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Male breadwinner model

The male breadwinner model is an ideal of the family in which men earn a family wage and provide while wives do domestic labor and care for family members. It is part of a much larger gendered division between the public and private spheres. It is not an ideal that has ever been fully achieved, but it has been important in most western welfare regimes as a logic underpinning state policies towards gender relations and gender roles in paid employment and the family. It has also been used as a conceptual tool for understanding differences between welfare regimes that puts gender at the centre of the analysis.

The analysis of welfare regimes by Esping-Andersen has drawn a wide feminist response. His conceptualization is criticized for its inability to deal with gender, since decommodification describes the relationship of paid workers to the labor market and stratification is about class inequality. Despite his stated intention of taking into account the way that state intervention interlocks with the market and the family, this work did not develop an analytical framework for taking the family into account or deal with the gender relations of unpaid work in a systematic way. His typology is undermined when gender is taken into account as apparently similar countries may have different gender regimes. Most feminist responses argue the need for comparative analyses of welfare regimes which put gender and care work at the centre.

A significant literature has developed to build a more systematic comparative examination of the gendering of welfare regimes. The approach taken by Ann Orloff is to elaborate the Esping-Andersen conceptual framework to include gender dimensions, arguing for a measure of the extent to which women are compelled to enter into potentially oppressive relationships. Orloff's five dimensions are the pattern of social provision through state-market-family relations, the impact of state provision on gender relations (especially the treatment of paid and unpaid labor), social citizenship, access to paid work and the capacity to maintain an autonomous household. This work addresses unpaid work, power and autonomy in private relationships.

An alternative strategy is offered by Jane Lewis in using the male breadwinner model as a tool for understanding differences between welfare regimes in terms of gender. She has argued that regimes may be understood in terms of the strength of their historic commitment to the male breadwinner model, contrasting Ireland and the UK as strong breadwinner regimes with France in the middle and Sweden at the other extreme. Similar thinking underlies the emergence of the concept of defamilialization to analyze women's position in relation to families: under what terms and conditions do people enter familial or caring arrangements? Duncan argues the need for explanatory concepts to focus on the forces that lie behind diverse gender regimes: he develops the idea of 'differentiated patriarchy', to examine the structures that underpin differences in regimes, and 'gender contracts', to analyze the construction of particular regimes.

Eleanor Rathbone powerfully attacked the ideas underlying the male breadwinner model in The Disinherited Family (1924: London), and its outcomes in practice. She argued that because half of working men over 20 did not actually have children the family wage would support 16 million phantom children, but leave mothers who were breadwinners to cope with low pay. She argued that mothers should receive family allowances to protect children from poverty and women from violence. The welfare state of the post-war era did in fact institute the family allowances for which Rathbone argued, but nevertheless the ideals of a breadwinner model underpinned the UK welfare state of the post-war era. In the subsequent transformation of the family and labor market towards the end of the twentieth century, the family has become more diverse, jobs less secure and the male breadwinner model is more widely understood as an inadequate basis for women and children's security.

State policies in strong breadwinner regimes have encouraged the association of women with home and their dependency within marriage. For example, in the inter-war years the UK operated a marriage bar for women in professions. In the post-war era the Beveridge Report elevated women's domestic role and encouraged married women to be dependent on their husbands for social security benefits rather than being contributors as individuals in their own right. In the mid-1970s married women were denied Invalid Care Allowance on the grounds that caring was their natural role. More recently, governments have minimized family allowances, held back from public provision of childcare and maintained a strong division between public and private responsibility for care work, emphasizing women's family duty.

Male breadwinner regimes make women dependent within marriage/cohabitation especially when they have young children. Women's labor market participation has increased widely across many different welfare regimes, but where the breadwinner regime is strong, women are likely to bear high costs in unpaid work, to work part-time and to have broken career patterns. This exposes them to much lower levels of lifetime earnings than men and to insecurity and poverty on relationship breakdown. Exposure to domestic violence through lack of independent resources is another consequence. Lone mothers fit the model awkwardly and have tended to be treated either as mothers or as workers.

States have modified the breadwinner model at different times and to different degrees. Countries of the former Soviet Union have had measures to emancipate women since the 1920s, and Central and Eastern Europe since the 1940s, affecting access to paid employment, motherhood and the liberalization of laws on marriage and the family. Women's labor market participation has been underpinned with nursery, kindergarten and/or parental leave policies. These moves were essentially toward a dual worker model in which the labor market was changed but not the household division of labor. Sweden began its move away from the breadwinner model in the late 1960s and has encouraged women into the labor market with taxation policies, day care and parental leave and child sick leave. The trend in Western European countries is away from the male breadwinner model and towards a dual earner one but there is still diversity at the nation-state level and more locally. Few governments have made a serious attempt to change the gender relations of care within families, and women's labor market participation has exposed them to double burdens of paid and unpaid work.

Sweden has moved nearest to a new dual worker citizen model of gender relations: women's participation in the labor market is high, taxation and benefits are individualized and citizenship is more equal than in other countries. Policies have attempted to increase men's participation in care through educational programs and parental leave, with high wage replacement rates and 'use or lose' quota of leave for fathers. However, men's advantaged position in the labor market and a strong gender division in paid employment remain: it is still in most parents' interests for women to take parental leave and they remain primarily responsible for childcare.

The male breadwinner model enables understanding of differences between western welfare regimes and others. Confucian regimes in Taiwan and Korea which emphasize the relations and responsibilities between generations, especially through the male line, may also be better understood in comparison and contrast with male breadwinner model which emphasizes responsibilities between couples. These ideas also help unpack the current transformation of gender regimes. For example, the UK government policy transformed under New Labor from a male breadwinner model to one that assumes dual earner households: but there are major deficits in childcare and parental leave, and one-and-a-half-earner households are the current norm in practice.

This literature is occupied with comparative understanding of welfare systems through uncovering how ideals like the family wage and the breadwinner model have become embedded in them, how they persist and how they affect gender. Nancy Fraser argues that we should avoid the Universal Breadwinner Model, implicit in many policies, which require women to join the labor market on men's terms. We should also reject the Caregiver-Parity Model which supports women's informal care work. Instead Fraser proposes a Universal Caregiver Model which she argues brings the best promise of gender equity. In this model, men would move towards care giving, as women have already moved towards breadwinning. A welfare state would aim to make the combination of paid and unpaid work less stressful and more attractive, to discourage free-riding on care work and enable a flexible range of care work, paid work, civil and political action, with an emphasis on provision at the level of civil society. A universal citizenship model would bring more social resources and commitment to ideals of gender equality in work and care.

See also: Beveridge Report; care work; childcare; commodification and decommodification; Confucianism; family policy; feminism; gender roles; marriage and cohabitation; motherhood; paternity and parental leave; welfare state, the.

Further reading:

Duncan, S. (1995) 'Theorising European Gender Systems', Journal of European Social Policy, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 263-84.

Lewis, J. (1992) 'Gender and the Development of Welfare Regimes', Journal of European Social Policy, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 159-73.

Orloff, A. S. (1993) 'Gender and the social rights of citizenship: state policies and gender relations in comparative research', American Sociological Review, vol. 58, no. 3, pp. 303-28.

Pascall, G. and Lewis, J. (2004) 'Emerging Gender Regimes and Policies for Gender Equality in a Wider Europe', Journal of Social Policy, vol.33, 3, 373-394.

Gillian Pascall

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