The earner-carer model is a fundamentally gender egalitarian welfare state approach, which assumes that men and women equally engage in both caregiving and paid employment (Gornick & Meyers 2003). Welfare state structures always rest on gendered assumptions about men’s and women’s roles in the family and workplace. Through social policies, such gender ideologies reflect but also reinforce supposed roles of men and women as citizens, workers, and carers.
The dominant vision of the western welfare state during the twentieth century was the ‘‘male breadwinner–female caregiver’’ or ‘‘family wage’’ model (Sainsbury 1999). According to this model, families were presumed to be composed of a man working outside the home, a woman providing care within the home, and children. In order for this model to operate effectively, men needed to earn a wage large enough to support all of the members of this family. The welfare state would only intervene to replace the male breadwinner’s wage in case of unemployment, disability, sickness, or old age, or occasionally to support women’s caretaking within the home (Fraser 1994). However, by the late twentieth century, it became increasingly clear that the male breadwinner model, which had never been accurate for most working class and poor families, was no longer ten able for even middle class families – both because few jobs pay enough to support an entire family, and because most women are now also labor market participants (Crompton 1999). Scholars suggest three main models to replace the family wage model: the universal breadwinner model, the caregiver parity model, and the earner–carer model.
The ‘‘universal breadwinner’’ model posits a society in which both men and women are equally invested in labor market participation. Rosemary Crompton (1999) refers to this model as the ‘‘dual earner/state carer’’ or ‘‘dual earner/marketized carer’’ model. In such a model, the welfare state should work to eliminate differences between men and women by engaging women in the paid labor force. Such a model requires workplace reforms aimed at equalizing women’s opportunities, state or market provision of childcare, eldercare, and other care services, and the development of high quality full time positions that carry full social insurance benefits for women workers. This model would require either state or market pro vision of care, so that women are free to pursue paid employment (Fraser 1994).
The ‘‘caregiver parity’’ model posits a society in which women are valued and rewarded for providing care. In such a model, the welfare state should recognize gender difference and value care (Sainsbury 1999). Rather than encouraging women to pursue employment patterns that mimic men’s, a caregiver parity strategy would make the difference between men’s and women’s employment patterns costless to women, by supporting the time and effort women spend on care. Such a model would require the state to provide generous caregiver allowances in order to support informal carework, as well as workplace reforms such as parental leaves and flextime that make it easier for women to pursue care and paid employment. Rather than shifting care to the market and state, such a model emphasizes the family as the primary site for the provision of care (Fraser 1994).
The ‘‘earner–carer’’ model rejects both of these strategies to suggest a new vision, in which men and women both must balance informal carework and labor force participation. In this model, feminists pursue a strategy that encourages men’s lives to more closely resemble women’s lives, and requires social institutions to adjust to meet the needs of men and women who do not specialize in either formal work or informal care, but instead are involved in both formal work and informal care. Such a model would require all jobs to assume workers who are both earners and carers, with shorter workweeks, and employment enabling services. Unlike the universal breadwinner strategy that privileges state and market provision of care, the earner–carer model assumes that care will take place both inside and outside of households. Unlike the caregiver parity model, the earner–carer model attempts to break down gendered norms of care and employment (Fraser 1994; Crompton 1999; Gornick & Meyers 2003). However, this model remains difficult to institute effectively. As Anne Lise Ellingsaeter (1999) and Diane Sainsbury (1999) suggest, despite efforts to institute a more flexible combination of employment and care in Norway and Sweden respectively, gendered models remain. However, as Sainsbury (1999: 196) notes, ‘‘The lack of far reaching change … should not blind us to the merits of policy construction which integrates market work and care work in the home and simultaneously grants equal entitlement to men and women.’’
- Crompton, R. (Ed.) (1999) Restructuring Gender Relations and Employment: The Decline of the Male Breadwinner. Oxford University Press, New York.
- Ellingsaeter, A. L. (1999) Dual Breadwinners Between State and Market. In: Crompton, R. (Ed.), Restructuring Gender Relations and Employment: The Decline of the Male Breadwinner. Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 40 59.
- Fraser, N. (1994) After the Family Wage: Gender Equity and the Welfare State. Political Theory 22 (4): 591 618.
- Gornick, J. C. & Meyers, M. K. (2003) Families That Work: Policies for Reconciling Parenthood and Employment. Russell Sage, New York.
- Sainsbury, D. (1994) Women’s and Men’s Social Rights: Gendering Dimensions of Welfare States. In: Sainsbury, D., Gendering Welfare States. Sage, London, pp. 150 69.
- Sainsbury, D. (1999) Gender, Equality, and Welfare States. Cambridge, New York.