Your job, or your children – why must we choose?

The economy is still inimical to family life

Share

A few days ago, talking to a young pregnant woman, I was appalled by how little had changed since I had my first baby 30 years ago. She was wondering how best to bring up her child and go on achieving in her job, mildly shocked that she even had to confront the question. (We, at least, had been only too aware of the dilemma that was looming). For all our talk about women in the workplace, and for all that girls are now brought up to feel they can do anything, the economy is still not set up to help families.

Cherie Blair has argued this week that governments and employers need to do more to help people to move in and out of work and caring roles. She suggests state-subsidised apprenticeships (returnerships, she calls them) for people wanting to get back up to speed with working life. She regrets trying to beat men at their own game by working long hours when she had young children, seeing it less as beating the system than reinforcing it.

She is right to be sceptical about a working culture that assumes we are individuals without responsibility for others. We may talk about family-friendly workplaces; we may depend on women workers; yet we still have an economy that is inimical to family life.

The long-hours, always-on culture is damaging to families, especially when both parents now have to work pretty hard just to survive. Meanwhile, for my generation, there is a looming crisis, as the empty-nest years we hoped to spend doing interesting work threaten to be eaten up by caring for elderly relatives.

Women still bear the brunt of trying to do everything. The Department for Work and Pensions reports that women’s wages fall relative to men’s for a decade following the birth of their first child. Mothers are leaving professions requiring more than 50 hours’ work a week.

This makes no economic sense. Goldman Sachs has calculated that increasing women’s participation in the workforce to that of men would raise GDP by 8 per cent. More than half of those studying for higher education degrees are women; why subsequently make their lives impossible?

This is not an argument for everyone to be working all the time. My daughter’s generation don’t necessarily want to live the same way. But they wouldn’t need to if we thought more radically about working lives. Why, with an ageing population, is there so much emphasis on our thirties and forties, which are also the childbearing years? Why do we have to conceive of lives as a climb up to the top, then a fall? Why is part-time so often second best?

Some things have improved since I had my  first child (more nursery places, for a start). But the central dilemmas remain, as acutely as ever, and affect even more women. And they will, for  as long as we assume that families exist to serve the economy, rather than the other way around.

Geraldine Bedell is the co-founder  of Family Innovation Zone

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Annuities / Pensions Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will be the first point of contact for all...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee CAD Technician

£12800 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee CAD Technician is req...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000+

£15600 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This renewable energy installat...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Liverpool - up to £28,000

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: This is a large multi-site operation...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Amanda Knox will learn today if her conviction for murdering British student Mereditch Kercher has been upheld  

Amanda Knox: A retrial, two films and endless speculation - will the fascination with Meredith Kercher's murder ever end?

Peter Popham
 

We’re on a very slippery slope if we accept what Clean Reader is trying to do

Joanne Harris
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss