Letter: Why women have less time to spare

Sir: In her article about the New Man ("Where do all the New Men go?", 2 September) and in particular in quoting our data on the respective time budgets of full-time-working men and women, Polly Toynbee raises some profoundly important points, a couple of which deserve amplification.

First, there are indeed these very large differences in the discretionary free time available to working men and women, but why exactly? One hypothesis is that it reflects the intransigence of men. But we know from other work that male interest in many traditional female domains - for example in food and in the upbringing of their children - is increasing.

The reconciliation could be that there is "interest" without action, and that whilst it is no longer beneath male dignity to demand a particular brand of grocery product or to express a point of view on the education of their children, it is still beyond their capacities to do the shopping, attend the meetings with teachers or to supervise the homework.

Another possibility is alluded to by Polly Toynbee, namely that the wife/mother/worker is reluctant to cede control over a power base and is thus preventing the participation by eager, willing and able males in the domestic sphere.

Neither in our consulting work nor in our pure research have we had occasion to discover which of these hypotheses is closest to the truth. For policy purposes it is important that we should know.

A final point not really discussed by Polly Toynbee is the consequences of the double or triple loading of responsibilities on females. First, and most obviously, the rise in stress-related diseases among women indicates that the load is taking its toll.

Second, and less widely rehearsed, the people to whom the working mother does seem prepared to turn to relieve at least some of the pressure are the child's grandparents. Three-generation activities are increasing. We also know from our consulting work that the phenomenon of the "granny school pick-up" is developing apace.

The consequence is that there is a significant number of the current generation of children subject to extended family influence - just at the time when our sociology was telling us that such a phenomenon was a thing of the past.



The Henley Centre

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