Gendered States Made and Remade: Gendered Labor Policies in the United States and Sweden, 1960–2010

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From the hyper-capitalist United States to social-democratic Sweden and beyond, systems of social provision and regulation – my preferred term for what are often called “welfare states” – increasingly promote maternal employment. This is a striking change in both social policy and the gendered division of labor: gone is the legal and political framework – a mix of positive supports and discriminatory provisions – undergirding men's breadwinning and women's housewifery, primary caregiving, and sometimes paid employment of the last century. These shifts are both consequence and cause of broader and perhaps even more profound transformations of the organization of social life that come with modernity, all of which have been intertwined with the emergence and development of modern states.

Over the course of the last two centuries, women have irrevocably changed their “place,” claiming space in public life as workers and political participants, trading second-class citizenship and legal inferiority for full citizenship rights and formal equality. Gender relations have been reshaped as women have been drawn into employment, and legal and social barriers to women's full participation in all aspects of life were challenged and overturned. Women and men expanded the ideas and practices of civic equality, democracy, and universalism to encompass women and other formerly excluded groups, changing the meanings of these concepts for all. Women are now better represented within the polity and the state – foreshadowing, perhaps, a more thoroughgoing transformation in the gendered character of states.

Contemporary changes in the character of gendered divisions of labor, and in the social policies and legal frameworks supporting them, follow from the earlier transformations in culture, technology, education, and labor markets. But women's political mobilization, and that of their allies among men, was critical to achieving suffrage, associated legal reforms, and second-wave feminist victories against discrimination. Moreover, gendered social policies are critical to the sustainability of the economy and larger political structures. Indeed, prominent welfare state analysts insist that completing the “incomplete revolution” is key to women's willingness to engage in the employment and childbearing that will keep welfare states sustainable in terms of fertility, activation, and tax revenues. An optimal equilibrium then depends on promoting women's equality, especially by pushing for men's greater involvement in housework and caregiving.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Many Hands of the State
Subtitle of host publicationTheorizing Political Authority and Social Control
EditorsKimberly J Morgan, Ann Shola Orloff
PublisherCambridge Univesity Press
Number of pages27
ISBN (Print)978-1316501139
StatePublished - 2017


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