and the Welfare State

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ISSN In the context of welfare state change and European Union and national debates on activation, this article engages in a systematic analysis of the reconciliation of work and family policies in Poland, and their implications regarding the gendered division of labour. Examination of three areas of reconciliation, that is, childcare services, maternity and parental leaves, and parent-friendly organization of work, reveals strong tensions between the unpaid labour of care and paid market labour.

Reconciliation of work and family appears challenging for mothers and fathers alike, but the nature of the problem differs - women face greater obstacles to paid employment and men to involvement in family and care. It is possible to put a monetary value on unpaid work by asking what it would cost to hire someone to do the work instead. For the U. Differences reflect differences between countries in the amount of unpaid work done, and in the wages used to value this. If wages for paid domestic and care workers are particularly low, as they are in the U. The monetary value is, of course, not the same as the social value of the work, but calculating it highlights what the monetary costs would be if the work were not done for free.

The UK Office of National Statistics released data in November showing on average UK men do 16 hours unpaid work a week, while women do 26 hours weekly 60 percent more than men. People who have lower incomes do more unpaid work than those with higher incomes.

Recognize, Reduce, Redistribute Unpaid Care Work: The Gender Gap

Valuing the work at replacement cost i. Some feminists have argued that women should actually be paid a wage for the domestic and care work they do for their families and friends. Committees calling for Wages for Housework were founded in several cities in U. S, including New York. Also, the proposal would be impossible to implement, as there would be no way to verify hours of work performed, and so in effect would amount to a kind of welfare benefit for housewives rather than a wage.

In addition, it does not focus on the questions of how to reduce and redistribute unpaid care and domestic work, and so lacks transformative potential. However, even when statistics on the extent and monetary value of unpaid care and domestic work are produced, they are not used in the design of economic policies. For instance, despite the availability of time use data in the majority of European countries, the design of austerity policies these countries have adopted since have paid no attention to their impact on unpaid work.

Social rights and care responsibility in the French welfare state

For instance, in most high-income countries, women employees are entitled to paid maternity leave funded from tax revenue—the U. However, leave benefits vary greatly across countries. The average duration of paid parental leave in developed economies is 26 weeks. Some feminists have expressed concern that long-term paid maternity leave, such as the three years available to mothers in Finland, encourages women to leave paid employment for too long, making it difficult for them to return to jobs comparable in terms of pay and conditions to the ones they have left.

A more transformative option is paid parental leave, equally shared between both parents, which is discussed here as one of the strategies to redistribute unpaid work. Women who take time out of paid employment to care for children and other family members also lose out in pension entitlements.

In many countries that have a state- organized public pension based on payroll taxes paid by employers and employees, women have successfully campaigned for the government to reduce their loss by paying some contributions on their behalf when they are out of the labor market taking care of family members. Such payments, known as pension credits, are widely used in developed countries and have recently been introduced in some developing countries, primarily in Latin America, such as in Uruguay and Bolivia.

They can be provided in relation to care of children, frail elderly people, and people who are ill or disabled, but in practice they are mainly awarded for care of children. Again there is an issue of whether pension credits are paid only for mothers as is the case in Latin America or to whomever is the main caregiver, independent of their sex as is more the case in Europe.

Pension credits for the main care-giver does more to promote the redistribution of unpaid care. Of course, if there is a universal, non-contributory pension, funded from general tax revenue and available to all, pension credits may not be necessary. Such universal social pensions are available in a growing number of countries, including Bolivia, Botswana, Mauritius, Namibia, Thailand, and rural Brazil.

While these have obvious advantages over work-related contributory pension schemes, which are found in OECD countries, the benefit levels are almost always considerably lower than those in contributory pension schemes. Provision of such services is part of the social protection system advocated by the ILO. In many developing countries, access to clean water and sanitation and clean energy cannot be taken for granted, especially in rural areas; and women and girls spend a lot of time collecting water and fuel. For instance, estimates for 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa indicate that women spend a combined total of 16 million hours per day collecting water.

This unpaid work could be eliminated by investment in water and sanitation infrastructure, provided access is affordable. In South Africa each household is entitled to liters of free, safe water per month.


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Similarly, women and girls in rural areas spend a lot of time collecting wood and other fuels and grinding and pounding food grains by hand. Rural electrification in South Africa reduced the time women spent on such tasks, boosting their participation in paid work by 9 percent. In high-income countries, clean water and electricity is widely available, but women spend many hours of unpaid time caring for their children and frail elderly relatives. This can be reduced by transferring production of care to paid workers. In OECD countries on average , only 33 percent of year olds are enrolled in early childhood education and care services.

This increases to more than 70 percent of year olds , but in some countries , such as UK, this is because compulsory enrolment in school begins at age five. Society-centered social capital flourishes in societies with good family, community, and civic engagement values. Institution-centered social capital was thought to be formed through strong political support and public administration. All of the regimes seemed in favor of social capital. The conservative regime was more positive with the society-centered theory because they believe in bonding social capital through family and community ties.

Voluntary civic engagement was seen to be most prevalent within liberal and social democratic state regimes.

Is Poverty a Disappearing Problem for Older Women?

Universal trust was stronger in northern Europe who are considered social democratic, followed by the liberal and conservative regimes. These liberal and social democratic regime characteristics are said to be related to bridging social capital. This means that these societies value equal opportunity and social inclusion. With that being said, how people are handled and what society values differs. That is why it is important to note that social capital has its strengths and weaknesses in all regimes.

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Care Work : Gender, Labor, and the Welfare State (2000, Paperback)

One of the central topics which relates to gender and welfare state countries is the access which every individual has to good employment. In saying good employment, it is implied that a person has equal opportunity for quality part time or full time employment, with the same chance of advancing to desired positions. Each regime liberal, conservative, and social democratic has different views on the amount of social capital a person should possess.

The liberal welfare state believes in laissez-faire attitude towards the market economy. As contemporary economist Adam Smith believed, the liberal welfare state ideologies would eliminate inequalities and privileges in regards to employment by having minimal government interference. The conservative welfare state views on job opportunity wanted government interference in order to create hierarchal powers and class differentiation.


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  • To conservatives, it was natural to have people with lower employment status than the select people who were developed to be leaders. This ideology to the conservatives improved efficiency. Lastly, social democratic welfare states go out of their way to make all citizens employed. The belief of having everyone employed is that equality would mobilize power and diminish the social issues which trouble a lot of governmental systems. The results yielded that there were generally more women who had part time employment than males, and more males with full time employment than females across most regimes.

    In general, part time employment was seen to be associated with poorer working conditions than people with full time employment.

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    Among the three welfare state regimes, the conservative welfare state countries did seem to be an outlier from the results. What was found in these associated countries was that there was a higher psychological demand for men, there were lower salaries and chance for promotion for both men and women liberal and social democratic states had lower salaries and lower chance for promotion for women than men , women were more likely to have permanent contracts, men were more likely to be dissatisfied with their job, and the only differences with job satisfaction with the regimes were noticed with the conservative welfare state men more satisfied than women.

    Although working conditions, job satisfaction, health status, and psychological issues vary with genders in each regime, the general trend is that females face a disadvantage when finding good employment. This phenomenon of having a disproportionate number of females in the lower-income bracket of the job market is called the feminization of poverty.

    The rates of females in poverty has become higher due to the fact that they are disadvantaged when it comes to good employment compared to men. Women also struggle with economic difficulties resulting from the high rates of abandonment, divorce, and widowhood which has been increasing in recent decades. As was highlighted by Hadas Mandel and Michael Shalev in their theoretical analysis looking at how the welfare states shape the gender pay gap, the theories of decommodfication and defamilialization underline the key differences.