Importing more bad European policies won’t create gender equality

It’s International Women’s Day. Hooray!

There’s a lot to celebrate and a lot to bemoan today. But I want to focus on one thing in particular. Via Liz Nolan Brown, Moira Weigel’s What billionaire philanthropists get wrong about empowering women should be titled, what one Yale PhD student gets wrong about public policy.

First, let’s look at what Weigel gets right.

Equalizing domestic work is an important goal if you want gender equality.

As Melinda Gates pointed out, and Weigel summarized, women globally perform the vast majority of unpaid labor. This prevents girls and women from spending as much time studying, networking, and doing paid work as men. It also disadvantages them when it comes to finding time for self-care.

But while Gates proposes cell phones and contraceptives to help reduce the amount of domestic work needed, Weigel wants to see policies like paid family leave and state-subsidized childcare. She describes these policies, which redistribute more unpaid work to men, as “the one measure that has actually been shown to reduce gendered inequality in providing care work.”

But does it work?

Let’s look at Sweden. It has state-mandated 16 months of paid parental leave, special protections for part-time workers, and state-subsidized preschools. All for the purpose of ensuring redistributing domestic work to men.

So how’d those policies work out for Sweden? Swedish women are much more likely than men, and American women, to have part-time jobs. They are far less likely to hold top managerial positions or be CEOs. On top of that, Scandinavian labour markets are the most gender-segregated in the developed world.

I won’t go as far as to say that by subsidizing part-time work Sweden is actually making it harder for women to participate fully in the workforce. But it doesn’t seem to have helped.

On the other hand, contraceptives and cell phones have a pretty good track record of liberating women from unpaid labor.

The irony here is that Weigel accuses Melinda Gates of not considering “the role that governments might play in promoting the equality and well-being of their citizens.”

What a load of condescending bullshit.

Has Weigel considered that Gates did indeed consider whether public policy was the most effective way to promote gender equality? Perhaps Gates proposes private solutions to cultural problems because she actually looked at the effects of the policies Weigel proposed. It doesn’t appear Weigel has. The data doesn’t seem to support the idea that mandating gender equality is the most effective path forward.

Women deserve better than ham-fisted attempts to legislate equality. Yes, women need to spend less time on unpaid labor and more time studying, working for money, networking, and taking care of themselves. That’s not just good for women, it’s good for society. We all benefit when people choose work based on what’s between their ears and not between their legs.

The policies that would actually help accomplish this include lowering the minimum wage so women can outsource labor more cheaply, and so more women can enter the labor force. We also need to loosen immigration restrictions for the same purpose. We need less regulation of childcare to lower the cost. We need healthcare reform that actually lowers the cost of care. But most of all, we need a cultural shift from considering unpaid labor “women’s work.”

One Comment

  1. Why is domestic work considered “unpaid work”?

    When you tend your garden, you increase and guarantee the future value of your vegetables. When you do maintenance on your car, you preserve it’s value. When you clean or maintain your home, or even mow the lawn, you not only preserve the value of the house, you increase it’s market value.

    When you care for your children, you preserve your investment in the future.

    Domestic work done for the value of assets you own is never unpaid work. If you hire somebody else to do it, they gain nothing from the work since they’re not invested in those assets, which is why you pay them money in exchange for the work. But if you maintain or improve your own assets using your own labor, the work is not “unpaid”. There may be no cash gained, but wealth is either maintained, or better yet maintained and increased.

    Which is why the state should never get involved in the “who’s doing the domestic work” issue. Those who do it already get value out of it, though fluctuating market conditions may make that value a little difficult to determine.

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