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Balancing work and family is not an employer responsibility

By Babette Francis - posted Monday, 9 May 2005

Discussion on "balancing work and family" has been fuelled by middle-class feminists who have discovered they are not supermen and cannot "have it all". Having failed to get male partners to share housework and child rearing, feminists are now demanding that government and employers enable them to "balance" work and family.

There are few men leading this debate. Judging by Ross Brundett's Herald Sun column "He says, She says", the average Aussie bloke after a day's work just wants to settle down on the couch with a beer, the remote control and the form guide. Any "imbalance" in Brundett's life is created by his wife demanding that he paint the house, mow the lawn or give her more money for shopping.

One wonders what Brundett would make of the new Spanish law requiring men "share domestic responsibilities and the care of children and elderly family members". The amendment will be incorporated into the marriage contract at civil wedding ceremonies in a country where reportedly 40 per cent of men do no housework at all. It will be applied in divorce proceedings: Men who don't do their share could be given less time with their children. (Is the concept of "fault" creeping into the “no-fault” basis of contemporary divorce law? Will the corollary apply - will career women whose children are cared for by house-husbands lose custody of their children if they divorce?)


"The idea of equality within marriage always stumbles over the problem of work in the house and caring for dependent people," said the Spanish law's sponsor, Margarita Uría, of the Basque Nationalist party. "This will be a good way of reminding people what their duties are. It is something feminists have been wanting for a long time."

The responsibility of employers is primarily to conduct the business profitably for the owners or shareholders. It is not their task to enable employees to balance work and family. Most employers cannot afford to provide private offices and babysitters so that their female employees can breastfeed their babies à la Natasha Stott Despoja in Parliament House.

Unions who have responsibility for improving wages and conditions for members, may be able to improve the work family balance by achieving increases in wages and reduction in working hours, but the parameters are the profitability of the enterprise and the decline in union membership, not the fantasies of feminists.

While neither Federal nor State governments have mandates to enable individuals or couples to balance work and family, nevertheless governments do have a role in eliminating disincentives to work and to the creation of families or to increases in family size.

Overlooked in feminist preoccupations is that large sectors of the Australian community have neither regular work nor families. The key finding of the major study Men and Women Apart: The Decline of Partnering in Australia by Dr Bob Birrell, Virginia Rapson and Claire Hourigan, was that a growing underclass of single, low income males are not in full-time work and lack the economic resources to hold a family together. The critical condition for marriage and family formation is a full-time job.

Birrell et al found that full-time work for men in their late 20s and early 30s fell sharply from 1986 to 1996. It continued to fall at a slower rate between 1996 and 200l. By 200l one-third of men aged 25-30 were not in full-time work and 28-29 per cent of those in the 30-34 age groups were also not in full-time work. More that half of all men in their late 20s and early 30s have no post-school qualifications. The lower the income, the lower the marriage and partnering rate, and the higher the divorce and separation rate.


For women with no post-school education, by the time they are in their mid-30s, 32 per cent are unpartnered and 45 per cent of these are lone parents. Single women have a lower fertility rate than women who are married or de facto.

For this large underclass of men and women, esoteric concepts of "balancing work and family" are just daydreams. Peter Mickehburough in "Labor hunts for a heart" (Herald Sun, April 26, 2005) says that 150,000 Victorian children live in families where no one has a job.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that 24 per cent of Australian women will not have children. One reason for this "infertilty" - and the concomittant demand for not-always-successful IVF services - is that women who could have had children have put off marriage and childbearing till their mid-30s when there is a sharp decline in fertility. Feminist priorities about establishing "careers" ahead of having babies have contributed to this life pattern. Sadly, many of these women will have no families to "balance" against their careers.

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About the Author

Babette Francis, (BSc.Hons), mother of eight, is the National & Overseas Co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc. an NGO with special consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the UN. Mrs. Francis is the Australian representative of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer - She lived in India during the Partition of the sub-continent into India and Pakistan, a historical event that she believes was caused by the unwillingness of the Muslim leaders of that era to live in a secular democracy.

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