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The traditional male breadwinner model assumed that men would take primary responsibility for earning and women for caring. How care work is to be accommodated in the new model—in which all adults, whether male or female, parents or not, are assumed to enter full-time work—is a major issue. In this paper, Jane Lewis and Susy Giullari begin by examining this shift in policy assumptions at the level of the European Union. The authors go on to argue that there are real limits to the pursuit of a full adult worker model based on the commodification of care.
Furthermore, there is little sign of any reduction in the amount of informal care that is needed, or in the value that women in particular attach to providing it. But this raises difficult issues in respect of gender equality. In particular, it begs consideration of the terms and conditions on which the shift in policy assumptions toward the adult worker model is being made, and especially about the way in which care work is valued and shared.
The authors next consider the possibilities offered by the capabilities approach to address these issues. In their view, this offers a promising basis on which to address the issue of care—not least because gender equality is of central concern to both Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum, who have played the leading part in developing the approach.
The key advantage of using the capabilities approach to address the problem of gender equality in relation to paid work and care is that it provides a universal equality model rooted in the recognition of human diversity. In addition, the approach also has the potential to justify policies that promote the sharing of care between men and women.
In other words, it is possible to justify state support for care work and to argue that it is impossible to have real freedom to choose care work unless care is given a monetary value. But the kind of interdependence that care relationships involve is difficult to deal with in a capabilities framework. Furthermore, unequal power relations between men and women result in a distortion of that interdependence, such that the choices men make constrain those of women.