Equality of opportunity or equality of outcome?


We find this all rather sad really:

Britain has too many stay-at-home mothers and must do more to get them into work, the European Union has said. British women are twice as likely as those in the rest of Europe to choose not to work in order to care for their children or elderly relations, EU figures show. The large number of mothers who work part-time or not at all is a “social challenge” that the Government must address by providing more state-funded child care, according to a report issued by the European Council.

The sadness coming from the clear confusion here between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome.

“Despite the positive trends in relation to labour market outcomes, social challenges persist,” it says. “The difference in the share of part-time work between women (42.6 % in 2013) and men (13.2 % in 2013) is one of the highest in the Union. “The percentage of women who are inactive or work part-time due to personal and family responsibilities (12.5 %) was almost twice as high as the EU average (6.3 %) in 2013.”

The aim is not to insist that as many women work full time outside the home as do men. For we are not looking for equality of outcome in gender and work, as we are not in most other areas of life. We're actually looking for equality of opportunity in how people desire to organise their lives. And these same figures that appear to be a problem show that in this respect the UK does very well.

We have an extremely flexible labour market. Some to many women actually desire to raise their own children: also to combine that with some part time work perhaps. It's exactly this choice that the UK does offer. We're the ones getting it right. Those who wish to work full time can indeed do so. Those who wish to work part time, whether male or female, mothers or not, also get to do so. We've a system which offers the maximum freedom for people to organise their lives as they wish. Which is the point and purpose of how we organise society: to maximise choice and opportunity, not to enforce equality of outcome.

What is being identified as a problem here is in fact evidence that the UK has solved this problem.

After all, it's hardly controversial to suggest that there's a certain gender division in desired child care arrangements in a mammalian species, is it? The aim and purpose of public policy should thus be to maximise the expression of that choice: precisely what the UK system does offer.