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Tied to the kitchen: Guilt, as well as lack of child care, stops Dutch women working more [NL]

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The Economist
Publication Date: 
6 Sep 2007

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A housing crisis is shaking America, but some Dutch property is doing well. Churches, scouting clubs, greenhouses, empty offices, prefabricated containers &emdash; anything with a roof and running water is being feverishly sought out by schools. Since last month, in a new effort to get house-bound Dutch mothers to work, all schools have had to offer afternoon child care.

Female participation in the workforce, at 66%, is higher than the European average, but that reflects lots of part-time work. A 2006 study found that 61% of Dutch women in work are part-time; in Germany it is only 39%. Many governments have pledged to increase women's work hours, but it is hard to do. It is logical to start with schools, where classes finish by 3pm at the latest; some schools even insist on children being picked up for lunch at noon. Child care has long been scarce and costly. The new law is meant to change that.

Yet Heleen Mees, an economist and new-generation feminist, says that better child care is only one condition for getting more women to work. Another is higher female wages. That would mean narrowing a pay gap between the sexes of some 19-24%, one of the biggest in the European Union.

Another report finds that women are influenced by social ideas of what makes a "good" mother. "The notions that mothers are supposed to stay at home and that entrusting children to strangers is wrong are still deeply rooted in Dutch society," says Ingrid Ooms, one of the authors. Women who use child care for more than three days a week risk public and private criticism. Diabetes and cancer are laid at their door&emdash;the result, some say, of poor diets once mothers quit the kitchen. More even than new buildings for child care, maternal guilt will have to be cured if more Dutch mothers are to be lured to the office.

- reprinted from The Economist

Entered Date: 
7 Sep 2007
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