For the first time in social history women are more likely to be financially responsible for either themselves, their family or their extended family than ever before. Not just women, but mothers now make up two-thirds of primary or co-breadwinners in American families, despite the fact that generally women continue to earn less per Rand (or dollar) than their male counterparts. Only one in four children grow up in households where their father is the primary bread-winner and their mother is care-giver nurturer. In South Africa, the precentage of active females in careers has risen from 6% in 1961 to 94% in 2010. In China women make up 70% of the low-paid physically demanding factory work that has feulled China’s rapid growth into being the third largest economy in the world.
These kinds of realisations are not just numbers to be pondered over lightly. In my opinion, they are real considerations that will inevitably have a massive impact on consumerism, spending, education, value systems, family structures, gender roles, stress levels for everybody and work-life balance.
In my mind this shift can therefore be considered one of the most radical social transformations of our time. And I have to ask, is it an altogether positive transformation? There are up sides and downsides to this kind of social change. One of the many positive things to come out of this shift is clearly that women now have more choice, independence and influence both economically and politically. Women are hugely competent and generally make excellent collaborative managers. They deliver excellent bottom lines; and infact since December 2007 men have been three times more likely than their female counter-part to be made redundant. In America currently, there are over 2 million women solely responsible for supporting households, whilst their husbands are unemployed. Truthfully women have always made massive contributions to the economy, but their contributions have been less easy to recognise because they have not been direct contributions to the formal sector.
Another positive to come out of so many women at work are the many industries that have been set up; and therefore formal jobs that have been created, because the formal sector now does what women did informally before. For example, child care, nursary schools, caring for the elderly, some basic health care services, laundrettes, catering companies, party planners, cooking lessons, on-line shopping, interior designers in private homes; and full-time domestic helpers spring to mind. So I am certainly not taking away from the celebration that is increased numbers of women in the workplace.
But my intention for this Blog is to question the possibiity that it is not exclusively a celebration. In my own resistance to get back into the flow work I have been considering the question of ‘work/life balance’, which prompted me to question this from a female perspective in particular. If there are so many women in the workplace now, what kind of consequence does this have for society at large?
Apparently American teenagers spend less than 5% of their time with their parents; and I would imagine, for certain socio-economic demographics anyway, this statistic would be no different for South African teenagers. This then begs the question: who or what is influencing our youth and what kind of parents will they be one day as a result? How is this then effecting the family structure, ours and our children’s innate need for love; and communal recognition and acceptance, which we used to get from our family and the community? Is this affecting the passing on of cultural and other practices, beliefs and rituals, which are such valueable contributors to our understanding of our own identity? There are undoubtedly positive things about this shift or change in family structure. Fathers get to share domestic responsibilities and therefore potentially have a closer relationship to their children, for example, but at what cost, when Dads spend so much of their time at work too? This latter observation is obviously feulled by something other than women going to work and has much more to do with complex issues around unstable economies, increased competition, rising costs of living etc.
Women in the workplace has also resulted in providing women with more financial independence and so marriage is no longer their only choice. There has also been a change in when women are expected to get married and have children. These are good things. However, increasingly in America and Europe; and amongst certain demographic groups in South Africa, women are choosing not to get married (and there are a multitude of reasons for that, not just women being at work). In 2007 just over 40% of recorded births in America were to unmarried mothers, which puts financial and time constraints on them; and women are having children later and later, which will inevitably put pressure on their bodies.
Huge strain has been put on teachers, educators; and the education system generally because family structures are breaking down. Curriculums are increasingly having to address issues ranging from sex-education to how to apply for university, which are things that parents used to assist with. Teens often have no adult to turn to, other then their teachers, to discuss intimate things, life lessons and crossroads in growing up. This puts a new and at times strange dynamic on both the teacher and the pupil as a result. Young people also often do not experience the collective recogition from their family or community of their transition from childhood into adulthood, which possibily contributes to their failure to understand when they have grown up!
As women gain more spending power, spending trends will change. Women will spend their money differently and have different priorities. This will affect when, where, what, how and why products and services are marketed, advertised, sold and distributed.
Retailers have to stay open later to accommodate people rushing from work to ‘grab dinner’ for the family. And have you ever stopped to consider who is looking after and feeding the children who belong to the woman at the check-out counter? Our mothers ‘bumped into’ their friends in the supermarket, it was a wonderful bonding place for women, but working women probably watch the clock more closely outside the office than they do at the office. Very subtely our ‘never having enough time’ is changing the fabric of community because we simply don’t know the people busy around us.
I have highlighted some ways in which both our private and working world is changing. I have chosen to look at it specifically from a women in the worksplace prespective. I am not suggesting at all that women being at work is the reason for why massive social transformation is taking place, I am merely pointing out how this trend is contributing to a huge overall shift.