Market-Friendly Versus Family-Friendly

Dana Goldstein:

By “argue big,” Obama meant expanding the terms of the pro-choice debate beyond access to abortion, contraception, and comprehensive sexuality education and into a larger discussion about family planning and work-life balance for women. He called for “updating the social contract” with gender pay equity, paid maternal leave, and longer school hours that make it easier for mothers to work.

From the latest Pew survey on working mothers:

Among working mothers with minor children (ages 17 and under), just one-in-five (21%) say full-time work is the ideal situation for them, down from the 32% who said this back in 1997, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Fully six-in-ten (up from 48% in 1997) of today's working mothers say part-time work would be their ideal, and another one-in-five (19%) say she would prefer not working at all outside the home.

There's been a similar shift in preferences among at-home mothers with minor children. Today just 16% of these mothers say their ideal situation would be to work full time outside the home, down from the 24% who felt that way in 1997. Nearly half (48%) of all at-home moms now say that not working at all outside the home is the ideal situation for them, up from the 39% who felt that way in 1997.

What Obama is proposing is a market-friendly program - a set of reforms designed to make it easier for women to work full-time while they have children. But what women actually want, the polls suggest, is a more family-friendly system, which makes it easier for them to work part-time or not at all while their children are young. If Republicans were smart, they would find a package of reforms tailored to precisely that desire: For instance, they could advance a significant Ponnuru-style (or Cesar Conda-style) tax credit for families with children; a health care plan that severs health insurance from employment, so women don't feel bound to jobs they dislike; and maybe even a package of tuition credits for women (or men!) looking to re-train and re-enter the workforce after staying at home for a few years. This would outflank the Democrats on an issue they think they own, and leave them stuck with the Linda Hirschman vote.

But, of course, it wouldn't do much to fend off the Caliphate, so why bother?