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Women in the new welfare equilibrium

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Feminist writings often argue that the welfare state, like the society that underpins it, is patriarchical, and that a major overhaul of policy is necessary in the quest for gender equality. This is possibly a valid claim, if not for all welfare states, then at least for some. The very same objective would, nevertheless, appear additionally persuasive if women-friendly policy can be shown to improve not only the welfare of women, but of all. In this article I shall attempt to demonstrate that the feminist case need not be based on the narrower cause of women's emancipation because improving women's welfare will, simultaneously, improve upon societal welfare. Or, to put it differently, gender equality is potentially a substantial Pareto improvement in so far as women are emerging as the axial principle of any positive welfare equilibrium for post-industrial society.

The post-war welfare equilibrium was built around the male breadwinner's earnings and job security, coupled to the family's internalization of caring needs. The "standard production worker" cum male breadwinner became the normative guideline for institution-building. Be it the full employment commitment, collective bargaining, labour market regulation, or social protection, all were primarily designed to safeguard his job, earnings capacity, and social entitlements. His security was assumed to deliver universal security. The male breadwinner constituted the nexus between economy and family, between production and consumption. As research has shown, women's economic dependence on men was near absolute in the post-war decades. This dependency was doubly reinforced because few married women worked and if they did, their wages were typically low.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2003-10-01

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