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7  Conclusion

Since WW2, there have been major changes in patterns of paid work for women and men in New Zealand, as there have been in other industrialised countries. To a lesser extent, there have also been changes in the quantity and distribution of unpaid work. Many factors have been driving these shifts, including changes in household type; levels of educational attainment of women and men; transformations in the labour market; reductions in fertility; increased use of household technology; and outsourcing of unpaid work. Some of these drivers of change will continue to influence patterns of paid and unpaid work. In particular, through both changes in education and the development of a skills’ shortage, there is the potential for women to increase both their employment rates and their hours of paid work.

Overall, the data on paid and unpaid work show a pattern that is universal in industrialised countries. Men undertake more paid work, while women undertake a greater share of unpaid work. This places women at an economic disadvantage. But there are differences between countries in the amount of paid and unpaid work undertaken by women and men. In particular, New Zealand stands out in terms of both the long hours worked by a group of men and the low employment rates of women with young children. Recent attention has focused on the potential impact associated with increasing maternal employment rates. However, less attention has been given to how this might change the distribution of paid and unpaid work both within households and across the whole of society. There are various possible scenarios.

If an increase in women's hours of work is accompanied by a decrease in men's hours of work, then gender equity and men's involvement with their children might both be increased. Such a shift may not, however, increase overall labour supply in the country. On the other hand, if an increase in women's hours of work is not accompanied by a decrease in men's hours of work, then the resultant increase in paid labour supply might not lead to improved gender equity. Unless unpaid work continues to reduce through outsourcing and/or through men undertaking a greater share, total hours of paid and unpaid work are likely to be longer for a greater number of employed women than employed men.

So why might we want to increase women's participation in the labour force? What is the public policy goal? As raised in the introduction to this paper, are we merely seeking to increase total paid labour supply, are we trying to replace unpaid work with (possibly higher productivity) paid work, are we aiming to achieve gender equity in both paid and unpaid work or, in fact, are we aiming to achieve a mixture of goals? Moreover, should New Zealand instead be aiming for a high-productivity, leisure society that is also more gender equitable than it currently is? This paper portrays the latter goal as a “South Seas” version of Sweden. It will no doubt appeal to some people, but there is a considerable price in trying to achieve it, as there is in Sweden itself. In recent times in New Zealand, parallel discussions have been occurring about the impact of “overwork” on a group of individuals, families and wider society; how best to increase women’s employment; how to support replacement fertility levels; as well as ways of increasing business productivity. These discussions should no longer occur in parallel, but need to be integrated as an important conversation for public policy. Overall, there needs to be a wider debate as to what our income, parental time investment in childrearing and leisure goals might be; what goals we might have for gender equality in all spheres of life; and how we might best achieve these goals.

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