chapter  5
Family Economy Workers or Caring Mothers? Male Breadwinning and Widows’ Pensions in Norway and the UK
Pages 24

The publication of Jane Lewis’s (1992) much-quoted article on variations in welfare state commitment to the male-breadwinner model of family economies inspired both empirical research and conceptual debates. A problem that remains, however, is how that variety of models can be applied to studies of lone motherhood. To date, attempts to study differences in national policies toward lone mothers through the lens of ‘‘strong/weak male-breadwinner assumptions’’ have raised more questions than they have solved. For instance, Jane Lewis and Barbara Hobson’s (1997) discussion of the treatment of lone mothers in European countries noted a number of important differences between the countries they considered ‘‘male-breadwinner’’ countries. They concluded that ‘‘policy logics based on assumptions about male breadwinning tend to treat lone

mothers as either workers or mothers’’ (Lewis and Hobson 1997: 9), and noted that many strong male-breadwinner countries had swung toward the ‘‘worker’’ option in the 1990s. Their conclusion raises a series of questions: are all lone mothers treated similarly, or is the category subdivided by characteristics such as marital status, age and number of children, or ethnicity? What accounted for the apparent swing in the 1990s, and was this swing uniform? The aim of this article is to understand, by means of a detailed historical

study, the background of this ‘‘swing’’ in two countries that Lewis (1992) characterized as strong male-breadwinner countries, namely Norway and the UK (see also Diane Sainsbury 1996). The timing, as well as the extent, of family policy changes in these two countries has been rather different, as I will show below. Why was this so? If the countries had such similar cultural and institutional starting points, why did Norway move away from these positions so much more rapidly than the UK? This complex question can obviously be answered in many different ways. I shall explore one specific hypothesis, namely that there are important variations within the traditional view of the family that affect the position of lone mothers. A country can be both traditional and skeptical about encouraging mothers to work outside the home, without conforming to the male breadwinner model in which ‘‘married women [are] excluded from the labour market, firmly subordinated to their husbands for the purposes of social security entitlements and tax, and expected to undertake the work of caring . . . at home without public support’’ (Lewis 1992: 162). In this paper, I argue that Norway and the UK have been traditional in different ways, so that their starting points were more and less resistant to change, respectively. The idea of different versions of the traditional family models is not new.

Birgit Pfau-Effinger (1999) has proposed a paradigm of the male breadwinner/female caregiver model that is particularly useful for this study. Although she does not discuss lone motherhood in any detail, her approach still provides insights of great interest for our purposes here. Pfau-Effinger proposes replacing the male-breadwinner model with the broader concept of ‘‘gender cultural models.’’ Her gender cultural models have four dimensions: (1) the social ideal of the spheres through which women and men should be integrated into society (public/private); (2) the construction of dependencies between men and women; (3) the construction of the relationship between generations; and (4) the main social sphere for caring (Pfau-Effinger 1999: 62). She suggests that these dimensions are grounded in five gender models, two of which are versions of the male-breadwinner model: the family economic gender model and the male-breadwinner/female-home-carer model. The family economic gender model depicts the cooperation of men and women within a family business (farm or craft): both sexes contribute substantially to the family economy, thus ensuring that men and women are fundamentally

dependent on each other. Mothers (and fathers) work at home, but motherhood is not construed as a long phase of life in which special tasks of caring absorb most of women’s capacity for work. Children are treated as members of the family economic unit – that is, as workers – as soon as they are physically able to contribute. Within the male breadwinner/femalehome-carer model there is a strict division of public and private spheres, with men and women seen as complementarily competent for one of these spheres: men are breadwinners who earn an income in the public sphere, while women are primarily responsible for the work in the private household, including childcare. This model construes children as needing comprehensive and enduring care, to be provided by the mother. What happens in each of these models when the male breadwinner or

the male partner in the family business is not in the picture? What, in other words, happens to lone mothers? Before I turn to this question, I will outline some of the recent policy changes that show the mounting differences between Norway and the UK. Rather than presenting a systematic comparison of contemporary policies or practices, my aim is to provide background for the claim that Norway has moved more rapidly away from the traditional model than the UK.