NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 1, 2006

The single most important economic and sociological change in our society in the past 60 years has been the entry of women into the labor market, say Kimberley A. Strassel of the Wall Street Journal, education consultant Celeste Colgan and John C. Goodman of the National Center for Policy Analysis, in their new book, "Leaving Women Behind: Modern Families and Outdated Laws."

This change has had a major impact on family life, say the authors:

  • In 1940, two-thirds of all working households were one wage-earner and a stay-at-home spouse; today about one in five households fit that pattern.
  • Dual-earner families -- with both spouses in the labor market -- now constitute almost two-thirds of all married couples.

Despite these remarkable changes, our public policy institutions have not kept pace. Tax law, labor law and a host of other institutions are still designed from top-to-bottom for an Ozzie and Harriet lifestyle.

Many changes are needed to bring aging institutions into sync with the way people are living their lives in the 21st century, say the authors:

  • A fairer tax system for two-earner couples; at a minimum, both spouses should be able to file completely separate tax returns.
  • A flexible employee benefit system that makes it easier for dual-earner couples to obtain higher wages rather than unneeded, duplicate benefits, and for part-time workers to accept lower wages in return for more valuable health and retirement benefits.
  • Flexibility in labor law, making it easier for workers (especially parents with young children and caregivers of elderly parents) to choose alternatives to the traditional 40-hour work week.
  • A level playing field under the tax law, so that people who save for retirement, purchase health insurance, long-term insurance, day care, etc., receive just as much tax relief as people who obtain these benefits at work.

Source: Kimberley A. Strassel, Celeste Colgan and John C. Goodman, "Leaving Women Behind: Modern Families and Outdated Laws," Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2006.

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