Gender Equality

by Harry on December 15, 2009

During Ingrid’s visit to Madison she was surprised to find that Gender Equality: Transforming Family Divisions of Labor (UK) has already been published, mainly because she expected me to organise a book event on it in a timely fashion, or at least announce it on CT. Mea Culpa. The book came out of the conference I wrote about here. Gornick and Meyers previously published Families That Work, a comprehensive discussion of family policy in various European countries with a view to recommending a mix of subsidies, leaves, and regulations for the United States; after a visit to present the work in Madison, Erik Wright pressed them to develop a more general set of recommendations for moving toward a dual carer-dual breadwinner system, which is the lead essay in the current book. The commentaries all take off from the lead essay, with varying degrees of criticism: commentators include Nancy Folbre, Johanna Brenner, Heidi Hartmann, Rosemary Crompton, Ann Orloff, Erik Wright and me, and not one, but two, former CT-guest bloggers, Kimberly Morgan and Lane Kenworthy. Oddly, given that her essay is more critical of the kinds of policies that I’d like to see (some variant of what Gornick and Meyers recommend) than any of the others, my own favorite commentary is Barbara Bergmann’s. As will be no surprise to anyone who knows her work, Bergmann argues against a system of leaves, especially paid leaves, on the grounds that, since men will not take the leaves, increasing the opportunities and incentives for women to take the leaves will, in fact, entrench rather than overturn the gendered division of labor. I’m not persuaded, and it’s not because I am more optimistic about men taking on more child-caring (though I am, but that’s because Bergmann is pessimistic in the extreme) but more because I don’t see childcare becoming a well-paid career, or a significantly male one, in the foreseeable future. But what I liked about her commentary was the sensitiveness to context — the way that she makes clear that any commentary on proposals like this cannot be “for” or “against” but must take into account the likely effects which will vary depending on the historical circumstances of the society being considered.

Anyway, this post is the announcement Ingrid had been expecting, and I’ll tardily try to put together an event about the book before too long.



Tim Worstall 12.15.09 at 12:52 pm

“but must take into account the likely effects ”

Taking into account outcomes rather than inputs, ideology or intentions?

Going to be a bit of a revolution that, isn’t it?


Matt 12.15.09 at 2:14 pm

I haven’t read Bergmann’s paper (the book, alas, is expensive, and I’m hesitant to check things out from the library when I don’t know if I can read them in a timely way) but isn’t her claim at least somewhat refuted by places like Norway? My understanding is that Norway has had pretty good success in getting fathers to take more (not equal, but more) time off after a birth with a clever incentive program, where they can either take a short, unpaid leave or a longer paid one (but must take one or the other.) Now, such a program is unlikely to happen in the US, so maybe she thinks it’s just irrelevant for local consideration, but the general idea seemed to me to be very good. Is the Norwegian plan not thought to be fairly successful, do she not consider it, or is something else going on? (Obviously even a fairly successful plan doesn’t mean equality, but holding full equality up as the standard to judge a social program is a formula designed for people who want to do nothing.)


Matt 12.15.09 at 2:15 pm

(looking again, the paperback is available for less than I remembered, so maybe it will go on the list of things to consider buying.)


Nadav Perez 12.15.09 at 8:16 pm

@Matt: Bergmann’s argument relates directly to places like norway, which have taken the pro-daddy leave policy to the extreme. More than 80% of norwegian fathers take some part of the leave, but nevertheless, only about 5% of leave days are taken by fathers.


Nadav Perez 12.15.09 at 8:22 pm

btw, a (paywalled) journal version of bergmann’s argument can be found here


mpowell 12.15.09 at 8:25 pm

4: That is fascinating. What prevents fathers in Norway from taking leave? Are they all just concerned about job promotions down the road?


Nadav Perez 12.15.09 at 8:31 pm

@6: Pretty much the same things that prevent American fathers from taking the 12 non-paid weeks they get, I guess. Caretaking being mother’s job, workplaces looking oddly at fathers taking leave, etc.


Substance McGravitas 12.15.09 at 8:36 pm

I got to take leave based on a proportion of my pay, or my wife got to take leave based on a proportion of hers.

You bet that if the finances worked out better I would have taken a whole buncha leave. Time off needs to mean that the family is in the same position regardless of who takes it.


Matt 12.15.09 at 9:04 pm

Thanks Nadav. I’ll try to get the paper or book at some point soon.

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