One factor limiting women’s economic security is the approach to part-time work in the US. It has the reputation of being poorly paid (true), mostly done by students, (false), and performed by those who don’t really depend upon the income (also false). Part-time workers do not receive the protections of numerous state and federal laws, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, nor do part-time jobs generally come with benefits like paid leave or vacations, health insurance, or retirement savings programs. Additionally, part-time work is often compensated at a rate lower than that earned by full-time workers performing the same job.
Approximately 2/3 of the part-time workforce is female. This is no coincidence. As women continue to perform most family carework, looking after others may drive down the hours they have available for paid employment. Lacking access to child care, or lacking affordable child care remains a significant problem in many households. The presence or absence of another parent or adult in the house can be a factor, as can the work obligations of that second adult, if present.
It doesn’t have to be this way. A recent New York Times article reports that the Netherlands is seeing an important shift in part-time workers, as more fathers settle in to a four day work week. Gender stereotypes are breaking down, as first women, and now men, are supported by both the law and cultural attitudes favoring greater parity between paid work and family time. An accountant interviewed for the article said: “More men want time with the family, but without giving up their careers. And more women want careers, but without giving up too much time with the family.” Consequently, 75% of Dutch women work part-time, and 23% of Dutch men do. Another 9% of Dutch men work a 40 hour week in four days. Promotions and professional success are still realistic goals, and employers attract and retain talent by offering flexibility in work hours and location.
Could it happen here? There’s no reason why not. Changing our thinking, our attitudes and expectations is where it starts. Difficult, obviously, but not impossible. It’s a question of how badly we want it.
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington