2006: Institutions for Gender Egalitarianism

Institutions for Gender Egalitarianism: Creating the Conditions for Egalitarian Dual Earner / Dual Caregiver Families

Introductory statement

Erik Olin Wright

There was a time not so long ago when a majority of married women with children in economically developed countries were fulltime caregivers with husbands who worked outside the home to provide the family income. This was the era of the male breadwinner/female caregiver model of the family. While this model was never universal – poor women often worked to bring income into the household even when they had young children – it was pervasive, both as a normative ideal and as a practical reality.

That era has passed irretrievably. We now live in a world where most women in the developed economies of the world work in the paid labor force, even when they have small children. Role differentiation between men and women within employment has significantly declined, and at least some change is also observed within the family: men do more housework and childcare than in the past. Yet gender inequality still persists, both in the family and in employment. Women continue to bear a disproportionate burden of family caregiving responsibilities; they do most of the housework; and, when the time spent on these activities is added to their time in paid employment, many women have significantly less free time than their spouses. Within employment, while opportunities have expanded and inequalities reduced, the family responsibilities women face frequently undermine their career prospects and reinforce other gender-based discriminatory practices by employers. The result of these developments is a very widespread experience of “time binds” and tensions between work life and family life for both men and women in contemporary families.

This conference in the Real Utopias Project will explore the design of public institutions that could significantly mitigate these pressures and create conditions that would facilitate much more deeply egalitarian gender relations over both caregiving and employment. Janet Gornick and Marcia Meyers, in their essay “Institutions that Support Gender Egalitarianism in Parenthood and Employment,” argue that in order to reconcile in an egalitarian manner the interests of men, women and children within the emerging dual earner/dual caregiver model of the family, three clusters of institutional innovations are needed: 1) a generous mechanism of paid parental leaves for caregiving activities which is allocated to mothers and fathers individually, thus requiring fathers to “use or lose” their paid leave time; 2) effective working time regulations that limit full-time work hours and raise the quality and availability of reduced-hour work; and 3) an expansive, universal program of early childhood education and care. Participants at the conference will interrogate these proposals, examining their ramifications and possible limitations, elaborating alternatives, and exploring their relationship to the broader problem of emancipatory social change.


(Unrevised versions of the papers, as of January 29 2008, are marked with an asterisk (*))


Erik Olin Wright (to be written)


Part I. An Institutional Proposal

Janet Gornick and Marcia Meyers "Institutions that Support Gender Egalitarianism in Parenthood and Employment"


Part II. Principles

Barbara R. Bergmann "Long Leaves, Child Well-being, and Gender Equality"

Harry Brighouse and Erik Olin Wright "Strong Gender Egalitarianism"

Shireen Hassim "Whose Utopia? A Response to Gornick and Meyers ‘Institutions that Support Egalitarianism in Parenthood and Employment’"

Nancy Folbre "Reforming Care"


Part III. Designs: modifications, specifications, alternatives

Peter McDonald "Social Policy Principles Applied to Reform of Gender Egalitarianism in Parenthood and Employment in the United States"

Johanna Brenner "Beyond the Family/Household and the Bureaucratic Welfare State"

Heidi Hartmann and Vicky Lovell "A US Model for Universal Sickness and Family Leave: Gender Egalitarian and Cross-Class Caregiving Support" (*)

Lane Kenworthy "Who Should Care for Under-Threes?"

Kathrin Zippel "The Missing Link for Promoting Gender Equality: Family-Work & Anti-Discrimination Policies"


Part IV. Transformations: obstacles and opportunities; the politics of implementation

Scott Coltrane "Fatherhood, Gender and Work-Family Policies"

Rosemary Crompton "The normative and institutional embeddedness of parental employment: its
impact on gender egalitarianism in parenthood and employment"

Myra Marx Ferree "An American Roadmap? Framing Feminist Goals in a Liberal Landscape"

Cameron Macdonald "What’s Culture Got to Do with It? Mothering Ideologies as Barriers to Gender Equity"

Ruth Milkman "Class Disparities, Market Fundamentalism and Work-Family Policy: Lessons from California"

Kimberly Morgan "The Political Path to a Dual-Earner/Dual-Carer Society: Pitfalls and Possibilities"

Ann Orloff "Should Feminists Aim for Gender Symmetry?"

Michael Shalev "Class Divisions Among Women "



Janet Gornick and Marcia Meyers, “Further thoughts”