50/50: the equal couples
A new book says men should do half the housework and childcare, and let women go out to work. Are we all ready for this?
CSO figures from 2011 show that 85.7 per cent of women without children were employed, slightly more than the percentage of men. But women whose youngest child was under three were less likely to work, with just 57 per cent in the workplace compared with 79 per cent of men.
For women whose youngest child was aged between four and five, the employment rate was even lower, with 51.5 per cent in employment compared with almost three-quarters of men. Once their youngest child had reached six the employment rate among women rose to 58 per cent, compared with 77 per cent of men.
Many women are choosing to leave their workplaces when they have children. Our nation prizes the right of mothers to ply their trade in the marital home. We have embedded that right in the Constitution.
What Meers and Strober are asking is: Why women? Why not both of you? Then every part of your lives will have to get an equality overhaul: the vacuuming, the cooking, the toilet-cleaning, the sex. There is no domestic activity women can do that men can’t.
The authors may raise hackles with their overconcentration on those lucky enough to have “careers” rather than “jobs”. A recent survey of US social and demographic trends by Pew Research found a strong correlation between financial wellbeing and views about the ideal work situation. Of women who say they “don’t even have enough to meet basic expenses”, 47 per cent say the ideal situation for them is to work full time. By contrast, only 31 per cent of women who claim to live comfortably say working full time is their ideal.
Marital status is also strongly linked to views about the ideal work situation, and the gap in views between married and unmarried mothers has widened significantly. Among unmarried mothers, 49 per cent say working full time would be their ideal. Only 23 per cent of married mothers today say that would be their ideal situation.
The Irish experience
In Ireland we have a similar experience. The ways men and women work here are very different. CSO figures from 2011 show the average working week for a woman was 30.6 hours, compared with 39 hours for a man. Three times as many women worked part time – 29 hours or less – than men. It’s hard not to conclude that more mothers than fathers choose to work part time.
Women make that choice, for a variety of reasons. They might think it makes sense for work to take a back seat because they won’t earn as much as a man: statistically, they’re probably right. They might also assume they will care better for their children, but they might be wrong.
Meers and Strober have introduced the radical-to-some notion that women need to let go of the conditioning that makes them want to control the domestic realm. “Women need to work more so men can work less,” they say. Their logic is that if women work more, the world of work can’t but change. Men can dust, you know. And if they can’t, who cares, if the sex is great?
Getting to 50/50: How Working Couples Can Have It All is published by Piaktus