IRISH women are being sold a “myth” that better access to affordable, quality childcare will improve their career prospects, a leading academic has claimed.
Dr Catherine Hakim told a conference that the theory ignored the fact that only a minority of mothers wanted to work full-time and it risked neglecting supports for women who stay at home.
The sociology lecturer from London School of Economics said that in Sweden — long held up as the model for state-provided, subsidised daycare — only 30% of women actually wanted to work full-time outside the home and the gender pay gap and predominance of women in traditional public sector jobs was more pronounced than in many other EU countries.
Dr Hakim caused controversy in Britain by publishing a report claiming women want to marry men who are better educated and earn more than they do, and that the numbers who do so are rising despite years of feminism and rights campaigns.
At an address to the Iona Institute in Dublin, a pro-marriage Catholic lobby group, Dr Hakim said there was ample evidence across Europe to show most women wanted to care for their children at home or have grandmothers or other close relatives or friends fill in for them: “Collective daycare, formal daycare, institutionalised daycare, was the last option.”
On average, 20% of women wanted to be home full-time, 20% wanted to work full-time and 60% wanted a balance of both.
She claimed the “myth” of the need for formal childcare for working mothers was “created” by the European policymakers for economic reasons: “The European Union started out as an economic union — social affairs wasn’t part of its remit. Now it’s a more general political union but even today social and family affairs are not part of its remit.
“It is in the business of focusing on labour market issues. The focus is not on the interests of the child.”
Dr Hakim encourages the Finnish model where stay- at-home parents are paid a homecare allowance for the first three years of their child’s life. “It’s popular with families but it’s also popular with policymakers because they found it was cheaper to pay the allowance than provide the equivalent childcare outside the home.”
Her arguments were backed by Jonas Himmelstrand, director of the Mireja Institute, a pro-family think-tank in Sweden, who said while 92% of children aged 18 months to five years were in daycare, the quality of care was questionable.
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