Women, Work and Preference Formation
A Critique of Catherine Hakim’s Preference Theory
The work of the British sociologist Catherine Hakim has been used prominently to support ‘neo-traditionalist’ approaches to gender, work and family. Hakim (2000, 2002) argues that, in modern affluent societies, virtually all women have a genuine choice between family work and market work. Further, women make their choice based on their preference for a particular lifestyle: work-centred, home-centred or one that combines paid work and time with family. We argue that Hakim’s preference theory is flawed. It fails, in particular, to account for phenomenon of ‘adaptive preferences’, whereby women adjust their preferences in response to persistent gender inequality and make a conscious decision not to play by the current rules of the game. We also argue that women’s paid work cannot be isolated from their unpaid work. Instead we must address the critical questions about care: who does it, under what conditions and how are the costs shared? Overcoming gender inequality therefore demands much more radical social change than has occurred to date.
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