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To what extent does the data on employment patterns and earnings suggest that, whatever their role may have been in the past, male manual workers are unlikely to beviable breadwinners in the near future?

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Introduction

To what extent does the data on employment patterns and earnings suggest that, whatever their role may have been in the past, male manual workers are unlikely to be viable breadwinners in the near future? The western male breadwinner family model is based upon the deeply rooted assumption that "...the public and the private sphere should be seen in terms of an essentially gendered opposition." (Rose in Janssens/1998/p3) The assumption declares that the traditional and proper place for a man is in long-term employment providing for his family, whilst leaving his wife at home in the domestic/private sphere tending to the needs of the household and children. These values have been embedded in industrial society through legislative means as well as through cultural expectations. Although throughout the twentieth century historical events such as the two world wars, and social movements such as the development of the feminist perspective have challenged the traditional breadwinner model. These challenges have introduced unprecedented changes in the labour market and in the domestic sphere. The marked shift in female participation in the labour force has revolutionised conventional perceptions of the male breadwinner family and the social policies that encompass it. In order to understand the cultural and economic changes that have occurred affecting the gender roles of individuals and the variations in employment patterns, it is important to first discuss the origin and characteristics of the male breadwinner model whilst reflecting upon its changing role, bound to social and historical developments. The term "male breadwinner family" is best defined by Angelique Janssens. "{It} refers to a particular model of household organization in which the husband is the sole agent operating within the market sector, deploying his labour in order to secure the funds necessary to support a dependent wife and children. In exchange, the wife assumes responsibility for the unpaid labour required for the everyday reproduction of her husband's market work, such as cooking cleaning and laundering. ...read more.

Middle

(Jordan/1996/p234) The Thatcher government was tightening its purse strings as a process of privatisation prioritised more cost-efficient methods, viewing nationalised labour as a mere commodity. The steel, shipbuilding and motor industries were also heavily down seized. The shakeout in industry in the recessions of the 1980's and 1990's combined with equal opportunity legislation in the 1970's all contributed to the transformation of the sexual division of labour. The era has been aptly named post-industrialism and is closely associated with the work of Daniel Bell. Bell produced "The coming of post-industrial society" in 1973. In line with the theory of Industrialism, Bell predicted that a new technological era would bring about a new type of society. He suggested that computer based technologies would bring about new forms of employment in that white collared; professional jobs would displace manual employment. The result would be greater material prosperity for all bringing about greater harmony amongst social groups. Bell's work can be seen as a deliberate challenge to Marxism and can seem deterministic. One theory devised with hindsight of the mass unemployment in the 1980's was Andre Gorz's offering "Farewell to the working class" (1982). Gorz contests that the arrival of information technologies in the workplace will bring wealth to all, suggesting that it will make a large proportion of the workforce redundant. His argument acknowledged the power of computerized production in suggesting that a society no longer needs all its citizens to be employed to produce the goods and services it needs. Gorz "...used these ideas to suggest that the accounts of capitalism offered by Marx and Weber were now redundant." Weber's theory of "The protestant ethic" would no longer stand up in a society where a majority of people face a future without work. (Bradley/2000/p37) The political and economic factors that led to the changes in the labour market and the sexual division of labour were the same factors that reduced the importance attached to the male, manual breadwinner model. ...read more.

Conclusion

The post-war year inflated feelings of domesticity for women and a consensual, government policy of full-employment looked certain to maintain the status quo. Things look set to carry on much as they had done throughout the industrial era. Despite these requisites for continuity, the second half of the century encountered "...one of the major historical developments in the modern era." (Janssens/1998/p1) This was the substantial and quite remarkable rise in female labour force participation. This trend grew in development with the emergence of second wave feminism and as a result of changes in the labour market that saw male-dominated manual industries suffer the most. The post-industrial era is characterised by a move towards service-based, computerized trade. This created a mass of part-time positions predominantly in the service sector that were being filled by women. Despite the enormous shift away from the traditional breadwinner model, overall it was men who were sill by far the principal earners, as Cynthia Cockburn points out, "The average hourly earning of {female} part-timers, even when part-time office staff and manufacturing workers are included, are not much more than half those of the average male full timers." (Cockburn/1991/p80) What seems apparent here is that despite present income inequalities in Britain there are no longer overarching systems of male oppression where men always benefit and women always lose out. I see the gender roles of men and women as having converged towards each other, in the light of traditional expectations. It is now more common to see men facilitate the woman's position in the labour force by maintaining the duties of the private sphere. Neither is it uncommon to see two-earner families maintaining a family wage. We also see more and more single mothers supporting a family and pursuing a career. Such emotional and financial individualism reflected in divorce rates. It can be argued that the divorce rate increases as the financial need for marriage decreases. All such factors indicate that whatever their role may have been in the past, male manual workers, according to the traditional breadwinner model, are unlikely to be viable breadwinners in the future. ...read more.

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