...But the conversation we should be having these days really isn’t one about What Mothers Want. (This has been known for years; surveys dating back to the early 1990s have shown that up to 80 percent of mothers — working and at-home alike — consistently say they wish they could work part time.) The interesting question is, rather, why they’re not getting it.
Only 24 percent of working mothers now work part time. The reason so few do isn’t complicated: most women can’t afford to. Part-time work doesn’t pay.
Women on a reduced schedule earn almost 18 percent less than their full-time female peers with equivalent jobs and education levels... Part-time jobs rarely come with benefits. They tend to be clustered in low-paying fields like the retail and service industries. And in better-paid professions, a reduced work schedule very often can mean cutting down from 50-plus hours a week to 40-odd — hardly a “privilege” worth paying for with a big pay cut.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In Europe, significant steps have been made to make part-time work a livable reality for those who seek it. Denying fair pay and benefits to part-time workers is now illegal. Parents in Sweden have the right to work a six-hour day at prorated pay until their children turn 8 years old. Similar legislation helps working parents in France, Austria, and Belgium and any employee in Germany and the Netherlands who wants to cut back.
None of this creates a perfect world. Feminists have long been leery of part-time work policies, which tend to be disproportionately used by women, mommy-tracking them and placing them at an economic disadvantage within their marriages and in society. The American model of work-it-out-for-yourself employment is Darwinian, but women’s long working hours have gone a long way toward helping them advance up the career ladder....
The place to start, ideally, would be universal health care, which is really the necessary condition for making freedom of choice a reality for working parents. European-style regulations outlawing wage and benefit discrimination against part-time workers would be nice, too, though it’s not a terribly realistic goal for the U.S., where even unpaid family leave is still a hot-button issue for employers. ...
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
New York Times: By Judith Warner