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Feminomics: (De)valuing women’s socio-economic influence

Chart 1 – Average hours worked per person (employment and self-employment, age 15+)

Chart 1 Average hours worked, labour

Source: CANSIM Tables 282-0001 and 282-0017 – Labour force survey estimates (LFS), Statistics Canada

It’s a website as well as a movement. Unfortunately, that movement has little to do with promoting either equal opportunity or social security for women, let alone acknowledging the value of their unpaid work. Rather, it seems singularly focused on the fact women are paid less than men.

Owing to their dual roles as mothers / primary caregivers as well as labour market participants, it’s no surprise the hours women commit to unpaid work necessarily translate to less hours on average available to commit to paid labour.

That doesn’t sit well with feminomists(?), who apparently see women choosing to be mothers / primary caregivers as a “systemic problem“. The real problem is distilling women’s socio-economic value to little more than labour market widgets. Rising inequality, the decreasing share of income to labour and the long shadow of the Great Recession may help bring things back into perspective.

After Decades of Decline, A Rise in Stay-at-Home Mothers
D’Vera Cohn, Gretchen Livingston and Wendy Wang, Pew Research Center April 8, 2014

From she to she: changing patterns of women in the Canadian labour force (PDF)
Canadian Economic Observer, Statistics Canada June 15, 2006

Econ 101, sorta

Supply, meet demand. As Chart 1 shows, the average labour market hours per person – not per worker – has been fairly steady since 1976 (will update if/when earlier year data’s sourced). The only difference is share of hours worked, the decline of average hours worked by men (-3.7) offset by the rise in average hours worked by women (+4.5) between 1976 and 2013.

The feminomics argument usually ends there. Net positive increase  = net positive economic outcome.

Couple of issues:

First, basic micro tells us the scenario just described, fixed average labour demand plus increased labour supply – from increased female labour market participation – should translate into lower or at least stagnating prices (wages). The effect depends on the degree of competition by industry/occupation. While some industries/occupations tend to be more predominantly male or female, increased female labour market participation has been characterised by greater female representation in certain traditionally more male-dominated sectors, but not the other way around – which goes a way to explaining the observed trends.

Second, as alluded to earlier, greater labour market participation has different immediate (long term’s another issue) opportunity costs for men and women. We’ll dispense with the political correctness and say that for men it’s mostly a trade-off of time between labour and leisure. For women, the trade-off is partly leisure, but it’s more likely to also be unpaid labour – time caring for children and/or, increasingly, ageing parents. However one wishes to characterise it (evolution or social conditioning), women are the primary care-givers in most families.

Speaking of child and elderly care, they’re industries/occupations that have grown and contributed to the observed trend, as practically all workers in the fields are female. While there are a number of related industries and occupations for which disaggregated data’s not available (ECE, pre-school teacher, etc.), child day-care alone accounts for 116,000 payroll jobs (Jan 2014 SEPH). Many care workers are either self-employed or operate informally, making it difficult to gauge the sector’s impact on women’s labour market participation.

Family and childcare questions, and answers

Things quickly get complicated when trying to do socio-economic analysis from there, and a meta analysis is never really done for fear of upsetting the social engineering apple cart.

The rise in child and elderly care work raises both social and economic questions: Is the model that sees both men and women working outside the home while paying strangers to watch / care for their children and/or elderly parents effective or efficient for all parties involved?

There’s also the related question of family networks that once provided greater opportunities and flexibility for child and elderly care, Such networks have deteriorated with the decline in family formation and the majority of women – many out of necessity, not by choice – participating in the labour force. Canadian women’s participation rate in 1976 was 45.7%; last year it was 62.3%.

It’s worth noting: child day-care service workers’ weekly earnings in 1991 were 59.1% of the all-industry average; last year it was practically unchanged at 59.9% (SEPH).

As the linked Pew Research report notes, cost-benefit analysis helps explain the rise in stay-at-home mothers. Women with young children earning lower wages, after accounting for total out-of-home (OOH) costs and not just daycare, as well as considering the greater care they could provide and personal satisfaction they could receive from staying home to care for their own children, are increasingly opting out of the labour force.

The phenomena is observed at both ends of the income spectrum, as the linked StatsCan report notes. The Alberta bitumen boom through the 1990’s and aughts saw labour incomes there rise to the point where an increasing number of women felt their families could afford getting by with one wage-earner. As women in Alberta opted out of the labour force, the combination of rising labour demand and shrinking supply further fuelled wage gains, to the benefit of those newly single wage-earner families – and to the chagrin of many Alberta business owners. (Another perspective on what’s driven the temporary foreign worker boom initiated by the Alberta Party current federal government, literally upon arrival in office…)

Other social (re)considerations

Could what happened in Alberta happen in the broader economy? Analogously, could the push to artificially increase women’s labour market participation to equal mens’ – borne of a misguided notion of social equality – possibly have contributed to negative socio-economic outcomes for all?

For years, Quebec’s been hailed among Canadian provinces for its progressiveness. Feminomists often cite its universal subsidised childcare program as the model for the rest of the country to follow. Some have gone so far as to credit the program for Quebec’s recent mini baby boom(s).

As is usually the case, the reality is slightly different. The subsidised day-care program has proven a remarkable drag on Quebec’s finances. The waiting list for subsidised day-care spots has lengthened, and the government has announced plans to increase the daily fee by nearly thirty percent, phasing in regular rate increases thereafter. As they say, there’s no such thing as free lunch – or day-care.

As for that mini baby boom, turns out the dates don’t line up so well. The mini baby boom started around 2002 and petered out by 2009 as the economy ground to a halt with the onset of the Great Recession.

Never one to shy away from social engineering, Quebec started to pay for IVF treatments in 2010, and experienced another baby boomlet – fuelled by women who’d postponed motherhood too long, presumably to maximise their labour market availability.

(Aside: It’s interesting to note how, despite a plurality of health scientists cautioning against women postponing motherhood, ‘progressives’ embrace it — yet criticise those who ignore climate science as ‘regressive’. Apparently both sides of the political spectrum cherry-pick the science they like.)

It goes without saying the number of women raising children as single parents has persistently risen over the last four decades. The 2011 Census also noted an increase in the number of men who are single parents. Also,for the first time, the number of single person households outnumbered those of couples with children.

All the aforementioned household situations on average lend themselves to greater financial and social insecurity. It’s not too great a leap tracing these outcomes, at least in part, back to the misguided social engineering and feminomics over the same period. Unfortunately, we’ll never see an objective, empirical study on the topic.

One reply on “Feminomics: (De)valuing women’s socio-economic influence”

This posting is absolutely brilliant, especially for its trenchant analysis of the Quebec daycare program and the baby boom that it allegedly created.

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