The flood of women on to the labour market has been good news for companies seeking flexibility. Patricia Morgan says it is bad news for men and family lifeby Patricia Morgan / May 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Those who first framed equal opportunity legislation could not have foreseen the extent to which the monumental structure of male livelihoods which resulted from the industrial revolution would be swept away. Had they known, would they have acted differently?
The data speaks for itself. There are now only 250,000 fewer women with jobs than men. Male wages, especially at the bottom end of the market, have stagnated or declined as women’s wages have risen. The laws of supply and demand ensure that men cannot command the sort of rates they enjoyed when they monopolised the labour market.
The new pattern of short term or part time work is traditionally associated with married women who move in and out of the workforce in response to family requirements. In the past, such jobs used to supplement a main wage; but women are now the primary source of income in as many as 30 per cent of households.
While equality activists still rage at “dominant ideologies” that “sustain male employment,” the support which men, young ones especially, are able to offer families, has been dramatically reduced by levels of job insecurity unprecedented since the industrial revolution.
Most husbands and wives still prefer the man to be the provider of the “family wage” (while also believing that women have a right to seek employment on equal terms). But there are now many communities in which it is very difficult for husbands to establish and maintain families. By the late 1980s, 34 per cent of white American men aged between 20 and 34, and 56 per cent of black men, were unable to support a family above the poverty line. Without a “decent” job, men are undesirable spouses.
Men’s diminishing ability to provide for families has contributed to the high numbers of casual unions and fatherless children on both sides of the Atlantic. The decline of the male breadwinner also accounts for both the increased inequality of family incomes since the late 1970s, and the surge in child poverty. The proportion of children under five whose parents receive either income support or family credit-which supplements the net income of those in low paid employment-stands at around 40 per cent. Among those with children aged between 12 and 15, the figure is 30 per cent.
In the first half of this century, women’s participation in the workforce was concentrated in the years before marriage. The…