Parent- or family-friendly work policies are pronatalist, some have argued. Feminist scholar Alena Heitlinger, for example, has claimed:
Parental leaves, childcare services, flexible work arrangements, re-entry training programs, and social security and taxation policies that do not penalize women for motherhood have been promoted as measures of equal opportunities for women, but they can be also seen as having a pronatal potential, irrespective of the increase in the birth rate being an explicit objective.
In fact, Laura Carroll (author of The Baby Matrix) argues that, in general, policies favour parents. She maintains that, given the steadily rising population rate and continued environmental degradation, government policies generally reward the wrong people: parents of large families. Instead, of giving tax relief or financial assistance to larger families, for instance, people should be rewarded for not reproducing or for having smaller families. By way of example, Carroll suggests parent carbon tax or providing adoptive parents with larger tax exemptions and parents with only one bio-kid a nominal exemption.
With regard to workplace policies specifically, Heitlinger, and other feminists, suggest that making work-life balance easier for parents—sometimes at the expense of ‘non-parents’—inadvertently encourages people to have children, or at least makes it easier. In short, these policies are pro-natalist.
The issue of course, as feminist studies have long highlighted is that the ideal worker is childfree, which historically has also meant male, and most family-friendly workplace policies emerged in response to women’s entry into the workplace, as Heitlinger points out above. Motherhood has often acted as a barrier to paid employment, particularly when women in partnerships with men are expected to fulfill the traditional caregiver role and were forced to choose between a career and parenthood.
The question then is whether altering or removing parent-friendly policies could mean re/marginalising women. Many women in heterosexual partnerships, in South Africa at any rate, still do the bulk caregiving. One could also question how would sole or same-gender parents could be affected?
Some say that we have moved beyond these kinds of gender politics. They argue that benefits and policies–like paid parental leave or flexi-time and telecommuting for parents–are fundamentally unfair, especially when others at work are required to pick up the slack. For example, in a forum discussion on The Childfree Life someone maintained that “You [as a childfree person] should not have to experience different treatment because you made a different choice” (Personal Communication, 2012). An article from BBC News quotes ‘non-parents’ responses to a survey about family-friendly policies as follows:
One manager told the [researchers]: “I do not have children and sometimes resent the emphasis put on people who do being the only ones who want more time at home. I have commitments and a life too, and I would like family-friendly policies to be home-friendly policies instead.”
A woman manager … said: “People who don’t have children resent the things they miss out on, such as maternity/paternity leave, and sick leave taken as a result of problems with children.”
Another manager said: “People who choose not to have families do so for good reasons and it is unfair to burden them with additional work so others can have additional benefits.”
Perhaps the answer is thinking more broadly about what ‘family’ means. A broader understanding of what counts as family, would mean that family-friendly policies could be extended to a range of people beyond parents only. This could potentially affect the gross disparity in parent leave in South Africa (the 4 months maternity leave for mothers versus the 2 weeks paternity leave for fathers).