Basic Income, Gender Justice and the Costs of Gender-symmetrical Lifestyles*

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Societies worldwide are characterized by significant gaps between women and men with respect to political, economic and educational achievements, and by a division of labour – paid and unpaid – which is most often deeply gendered. Additionally, women and femininity are culturally devalued, and this devaluation is deeply rooted at the level of individual psychology. Should the introduction of a basic income (BI) be welcomed by feminists as an emancipation force in women's lives and in the relations between genders? Would it ultimately promote gender justice? There is a prima facie reason to believe that the introduction of any redistributive scheme, hence also of a BI, would benefit women, and would redress at least some of the economic injustices connected to gender. But there are also reasons to worry that such a policy will have unintended consequences such as the worsening of women's access to the market, the confinement of at least some women to domesticity to a higher degree than it is currently the case in most “Western” countries and, ultimately, the perpetuation of unjust gender norms and expectations. Overall, I argue that, given the currently existing gender injustice, feminists should be wary of the introduction of a BI. At best, they should see it as a complement to other institutions of the welfare state (for arguments in favour of the latter position see Lister 1995; Robeyns 2001).
1. Gender-symmetrical Lifestyles as a Criterion of Gender Justice
To judge the degree to which a policy promotes gender justice[1], I suggest an operational definition of gender justice based on an ideal of gender-symmetrical lifestyles:
A society is gender just when the costs of engaging in a lifestyle characterized by gender-symmetry (both in the domestic and in the public sphere) are, for both men and women, smaller or equal to the costs of engaging in a lifestyle that is gender asymmetrical.
A gender-symmetric lifestyle is a lifestyle in which women and men engage equally in paid work and family life, which includes unpaid care work for dependants. I start from the assumption that family and work are the central concerns of most people's lives. (Given, perhaps, an enlarged understanding of both: work to include market and non-market activities that are productive of goods or services and family to include various long-term living arrangements based on emotional attachments which typically involve extended periods of dependency related to child care, old age, illness and sometimes life-long disabilities.) It is reasonable to expect that, in order to lead fulfilling lives, the majority of people will need ample opportunities to thrive both in their working and in their family lives. Hence, just social arrangements should make “work and family” the default position and minimize the costs of choosing this situation, for both men and women, relative to either the “work only” or “family only” situation. An additional argument in favour of gender-symmetrical lifestyles is to be found in the feminist literature which argues that care-giving should be recognized as a universal duty of citizenship (Bubeck 1999; Kittay 1999). The introduction of a BI would be compatible with gender justice, and possibly beneficial for justice all-things-considered, only if it does not raise the costs of engaging in gender-symmetrical lifestyles.
But in fact we have reasons to believe that a BI is likely, in the long run, to raise the costs of gender-symmetric lifestyles. I rely on already developed arguments indicating that, should a BI be introduced, it would be reasonable to expect an overall drop in female labour (Kesenne 1990, Robeyns 2001, Bergmann 2004), different income effects for different groups of women (Robeyns 2001), and a drop in women's bargaining power within the household, decreased self-esteem and loss of social capital (Robeyns 2001). Additionally, work on women's preferences and behaviour with respect to combining home and career in the context of public policies suggests that a BI would increase the polarization between home-centred and work-centred women (Hakim 2000).
Research by Catherine Hakim shows that if cash is provided instead of services (for example home care allowances instead of services such as childcare) female preference patterns become more polarized: more women become either career-oriented or home-oriented and fewer try to adapt in order to combine home and career (Hakim, 2000)[2]. Suppose on the basis of the similarities between a BI and the open-ended (cash) benefits discussed by Hakim that the introduction of a BI would lead to more polarization of women's lifestyle preferences. The group of adaptive women would shrink, and there will be less incentive for adapting policies that make the costs of gender-symmetric lifestyles the cheapest option for both men and women.
2. Entrenching Gendered Preferences
A worry with advocating gender-symmetry as a default position will come from the fact that, even under the conditions of increased gender justice, there are women who have a constant preference for being home-makers (Hakim, 2004 estimates that this is about a fifth of the UK's female population). Hakim's normative conclusion is that the best policies would give equal support to both categories of women, to those who are home-centred as well as to those who are career centred. Leaving aside the question of whether it is at all possible to have policy packages that are neutral in this respect, there are reasons of principle to reject Hakim's conclusion. Responding to preferences need not be the same as promoting justice. First, many preferences are adaptive, and since women's preferences are historically shaped against a background of injustice we have good reasons not to take them at face value. Second, Hakim treats women's preferences as if they were independent of men's preferences. But they are very unlikely to be so: men and women work together and raise families together. If men were more home-centred and adaptive, this would have an impact on all three categories of women discussed by Hakim. The career-centred women would find it easier to find partners who are willing to participate in raising a family, adaptive women would have more support in their endeavors of combining home and work, and there is evidence that even home-centred women would be better off, as they would be more likely to remain, in their marriages (Hochschild 2003.) Most importantly, the preference-formation for women growing up in a world where, for both men and women, the default lifestyle is that they shoulder equally the burdens (and reap equally the benefits) of both work and home would be different than it currently is. In consequence, instead of responding to women's current preferences, we should aim to ensure that preferences (of all individuals) are formed under just circumstances[3]. One of the deeply unjust circumstances of the current world is the devaluation of care. 
In spite of sending the message that one's social value should not be entirely dependent on whether or not one holds paid employment, the introduction of a BI would lead to further public devaluation of care-based lifestyles. It has already been argued that a BI would result in improvements with respect to the ability of choosing between paid and unpaid work, as well as between different types of work (Robeyns, 2001). This consequence, welcome in a world where men and women have equal bargaining powers and where preferences are formed under structurally just circumstances, would in fact perpetuate the traditional gendered division of labour resulting (as already mentioned) in a drop of women's participation in paid work. A BI would, all things being equal, lower the costs for individuals to pursue their preferences. It is precisely this feature – which makes it attractive to liberals (and, of course, to libertarians) – that should worry feminists. As long as most men will resent doing care work as demeaning, or tedious and unimportant, or otherwise a threat to their masculinities, a BI will also perpetuate the devaluation of care. Thus, given the pressure that social environments put on individuals, for the more gender conservative groups the existence of a BI would raise the costs for individuals (of both sexes!) to engage in gender-symmetric lifestyles. Moreover, gender unjust norms would be deeper entrenched – and here comes my next argument.
3. The Increased Privatization of Care
If a BI will lead, as some critics fear, to a serious shortage of labour supply in the caring professions, care might become increasingly (re)privatized. Given current cultural norms, it is likely that women will be expected to shoulder the burden of private care, especially if they will indeed be gradually more excluded from the market. The privatization of care and the confinement of more women to domesticity fare badly for gender justice for a number of reasons. Economically, women will lose skills and social capital, making their re-entry on the market increasingly difficult – ultimately, many will have no substantive exit right from domesticity. Socially and culturally, the privatization of care may lead to the perpetuation of domestic violence and gender stereotypes. Psychologically, all blame for bad care will (continue to) go to women and this, in turn, will perpetuate the misrecognition of women. A general consequence of the privatization of care will be that the economic, social and psychological costs of individuals engaging in gender-symmetric lifestyles will become increasingly high.
It is important to emphasize that the costs of leading a particular lifestyle are economical but also psychological. Social expectations together with one's own, internalized, expectations as well as even more elusive factors such as people's ability to respect women and whatever is associated with the “feminine” carry the imprints of, and perpetuate, gender injustice. A discussion of the effects of a BI on gender justice will benefit from the integration of theories coming from feminist psychology that locate the sources of women’s misrecognition in the way in which traditional social arrangements – in particular the feminisation of childcare – together with their valuation and representation, structure our earliest human interaction, our moral emotions and our ability to value women and the feminine (Benjamin 1988). Feminist theorists have shown how the combination between the feminisation of childrearing combined with the generally low status and social powerlessness of women is at the root of women's misrecognition (Ruddick 1989). Far from being a mere individual choice devoid of any social implication, women's domesticity, particularly when work and family are in structural conflict, is a significant symptom and future cause of gender injustice (Williams 2000).
If many women drop out of the labour market and care becomes more privatised, this will generate self-perpetuating spirals of gender discrimination. The existence of a BI would eliminate the economic dependence of spouses with precarious careers on their working partner. Such dependence is one of the main incentives women currently have against centering their lives on marriage and (domestic) care-giving. If some women will continue to be expected to marry and center their lives around care-giving, and this choice will be perceived as less risky than it is now, some parents will have incentives to invest more resources in furthering the careers of boys.
4. Conclusion
With current gender norms and expectations in place, the introduction of a BI would, in the longer run, reinforce gender injustice. Therefore, this policy could be consistent with gender justice only if other mechanisms will successfully offset its negative consequences. To ease the conflict between work and family we need generous levels of different types of redistribution, particularly socialized childcare, care for the ill, elderly and disabled, and policies to encourage men to get involved in the “second shift” (Hochschild, 2003). Such distributive models, called  “the double-earner-double-carer model” or “the universal care-giver model”, were sketched by Fraser (1994) and developed by Gornick and Mayers (2003). They assume, as a norm, that individuals’ lives are shared between career and caring, including obligations towards dependents over significant periods of time. Hence they includes provisions for paid leaves, for the socialization of care in public institutions as well as for labour regulations which allow flexibility without significant loss of career opportunities[4].
A BI would increase the gap between those leading gender-symmetric lifestyles and gender traditionalists, and thus its introduction without appropriate measures which can eliminate or reduce this gap would be adverse to gender justice. However, although there are reasons to think that in the world as it is a BI would be an obstacle to gender justice, in a world largely characterized by gender just norms and expectations its introduction could still be welcomed by liberal feminists. In the most optimistic scenario, given the right institutional set-up and changes at the level of individual preferences, a universal BI might advance liberal justice by giving people a decent option to avoid gender symmetry, if they wish to. Thus, a BI could ease the inherent tension between gender justice (as defined in this paper) and liberal justice.
Benjamin, Jessica (1988) The Bonds of Love. Psychoanalysis, Feminism and the Problem of Domination. New York: Pantheon Books.
Bergmann, Barbara R. (2004) A Swedish-Style Welfare State or Basic Income: Which Should Have Priority?, Politics and Society 32 (1), 107-118.
Bubeck, Diemut E. (1999) A Feminist Approach to Citizenship. In O. Hufton and Y. Kravaritou (eds.) Gender and the Use of Time. The Hague: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 401-28.
Fraser, Nancy (1994) After the Family Wage. In Political Theory 22(4), 591-618.
Gornick, Janet C. and Marcia K. Mayers (2003) Families that Work. Policies for               Reconciling Parenthood and Employment New York: Russel Sage Foundation.
Hakim, Catherine (2004) Key issues in women's work. Female Heterogeneity and the Polarisation of Women’s Employment London: Glasshouse Press.
Hakim, Catherine (2000) Work-lifestyle choices in the 21st century: Preference Theory Oxford: Oxford University Pres.
Hochschild, Arlie (2003) The Second Shift New York: Penguin Books.
Kesenne, S. (1990) Basic Income and Female Labour Supply: An Empirical Analysis. In Cahiers Economiques de Bruxelles 125, 81-92.
Kittay, Eva Feder (1999) Love’s Labor: Essays on Women, Equality, and Dependency New York: Routledge.
Lister, Ruth (1995) Dilemmas in engendering citizenship, Economy and Society, 24 (1): 1-40.
Robeyns, Ingrid (2001) Will a Basic Income do Justice to Women? Analyse und Kritik 22(2), 88-105.
Ruddick, Sara (1989) Maternal Thinking. Towards a Politics of Peace. Boston: Beacon Press.
Williams, Joan (2000) Unbending Gender. Why Family and Work Conflict and What to do About It Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

[1]               I do not discuss here whether a gender just society is the same with providing “what is good for women” in terms of satisfying their actual preferences. Such a society may not optimally satisfy many of the preferences of current women, formed against a background of unjust social arrangements. What is good for a person in an unjust context – particularly if the injustices are historic and systematic – is not necessarily what justice requires.
[2]               Hakim’s studies reveal that women who have a strong career orientation are unlikely to change it in response to distributive policies. By contrast, adaptive women – i.e. women who do their best to combine both home-making and career, giving them different weight over time – are very responsive to distributive policies; cash payments tend to encourage them to withdraw from the labour market more than services do.
[3]               Which is not to suggest that, even under just circumstances, satisfying preferences will necessarily mean the same thing as doing justice.
[4]               As many feminists have argued, a necessary step in achieving gender justice is to change men’s gendered preferences. To be able to undo the sources of gender injustice at the level of individual psychology and at the symbolic level of cultural representations, it is necessary to focus on what men are losing out under the current arrangements. If it is true that for many women the choice between advancing their career and spending quality time with their dependants and other loved ones is painful, why not suppose that the masculinity norms that require men to spend most of their adulthood working are also oppressive? At a superficial glance one may miss this loss, since most men can focus on their career and have a family largely shouldered by their partner, who is either not working or working part-time. However, being able to spend quality time with one's family is the core value of having a family - and not the mere fact of "having" loved people at home. Men are losing out significantly by conforming with cultural and market expectations.

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