There was an amusing twitter argument between Fraser Nelson and Jonathan Portes Monday evening. For those who missed it, I’ll summarise:
Nelson: There are more people in work than economists ever dreamed. It must be because the government’s welfare reforms are driving people to look for work instead of lounging about watching Jeremy Kyle.
Portes: I have a lot of graphs to demonstrate that’s nonsense.
Nelson: Who cares about graphs?
Nelson: So why is employment so high? If welfare reform isn’t the magic ingredient what is?
Portes: Labour market flexibility. Possibly. To be honest I don’t know.
Nelson: I’ll keep making stuff up about welfare reform, then.
Now I’m no economist, but in the (rather macho) quest for an answer to this economists’ puzzle, I think there’s something these two have missed. Women.
I think Nelson’s right that “something” is pushing more and more people into the labour market, or to look for more hours. But I think Portes is right that it really isn’t welfare reform (for starters, IDS’ flagship welfare reform is Universal Credit which is currently paid to about 12 people and a dog).
The mysterious “something” seems to me to be a quiet, cultural and economic shift in the expectations women have of working. Female employment rates are already well above their 2008 levels, while male employment rates still lag behind 2008. More women are working than ever before.
Why is this happening? A host of reasons. The equalisation of the state pension age (the employment rate of women over-50 is simply soaring). High inflation and stagnant wages putting more and more pressure on stay at home partners to contribute financially. And a significant cultural shift: more and more women simply want or expect to work, and that’s driving up the numbers actually finding work.
Of course, labour markets are vastly complicated and more people wanting work doesn’t necessarily mean those jobs get created. There are a host of reasons for the “jobs miracle” which you will find better analysed elsewhere. But if you’re looking for a missing ingredient, I think you’re a lot more likely to find it in the women of Britain than in the Department for Work and Pensions.
It’s fascinating to me that – in search of the missing ingredient – those on the right have this cultural bias that directs them to welfare reform instead. Large elements of the Right still find it hard to celebrate women in the workplace in any real, economic sense. The Conservative Party has become a lot more socially liberal over the last decade, but would still struggle to salute the idea that women working more than men is perhaps a good thing, or at the very least not a bad thing in and of itself (see this article on Conservative Woman for a particularly laughable attempt to claim that women are ruining the economy by having the audacity to work).
Talking about it as what has helped lead the economic recovery, something that will be the bedrock of their attempt to stay in government post-2015, is hard to envision. This is sad, particularly when one takes into account the amount of women working more is down to the market itself and how it works, something that the Tories should be celebrating.
The reason behind this feels like a remnant of social conservatism in Toryism, and you only have to look at how this plays out on the American Right, where social conservatism hasn’t been jettisoned, to understand the blind eye involved. It is actually the free market that has led to more women in the workplace, much more than any government led initiative. The desire and in many instances the need for two incomes has driven greater female representation in the workplace over the past three decades more than anything else. Again, the free market doing its job should be welcomed by the Right, but instead is talked down about or looked over. It is time for more women in the workforce, working for later into their lives, to be held up as a positive by the Conservatives in Britain. However, I won’t hold my breath.
I’m not sure it’s because all Tories really are anti-women, just that they don’t want to upset the tradititional values weirdies by stirring up their destructive minority-victim-complex feelings. The political class treats received wisdom and tribal gut instinct as more important than the views of economists, all of whom feel ignored by general discourse because much of it is dictated by internal party dynamics. As you imply it is sad that free-market socially liberal Conservatives feel they can’t say a word in case the freaks revolt… at least until after the election.
What a refreshing article. Unfortunately I also read ‘the Conservative Woman’ article you cited and am once again reminded how bigoted, self righteous , ignorant and ill informed the author and her respondants are.
My response was equal measures of hilarity and outrage. As a female health professional in the NHS who supposedly works part time I actually do more hours than a full time member of staff ( unpaid of course) in order to get the job done. I do this because I genuinely care about the service users, the profession I am trained in and the job I do. I am not alone. I could write pages and pages about the damage the Tory government has wreaked on the NHS but that isn’t what your article was about. I’ll get off my soap box now!
I am but a regular, coommn, ordinary, every day man.Having only really understood how the world operates on an evolutionary scale just over ten years ago now, I set out then to change it. Change it for the better.The path, route, or plan I conceived is very diabolic or twisted or even evil some would say or call it.To teach, seduce, direct, mold, doctrinate many, as many as 1,000 young girls, of ages nine to thirteen, to become future world leaders is my developed goal/way/method.In order to do so I had to seperate myself from all those who mattered to me as while exposing Mankind’s evolved evils and evil ways I put myself in harms way.I am here to bring back to health all life. At least the attemp is there to diviate our evolved destructive ways.King and Captain of Planet Earth is what I see myself one day as being/becoming! While still living, preffered.My only Queen Gaia!KingGDerome
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