great expectations, and household divisions

The recent excellent report from IPPR on gender issues has immediate attractions for me. It’s great to see a thinktank using longitudinal data, as Tess Lanning and her colleagues do. They compare the experiences of women born in 1958 with those of the 1970 generation, and this gives us a powerful take on trends.

They rightly warn against seeing any tidy linear progression towards greater equality. In particular, we can see major divisions opening up between top and bottom, amongst women as more generally. One illustration of this is the changes in the amount of domestic work done by men; this has increased over time – but mainly amongst men with more education. So we have a picture of on the one hand households where both adults are well educated, most likely to be in work – and with a more equal balance of earning and domestic work between the man and the woman; and on the other hand households where both are on low or minimum wages, the woman probably working part-time – and, partly as a result of this, a persistently unequal division of household responsibilities.   It’s likely that  neither adult has much in the way of qualifications – but if one of them does, it’s more likely to be the woman, and yet she is more likely to have the major share of domestic work.  It’s something I’d love to know more about as an important example of the workings of the PP.

This is an issue flagged up a couple of years ago by Goran Esping-Anderson in his book The  Incomplete Revolution.  He makes a powerful for taking households rather than individuals as the unit of analysis, and esepcially when we are thinking about equality issues.   The implications of increasing homogamy are really considerable, materially and culturally.     Amongst other things you have to assume that it will influence the relative educational achievements of the children of these households, leaving schools battling to deal with the growing inequality of wealth and of cultural capital.

One other point from the IPPR report:  eldercare.    The authors say that the cost and quality of eldercare is putting increasing emotional and financial pressure on families (it’s good that they used qualitative  interviews to complement the quantitative analysis of cohort data). There are signs that families are more mistrustful of the quality of eldercare than of childcare, which means that the caresqueeze sandwich (elders becoming dependent just as children cease to be) assumes growing importance, including in its implications for women’s earnings and careers in later life.

I see this as a challenge which we have barely begun to grapple with. At a personal level I’m prompted in this by having a 97-year-old mother; she is in truly excellent care, so I am very lucky, but I see how easy it is for this kind of responsibility to knock people sideways, as individuals and as families. It needs a separate post, I think.

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