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"Policy Alternatives for Solving Work-Family Conflict"

Hartmann, Heidi.  “Policy Alternatives for Solving Work-Family Conflict.”  Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 596 (2004): 226-231.  Web.    


Heidi Hartmann’s brief article, “Policy Alternatives for Solving Work-Family Conflict,” addresses women’s increasing participation in the labor market accompanied by their continuing high levels of periods of time taken off from work.  Hartmann notes five broad reasons that offer explanations for why women might choose to stay home, and then details five potential policy solutions to rectifying women’s unequal engagement in the labor market.  Finally, she offers one last strategy “for bringing about a more equitable division of labor between the sexes” (230). 

The issue area being discussed here by Hartmann is very closely related to one of my organization’s main issue areas: women’s economic self-sufficiency.  As such, going through the outlined policy solutions led me to consider which strategy my organization has most closely followed in its own pursuit of equitable financial situations.  The first three strategies can be easily dismissed as not matching the goals we seek:

1)   “status quo or no change” (228).  We and the larger women’s movement we are involved in recognize that women’s connection with the labor market is problematic and needs to be addressed. 

2)   “women could become more like men” (228).  While we certainly support women’s right to engage in the labor market on equal footing with men, we don’t pursue replication of status as a solution.

3)   “men could become more like women” (229).  Similarly, while opening social space for expectations that men have responsibilities in the same areas as women – child care, for instance – is important, the modern women’s movement tends to acknowledge that such a goal is in ways superficial and insufficient.

The second two strategies, though, are far more representative of my organization’s approach. 

4)   “women’s economic behavior could remain different from men’s and society could compensate women better for their time spent in child rearing and family care” (229).   Given that our focus is on lower-income women and their access to assistance from the state, my organization focuses far more on ways that society and institutions can compensate for the particular difficulties faced by women, there is a clear sympathy with this approach. 

5)   “we could adjust our social and economic institutions to be more compatible with caring by both men and women” (229).  I believe that my organization’s ideology would have it side with such a strategy; but given our particular focus area within the very broad issue area of women and labor, it remains that our actual methods do align more with #4.

I don’t believe that social compensation is enough, or even ultimately the right solution.  Rather, I see it to be a necessary stop-gap institutional measure, to be put in place alongside the social and cultural changes proposed by #5.  At the same time, though, I understand why the organization cannot necessarily pursue both with the same intensity.  Given that our energy is divided among a number of different issue areas, there is a limit to what we can devote to pursuing any given one.  Which is perhaps a concern – if we tackle an issue, should we take care to be absolutely comprehensive; or is it enough to know that we are doing as much as we can, and other organizations will tend towards the areas we neglect?


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