Acton Institute Powerblog

When it comes to work-life balance, women know better than government

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A series of governments across the West have crafted policies designed to help women achieve their goals. However, they failed to ask women what those goals might be. Economic interventions designed to nudge women into careers they don’t want, or to enter the workforce full-time even if they prefer to work in the home, uniquely disempower the women they are intended to help.

Juan A. Soto, executive director of the Barcelona-based think tank Fundación Arete, tackles the issue in a new essay for Religion & Liberty Transatlantic.

After a sweeping glance at gender-based affirmative action policies across Europe, he surgically dissects the policies and the social conditions that cause them to fail. Most women do not wish to order their economic lives the way the government has decided they should.

Soto’s insights are at times withering. “The EU claims that only 33 percent of scientists and engineers are women,” he notes. “However, Eurostat statistics from June 2017 also indicate that women only make up 26 percent of students in that field.”

“Rather than blame this on the heteropatriarchal structure of Western societies, policymakers ought to ask whether this also corresponds to different life choices,” he writes.

The same is true of women working full-time outside the home. The data are readily available. Pew found that more than two-thirds (67 percent) of mothers would prefer not to work outside the home at all, or to work part-time.

Mothers are rightly concerned about the quality of daycare watching their children. Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation has noted that researchers:

point to certain negative behavioral effects resulting from preschool atten­dance, including a negative impact on classroom behavior and elevated expulsion rates … In fact, preschoolers in state-funded programs are expelled at three times the rate of K- 12 students nationally, with those children enrolled in full-day programs being more likely to be expelled than children in half-day programs. A study by researchers at Stanford University and the University of California showed negative social­ization in the areas of externalizing behaviors, inter­personal skills, and self-control as a result of even short periods of time spent in preschool centers.

On the other hand, spending more time at home improves the lives of children well beyond their formative years. Eric Bettinger, associate professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, found that high school children in Norway got better grades when they had a stay-at-home parent.

Bettinger intended his research to support Oslo’s program to subsidize stay-at-home parents for the first three years of a child’s life. After the government incentivized mothers to work outside the home full-time, it is now trying to fix the problem it created through a new welfare policy with the remarkably mercenary-sounding name, “Cash for Care.” Soto argues it is better to allow parents to make the choices that they know are in their own best economic, and family, interests.

Soto notes one additional layer of interference with women’s wishes: The European Union has its own gender-based policies, norms, and expectations. The European Commission writes that its policies exist to help women “exercise control over their lives and to make genuine choices.” Soto writes, “we must ask whether government policy stigmatizes women who decide to make other ‘genuine choices,’ such as being parents.”

Read the full article here.

(Photo credit: Public domain.)

Rev. Ben Johnson Rev. Ben Johnson is Senior Editor at the Acton Institute.

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