Can the next generation of working women truly have it all?

12 Dec

Interesting comment piece from Janet Street-Porter in The Independent on Sunday, reflecting on the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) that reveal women in their twenties are earning 2.1% more than their male colleagues.

Interesting because Street-Porter says that those young women have her generation to thank for this new equality in pay, mainly because older women have put off having children, or haven’t bothered at all, for fear of losing their foothold on those hard-fought rungs of the career ladder.

The figures from ONS, that 20% of women aged 45 are childless, are perhaps proving her point. She says that the young high-fliers may be the first generation that can “truly have it all” thanks to the sacrifices of their older ‘sisters’.

However, Street-Porter does refer to the “small number of middle-class mums… who can afford hired help”. And I think this is the real issue here: some women just find childcare far too expensive, and therefore choose not to return to work at all, or find that every penny they earn goes to a childcare provider.

I advocate a childcare system like the one they have in Sweden, where childcare isn’t a middle-class privilege, or a nice to have, but a legal right for every parent. All Swedish women are expected to, and want to, return to work after maternity leave. And childcare in Sweden isn’t the exorbitant drain on the part-time pay packet of many working mothers in the UK, because Swedish parents only pay 17% of the gross costs of that childcare.

There is no concept of ‘housewife’ in Swedish culture – just the wish to nurture a happy, healthy family life where both parents work, and the kids have supportive, educational, affordable childcare. That, to me, sounds like families – not just women – having it all.

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