Interesting ad (http://www.ernesto.nl/dutch-cooking/)
Jessica Olien points out in Slate, the Netherlands bucks the women's-development narrative in a pretty odd fashion: it has extremely high indicators for gender equality in every way (education, political participation, little violence against women, ultra-low rates of teen conception and abortion) except that women don't work. Or not full-time, anyway, at anything like the rates at which women work in most OECD countries. Moreover, they don't seem to want to. Nearly 60% of Dutch working women aged 25-54 worked part-time in 2001, compared to 15% in the United States, 25% in France and 35% in Germany; but where 25% of French women working part-time say they want to work full-time, just 4% of Dutch women do. The Dutch began identifying women's failure to participate in the workforce more aggressively as a major social problem in the 1990s, which led to a tax reform intended to incentivise women out of the cosy "trap" of part-time work. Instead, most women used the better tax treatment as a way to work less. And Ms Olien, an American who's spent a few months living in the Netherlands, wonders whether the Dutch haven't got the smoother end of the stick:
When I talk to women who spend half the week doing what they want—playing sports, planting gardens, doing art projects, hanging out with their children, volunteering, and meeting their family friends—I think, yes, that sounds wonderful. I can look around at the busy midweek, midday markets and town squares and picture myself leisurely buying produce or having coffee with friends. In a book released several years ago called Dutch Women Don't Get Depressed—a parody of French Women Don't Get Fat—Dutch psychologist Ellen de Bruin explains that key to a Dutch woman's happiness is her sense of personal freedom and a good work-life balance. But it's hard to transplant that image to the United States, where our self-esteem is so closely tied to our work. I wonder what the equivalent title would be: American Women Don't Get Satisfaction?There are certainly things one learns about American culture by comparing it with others, but there's also a temptation to romanticise the differences. Dutch markets and town squares are busy at midday because Dutch stores still close at 6 or 8 pm, often by law. This is one reason why women are less likely to work full-time: who would do the shopping, and when? And if "Dutch women don't get depressed", I must be meeting a very biased sample. On a more subjective level, much of what Ms Olien phrases as enviable time for and interest in self-development can be seen, in conservative parts of Dutch society, as the same kind of housewifely status competition that Americans have stereotypically reviled since the 1960s. Meanwhile, in the more lefty New-Age segments of Dutch society, people who talk too much about their careers are likely to be criticised for failing to "work on themselves", and the obligation to talk about your latest exploits in yoga, home improvement or travel in Central America quickly becomes almost as much of a stressful status competition as the worst American networking sessions.
Women in the United States have become defined by the compromises we make. More than 75 percent of American women who are employed work full-time jobs. As our responsibilities increase at work, they do not shrink at home. We give up time with our families for our careers, and after work we give up other interests for time spent with our children and spouses—because there are only so many hours in a day. Because of part-time work, Dutch women are able to develop themselves and their relationships in ways many of us simply don't have the time for.
It's also worth noting that one thing that might disincline Dutch women to work as hard as, say, American women is the fact that Dutch salaries are much lower than American salaries. A look at the interesting University of Amsterdam website Wageindicator.org suggests that a 25-year-old female Dutch high-school graduate who works full-time as an assistant manager in retail stands to make about €16,000 a year, while her American counterpart makes $26,182; run the OECD's purchasing power parity converter for September, and the American is making about $7,000 a year more. This doesn't, however, explain why Dutch women don't want to work as much as French or German women do.
I think the main thing that's going on here is just a huge difference in the social valuation of free time. The Dutch, both men and women, place a much higher value on free time as a luxury good than Americans do. Matthew Yglesias points to how this intersects with high standards of living:
I think it would be a mistake to say that Dutch women are happy because so few of them are involved in full-time work. I would say instead that most Dutch women are happy because Dutch people enjoy an extremely high material standard of living (you should really see what passes for a slum in the Netherlands, it’s absurd) and that this reflects itself in part via women’s disinclination to toil for long hours in jobs they don’t find rewarding.I think this is in large measure true, but it leaves unexplained why American women from upper-middle-class backgrounds, who are statistically speaking much richer than Dutch women, often work insanely hard to achieve success at the very kinds of management jobs that Dutch women don't consider worth their while.
I have a strange and non-falsifiable theory about this: I think a lot of Dutch women enjoy part-time work because the challenge of arranging a complicated schedule and forcing the world to deal with it is empowering. It's part of the way they valorise their lives. In that way it's really quite similar to the way that, as Ms Olien writes, American career women boast of everything they've managed to do during a particularly hectic day. There's an element of national culture here, in that making schedules complicated, and then demanding that others keep track of and adhere to them as a matter of what the Dutch call "norms and values", is sort of a national pastime in the Netherlands. I can't tell you how often I've called up a bank, a government department or a software firm and been told that I have to deal with Ms DeWinter, who's available on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays between 11am and 3:30pm but is away on sick leave until next week, when the office will be closed Monday for the Ascension holidays. Coping with these schedule demands is considered part of the social obligations of citizenship, and the ability to set the schedule is a mark of power. Somehow it all goes back to the complexities of timing ships' passage through the locks on the canals, or perhaps something about the dikes. It's always about the dikes.
Logically, I should be able to say something here about how contrasting American ideas of female empowerment are all derived from our encounter with the frontier. But that doesn't really make any sense. Mama grizzlies?