Skip to content

When Equality Isn't Everything

Women Balancing Work and Family

LONDON, FEB. 20, 2005 (Zenit) - Ahead of this month's U.N. conference on the status of women, the issue of how to balance work and family responsibilities is once more in the news. On Monday the British government's Equal Opportunities Commission released a study titled, "Part-Time Is No Crime -- So Why the Penalty?"

A Telegraph newspaper report the same day said that the commission highlighted the problems facing women who switch to part-time work in order to care for their children while they are young. The study affirms that even if the women later go back to full-time employment, they will not be able to regain their former status or salary.

The commission called for more flexible workplace practices in order to remove the penalties for women who wish to work part time. The study also notes that women are increasingly returning to work after having a baby. In 1979, fewer than 25% returned to work within eight months of giving birth. In 1988, 45% returned within nine months, and by 2002, 73% had returned to work within 11 months.

"Britain is facing a crisis if it does not address the need for flexible hours at work," said Julie Mellor, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, in a press release issued Monday. "Women are hardest hit by the part-time 'penalty' which channels them into low-paid jobs with poor prospects often because they take on more of the caring role at home."

The release noted that data from 2004 show there are 7.4 million part-time workers in the United Kingdom -- 26% of all those in employment -- of whom 78% are women.

No easy solutions

Research by British sociologist Catherine Hakim shows that the issues involved in the work-family divide are a lot more complex than just ensuring equality between the sexes. In an article published Oct. 7 in the Wall Street Journal, the senior research fellow at the London School of Economics noted that for a long time the European Commission has presented the Scandinavian countries as a model of how to achieve equal opportunities for women in the work world.

However, Hakim affirmed, "the studies I've examined show that these policies, designed to be family-friendly, are actually counterproductive in the long run." Women who return to work in Sweden after giving birth are concentrated in occupations such as nursing, child-care and clerical work, with men predominating in management and professional jobs.

Interestingly, in the United States, which does not have generous maternity leave legislation, women make up 11% of senior managers, compared with only 1.5% in Sweden.

Hakim also observed that there has been no change in the pay gap between men and women in many advanced economies during the last 10 years. The pay gap is just as high in the Scandinavian countries as it is in the rest of Europe and in the United States.

The sociologist concluded that the generous maternity benefits in Scandinavian countries makes them unattractive for employers and that private companies have reduced their female staffs. In fact, two-thirds of women in Sweden are working in the public sector.

She also argued that policies promoting women's equality in the workplace may not be the same as family-friendly policies. "Not surprisingly, it is people who focus on their careers first and foremost who win the biggest prizes," said Hakim. In Britain, for example, about half of all women in the top professional and managerial jobs remain childless.

Hakim's article coincided with the publishing of a revised edition of her book, "Key Issues in Women's Work: Female Diversity and the Polarisation of Women's Employment" (Glasshouse Press).

True lies

In her book, Hakim argued that many "A great many true lies are told about women" -- for example, that their work is invisible because much of their activity is at home. In fact, Hakim says her research shows men also are involved in a good deal of informal and voluntary work, and, even if they do fewer household chores, they toil for longer in the workplace. Hakim also observed that many housewives value their autonomy in comparison with the restrictions of working in a market economy.

She admitted that many women can be forced into part-time work and lack the financial independence of men. But, she continued, "The implication is that men have real choices, and more choices to make." However, the researcher insisted, "Most men have little choice in how to spend their lives, being forced into the full-time continuous lifelong employment career whether they like it or not."

Hakim also commented that it is important to take into account the difference between men and women when it comes to their preferences regarding work and family. Men are divided into two groups, with roughly half being work-centered and half seeking a balance between work and family.

Women are more heterogeneous in their preferences. Around two-thirds seek a balance between work and family. The remaining third is divided between those who are work-centered or family-centered. Overall, around 80% of women prefer to be secondary earners in the family.

Regarding the question of sex discrimination, Hakim explained that even if this were eliminated completely, sex differentials would continue to exist. This is due both to the numbers of women who opt to be secondary earners, and to women who leave the labor market because of marriage or childbirth.

Hakim observed that case studies involving graduates in managerial and professional occupations demonstrate that it is not sex discrimination that is the principal cause of differences between men and women when it comes to pay. Some feminists do not accept such conclusions, and it is true, added Hakim, that in the past women's choices were conditioned by social pressures. But, in Western societies today, social and economic changes have opened up the possibility for men and women to make freer choices, and we should respect this, Hakim said, even if it does not result in a fifty-fifty split when it comes to occupational and household duties.

"Difference and diversity are now the key features of the female population, with the likelihood of increasing polarization between work-centered and home-centered women in the 21st century," she concluded.

Finding equilibrium

The issue of women and work was also addressed by the Church recently. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published last July its letter to bishops "On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World." The text observed that the relationship between family and work "has, for women, characteristics different from those in the case of men."

However, the letter commented that harmonizing the two is not only a question of legal and economic measures: "It is above all a question of mentality, culture and respect. Indeed, a just valuing of the work of women within the family is required."

The letter recommended that women who wish to dedicate themselves completely to home and the family be able to do so, "without being stigmatized by society or penalized financially."

At the same time it called for measures to ensure that those women who wish to combine work with family responsibilities "be able to do so with an appropriate work-schedule, and not have to choose between relinquishing their family life or enduring continual stress, with negative consequences for one's own equilibrium and the harmony of the family." An equilibrium that many women still struggle to find.


Catholic Online CA, US
Catholic Online - Publisher, 661 869-1000



Women, Work, Family, Marriage, Children

More Catholic PRWire

Showing 1 - 50 of 4,718

A Recession Antidote
Randy Hain

Monaco & The Vatican: Monaco's Grace Kelly Exhibit to Rome--A Review of Monegasque-Holy See Diplomatic History
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

The Why of Jesus' Death: A Pauline Perspective
Jerom Paul

A Royal Betrayal: Catholic Monaco Liberalizes Abortion
Dna. Maria St.Catherine De Grace Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

Embrace every moment as sacred time
Mary Regina Morrell

My Dad
JoMarie Grinkiewicz

Letting go is simple wisdom with divine potential
Mary Regina Morrell

Father Lombardi's Address on Catholic Media
Catholic Online

Pope's Words to Pontifical Latin American College
Catholic Online

Prelate: Genetics Needs a Conscience
Catholic Online

State Aid for Catholic Schools: Help or Hindrance?
Catholic Online

Scorsese Planning Movie on Japanese Martyrs
Catholic Online

2 Nuns Kidnapped in Kenya Set Free
Catholic Online

Holy See-Israel Negotiation Moves Forward
Catholic Online

Franchising to Evangelize
Catholic Online

Catholics Decry Anti-Christianity in Israel
Catholic Online

Pope and Gordon Brown Meet About Development Aid
Catholic Online

Pontiff Backs Latin America's Continental Mission
Catholic Online

Cardinal Warns Against Anti-Catholic Education
Catholic Online

Full Circle
Robert Gieb

Three words to a deeper faith
Paul Sposite

Relections for Lent 2009
chris anthony

Wisdom lies beyond the surface of life
Mary Regina Morrell

World Food Program Director on Lent
Catholic Online

Moral Clarity

Pope's Lenten Message for 2009
Catholic Online

A Prayer for Monaco: Remembering the Faith Legacy of Prince Rainier III & Princess Grace and Contemplating the Moral Challenges of Prince Albert II
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe

Keeping a Lid on Permissiveness
Sally Connolly

Glimpse of Me
Sarah Reinhard

The 3 stages of life
Michele Szekely

Sex and the Married Woman
Cheryl Dickow

A Catholic Woman Returns to the Church
Cheryl Dickow

Modernity & Morality
Dan Shea

Just a Minute
Sarah Reinhard

Catholic identity ... triumphant reemergence!
Hugh McNichol

Edging God Out
Paul Sposite

Burying a St. Joseph Statue
Cheryl Dickow

George Bush Speaks on Papal Visit
Catholic Online

Sometimes moving forward means moving the canoe
Mary Regina Morrell

Action Changes Things: Teaching our Kids about Community Service
Lisa Hendey

Easter... A Way of Life
Paul Spoisite

Papal initiative...peace and harmony!
Hugh McNichol

Proclaim the mysteries of the Resurrection!
Hugh McNichol

Jerusalem Patriarch's Easter Message
Catholic Online

Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa
Catholic Online

Papal Address at the End of the Way of the Cross
Catholic Online

Cardinal Zen's Meditations for Via Crucis
Catholic Online

Interview With Vatican Aide on Jewish-Catholic Relations
Catholic Online

Pope Benedict XVI On the Easter Triduum
Catholic Online

Holy Saturday...anticipation!
Hugh McNichol

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

The California Network
Inspiring streaming service

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Catholic Online Singles
Safe, secure Catholic dating

The California Studios
World-class post production service

Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

School Teachers
Teacher lesson plans & resources

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.