Today is Friday. Friday is my part-time day. Yes, I’m confident enough to admit I only work four days a week (on my day job). Actually, I think nobody should work five days a week; life’s too short to be stuck doing just one thing most of the time, which you might even hate. Let’s talk about part-time working.
Dutch part-time culture
As you may or may not know, the Netherlands are the world leader in working part-time. Half of our population works less than a ‘regular’ work week. I say ‘regular’ in quotes, because there are different standards about what a full-time employment entails in my country.
That aside, we have the highest percentage of people working less than the 36 – 40 hours – 36 is government full-time, 40 is most businesses’ idea of full-time.
The thing is, those numbers are pretty skewed across genders. Something like three-quarters of women work part-time and only something like a quarter of men do.
How can we afford all this leisure time? Well, two reasons: we save a shit-ton of money on childcare, and we have an extremely high per-hour productivity. That last is very important, more on that later. First something else: why do Dutch people work part-time?
For the children!
One of the most common reasons for working less than full-time, is to take care of children. In the Netherlands we have a reasonable number of parents who both work, and working part-time helps make that possible. Childcare is expensive, and grandparents are not always available.
And guess what happens then: the difference in payment between the sexes, combined with ingrained gender roles, make for a somewhat problematic outcome. It’s mostly women working part-time, because they stay at home to take care of the children. It’s financially easier, because women often make less than men, and it’s ‘expected’.
There are other factors, of course. Many women have jobs in teaching and medical professions. Those kinds of jobs are more taxing — at least, it seems harder than sitting behind a computer all day, which is what I do — so it’s no surprise people give that up, especially when they have children.
And of course, there are people like me, who want to do other things than their job and want the time to do these things. And in my case, I was already working four days a week, and when I had a daughter, I continued working four days instead of five.
Feminism and liberalism
One of the reasons for this post is that I recently read — for the gazillionth time — an article claiming that all these people – especially women — working less, is wasted economic potential. I’ve also read quotes from a more neo-liberal cabinet member here, drooling over the idea of all these people working full-time. If half of the Dutch multi-million workforce is working less than full-time, imagine them working full-time: that’s millions of extra work days a year, the GDP would go through the roof!
Of course, there’s the counter-argument: screw the GDP and… no wait, let me be more politically correct. The idea is nonsense, for several reasons.
The first, and maybe most important, is simple: we are not on this Earth to generate more GDP. Few people will come home from their job and say ‘well, today was a good day, I contributed a lot to the GDP’. It’s just a number. And a bad one at that. But okay, let’s put that aside for a moment.
The second problem is that a lot of the jobs people have are already bullshit. That problem is only going to become worse if people work more. I’ve written about bullshit jobs before. You see, there simply isn’t enough work to go around. Especially if people work more: not only does that require a bigger supply of jobs, it will also cause people to have less time to buy things and do things. If anything, the fact that all that Dutch part-time working has not led to a lower GDP suggests that working more will only create more bullshit, not value. And the numbers seem to agree.
And finally, consider all those men and women who work less to take care of their children. If they have to work, they will also require more daycare. They’re not actually doing more work, they’re shifting around labor. But taking care of one’s own children of course doesn’t count toward GDP, and you can’t tax it, while daycare does. Interestingly, Dutch children are some of the happiest in the world, and it wouldn’t surprise me if that was partially because their parents are not consumed by their jobs.
Not to say that there is anything wrong with putting your kids in daycare all the time. Day care teachers are fine people, but why have children and only take care of them on the weekends? It’s like buying a dog and then hiring a dog-walker. But that’s a Dutch hang-up, I’ve heard. Still, having no children is a valid life choice, as far as I’m concerned.
The real problem
The problem isn’t that people, and especially women, should work more. We should just cut it out. And when it comes to gender equality, the root of the problem is, as I wrote above, not the part-timing. It’s the combination of unequal pay for men and women and the fact that gender roles dictate the woman should stay at home.
I’ve already written about the myth of single children being sad, and here’s another myth I’d like to see gone. Forcing women to work is not feminism — not in my book anyway — it’s neo-liberal bullshit.
Equal rights should not force women to work more, it should allow men to work less. If a man and a woman have a child, they should be able to choose who gets to work less based on things like ‘do I like my job?’ And of course, if you both want to work full-time, daycare should be available for that too — although, like I said, I wonder: why do you want children if you then pay to have them spend more time with strangers than with yourself?
Work less, get more from life. That’s my philosophy and I stand by it.