woman boardroom

New Statesman journalist Helen Lewis is frustrated. Very, very frustrated. It has occurred to her that although unemployment is very, very low our productivity levels are also stagnating.

Economists have been scratching their heads over this for at least a year. Many point to lack of innovation and training by employers, others to the over-valued pound, and some to an increase in women in the workplace as a small contributor.

Lewis reckons it is down to something else: ‘life admin’ and businesses innovating to make customers do more of the work. But it is the ‘life admin’ that really gets to her. She whinesThe sheer effort involved in managing the lives of others — whether young children or elderly parents — eats up our concentration and our leisure time. 

Let’s face it: this is the brutal truth. Just think of the increase in productivity if we could all just push our grannies off the bus. It would be huge.

And the kids, for the love of God, please don’t start me on the kids, what with their needs, and their ability to fall off couches and break their collar-bones (my 5-year-old son.) Each time I had a new baby, I did not think, what a beautiful bundle of joy. I knew I was just adding more admin to my life. I was producing a creature that will ‘eat up my concentration and my leisure time.’ My brain deserves better.

Now I am not denying that caring for young children and elderly parents is, of course, time consuming but you are not managing their lives: you are enriching your life. Elderly parents and children are not spreadsheets to be ticked, they are people with human needs. Yes these caring duties can be overwhelming at time, especially with little support – but that neither is the fault of the carer nor granny nor child.

What is even more interesting is how Lewis unwittingly recognises the benefits of role specialisation within the family: that is a full-time worker and a full-time homemaker.

She recognises that up until recently the economy was built for working men with stay-at-home wives. (She is ignoring, it seems, the Industrial Revolution that relied upon both female as well as child labour. When the revolution was over, I reckon those women and children were pretty relieved at being liberated from the dangerous factories and mines). Lewis notes, ‘How some of the pioneers of literature and science were able to get so much done in their chosen field: that was all they did.’

It many cases, this was indeed all the men did. The men were devoted to their chosen field and, with home life cared for, they invented penicillin, they invented the steam engine, they revolutionised the building of automobiles. And we all benefited in return. Remember, if the West was a matriarchy we would all be living in mud huts.

What I found absolutely fascinating, however, was the solution offered by Lewis. It is at this stage of the thinkpiece that we expect the call for more flexible hours, part-time working and essentially huge government regulation of the employment market. Not so. Yes, she says proper recognition of the value of childcare must be made, but also a return to role specialisation.

Lewis: ‘Of course, there is one obvious solution to the difficulty of juggling full-time work and life admin. In the end I told my friend that what she needed was simple: a wife.’ If we give her the benefit of the doubt, and Lewis being a feminist, what she means is a stay-at-home husband, in other words role specialisation.

This kind of advice has been knocking around feminist circles for a while. Marry a man who will support your career, or better still, marry a man who will have no career of this own and support yours. To which I say – fill your boots.

Find him if you can, it probably would increase the productivity of the at-work mother. But I don’t see it working on a macro level as women, especially high-earning women – still want high status, high achieving men. So Lewis is doing battle with biology here. I’ve a pretty good idea who is going to win.


  1. So feminism turns full circle and starts to eat itself. The solution to all our social and personal ills is to have women as breadwinners, working all the hours God sends to provide for their families, paying large chunks of their income in taxes, and no doubt having the majority of the ulcers, heart attacks and premature deaths; while men stay at home, do the cooking and cleaning, raise the kids and look after granny.

    Why oh why has the human race been so blind to this wonderful solution for all of its existence?

    Just one little snag suggests itself itself at this point. What happens when all the house-husbands get bored and fed up with their restricted roles, look with envy at all the power and prestige held by women, and start agitating for “equal rights”?

    • Indeed. Remember the old adage – ‘every pupil must be given an equal chance of failure’. It is the guiding principle of Britain’s leftist educators.

    • And we are taxed to the bejeesus to pay for it to fail. A double whammy. Employers cannot afford to invest training because they are being taxed to provide training.

      • It’s very short-sighted. Are we gonna just build a wall around our traditional council estates and let them fight it out like Escape From New York?

    • Yup. Anyone who thinks out of the box (cough, cough, Google) is thrown out, not hired or listened to.

      Everything is about that sacrosanct degree instead of some creativity and a mix of both.

  2. Work has become a drag and saddled with so many regulations its practically impossible to use your own initiative. Everyone has to have a degree and are told there is a wonderful inspiring job out there ,but there isn’t. Workers are only cogs in the wheel and are not motivated to increase productivity. Why should they.

    • I would agree with that, and add that if you do try to add value/turnover you stand a very good chance of being regarded as a threat, as much by your ‘managers’ as by your co-workers…

    • You have to find the right employer, or do it for yourself. There are smart people out there who create environments where you can add value but a I agree they are probably more readily found in SMEs than in big corporations.

    • Work is what you make of it.

      You should treat every job as an opportunity to learn, to gain experience and to use to develop your skills and career or to allow you to start your own business.

      You are only a cog in a wheel if you allow it – you can easily take control of the whole machinery by applying your will and your effort to that end.

      Good luck, enjoy your life and the wonderful opportunities available for those who grasp them.

    • Risk assessments are good for you
      You spend so much time creating them and communicating them there is no time for real work
      Well done eU

  3. “She is ignoring, it seems, the Industrial Revolution that relied upon both female as well as child labour.”

    It seems likely that productivity prior to the Industrial Revolution was so low, that almost everybody worked. children, teenagers, and adults of all ages and both genders. I assume that factory work for children was more attractive than other forms of available work in those days, otherwise why would they or their parents choose it?

    • I think in fact there was no other work. Remember travel was very arduous and expensive . So in Lancashire some towns were coal, some iron, some fishing and some textiles. In a way the textiles were the best because of the range of possible jobs in the huge Mill complexes. Even in the 1970s when I was first exposed to the “women at home” model it didn’t “compute” because in my neck of the woods women did work and had done for generations. Possibly the Mill towns were an aberration but a big aberration.
      I was just chatting yesterday to a friend talking about the cloth trade (he’s selling his family business to retire) talking about the fact that still that industry still shuts Friday lunchtime from the days when the largely female workforce would do the shopping for the weekend on Friday afternoons having being paid. One can’t help but think our ancestors got on with life pragmatically. Perhaps only the “rentier” classes with little to do could do the writing and theorising. Hence the imaginary world feminism (and other isms) seem to think about.

      • They moved to those mill towns at some point, it must have seemed more attractive to them than whatever, most likely subsistence agriculture they were doing before. Likely they were correct.

  4. She’s probably calling for a nanny, housemaid, au pair and cook. There’s middle class feminism write large – a new aristocracy who want cheap servants.

    No wonder they’re all remainers, ending free movement might play havoc with the supply of cheap girls from Eastern Europe.

      • Inexpensive is a better expression, the E European girls I’ve met at work tend to be very well educated and smart.

        • That’s because you have (as in the case of one Polish lady I met several years ago) architecture graduates wiping bottoms in care homes. Her then beau was also a graduate and drove a lorry here.

          Not an isolated case among people I’ve met: one Russian woman’s father used to be a judge in the criminal courts who sentenced 42 people to the death penalty. In Frankfurt, Germany, this apparently qualified him to mind baggage carts at the airport. (Although I suppose his daughter could have been telling tall stories, but why would she?)

    • In my mid twenties I found myself working in a University “Social Administration” department on research. One of the rather abrupt challenges to my idealism was the MA students; female, “well married” (ie. to Doctors etc.) who seemed oblivious to the fact they relied on their husbands for support to do their degrees and spent a lot of time discussing how to pay less to their Filipino nannies/cleaners (and for some reason they were all Filipino) and cleaners (usually from one of the big council estates). Even then it seemed a most odd as they joined in marches and challenged “sexism” whilst trying to wriggle out of paying 50p .

  5. I remember years ago when Shirley Williams got terrible stick for saying that she’d manage much better if she had a wife.

  6. Britain has always had low productivity whose origins may have been in the pre-WW1 economy which was largely built around around small craft workshops while the Germans had bigger scale industrial concerns and the Americans pioneered mass production. Corelli Barnett wrote that the British model was reorganised on more efficient lines by the government to meet the demands of the war but things reverted to the status quo ante after 1918. I can’t remember a time when politicians and business leaders didn’t moan about British levels of productivity. Despite all the ridicule heaped on the 35 hour week in France, the productivity of French workers rivals that of Germany.

    • Much in that, to the point that in the 1850s the armory at Enfield bought machinery and expertise in musket making from the Springfield Armory. That sale rather came back to haunt us since the CSA was mostly armed with Enfield rifled muskets, almost identical to Springfields.

    • Yes I “did” economics at A level and Uni. The end of the 70’s. At which time our poor productivity record since WW2 seemed to predict our immanent doom. I note recent concerns about it appears to give the same “lag” as all those decades ago. Which suggests to me a quirk in calculating (like the immense variation within Italy north/south) or a cultural resistance to new methods or technology. I wonder about the latter really as my limited experience of France, Spain and Italy is that they at least appear to “jump in” and adopt new technology with gusto.

      • Plus the realisation that mechanical car wash machines more often than not scratched the hell out of cars, bent aerials, pulled off windscreen wipers, etc.

    • There’s a lot to admire about Germany. I’m less keen on the nationalism that pervades France’s industry (eg state assisted industrial espionage), but their education is better than ours and they have ambition.

      I recently visited the Deutsches Technikmuseum in Berlin and had occasion to reflect on different attitudes (you might even say temperaments) between Britain and Germany. We Brits do tend to favour mavericks, with progress coming in spurts; while Germans are of course fantastically organized and confident. As a result, they were always 5-10 years ahead in the early 20th century.

      • Technical brilliance is not the sole criterion although Britain has that, second only to the US in Nobel prizes. Professor Bronowski’s Ascent of Man contrasted England and France during the early stages of the industrial revolution. French engineers produced intricately mechanised miniatures of people and animals that moved or mimicked writing for the amusement of the court and aristocracy while the stolid old British built boring things like machines for factories and the roads and canals necessary to move their manufactures to market. the naval historian Peter Padfield wrote that French naval architecture was superior to Britain’s but the former controlled the seas and won at Trafalgar.

        • In what way was French naval architecture supposedly superior to Great Britain’s?

          What was the impact of “superior naval architecture” in winning naval battles? What gains did that bring in fighting performance? Judging by results, it clearly did not bring significant gains. We captured so many French ships and added them to our fleet so we would have discovered whether any French ideas were worth adopting.

          But it was we British who were the great innovators and masters of the sea. We defeated stronger, more powerful and far more populous nations by having better ships and better tactics that played to our strengths and exploited their weaknesses as we did back in the days of the Spanish Armada by having smaller faster ships that fired at 3 times the rate of the Spanish. Later on, for example, we discovered how to make our ships faster by copper bottoming them so barnacles couldn’t grow on them and slow them down, And if we then captured French ships as a result of that important edge, we would improve them the same way!

    • Low productivity is a result of low investment. Investment here has been too much concerned about the short term rather than the long term with banks lending on overdrafts that could be called in whilst it was much easier for foreign rivals in Germany to borrow on a secure, longer term basis.

      Labour shortages also drive up productivity as that increases wages and provides a great incentive to increase productivity. Mass migration from the EU and elsewhere has, in my view, had a very significant adverse effect on productivity by driving down wages and job opportunities for British workers whilst at the same time mass migration has increased rents and house prices that have hit the standard of living. We also have the highest public transport costs in western Europe that continue to increase at more than the rate of inflation.

      Any comparison of housing and transport to work costs would show that these costs eat up a significantly higher proportion of earnings in the UK than in comparable countries like France and Germany. Long hours and in particular working hard for low rewards is bad for wellbeing and ultimately for labour productivity and I believe that is a far more serious problem here than it is in France and Germany.

      • I would add that the ready availability of cheap immigrant labour affects the behaviour of corporate management. It encourages a culture of bullying where staff are motivated solely by the threat of the sack and removes the incentive for innovation that benefits both employer and employees.

  7. Yet another sign of the imaginary world of feminism. Their understanding of the past seems to be based on BBC Costume Drama or the National Trust. In which no one worked because everyone was part of the gentry or rentier , with some disregarded male and female servants happy to toil away for the greater good. A world where men more often but women too could toil away writing poetry or novels and indulge in lovely outfits and badinage.
    The reality of the vast majority often toiling 6 days a week to pay rent and buy food and maybe have a day in Blackpool completely lost. Of course technology and wealth has enabled more leisure, but still the majority have to earn a living.
    Perhaps Mr. Pankhurst did earn enough or have rentier income that enabled his wife and daughters to devote to campaigning. But he wasn’t “all men”.
    Helen Lewis seems to expect some sort of “fairy dust” or band of household servants to appear out of thin air.

  8. I have had to nearly destroy my business to get rid of my unproductive staff

    Being a family business we did everything asked of us, ever increasing wages, flexibility, working from home …….

    I wanted to take my business onto the web but my 3 staff, average age 60 had no interest in changing their work patterns? At £10K a month wages it is a lot for a small business to find month in month out.

    They have all now resigned once I got the legal advisors in – 3 years and £360,000 later I am exhausted

    The employees have been replaced by approx £1000 month software

    Will I take anyone else on – just worked out some figures – a minimum wage employee would cost me £1,000,000 over their lifetime …..

    • Hope you had help from the FSB, very good on personnel matters in my experience. I know what you mean about some staff being more trouble than they’re worth, but until recently I had two excellent part time staff. Unfortunately, I had to let them go last year because the business dipped drastically (due to me caring for ill husband, then ill father, both now recovered). This new compulsory pension is putting me off rehiring help, even though I used to offer stakeholder pensions. Good luck with taking your business online.

  9. Took our Helen a long while to get there.
    It must be that working at the Guardian that addles the brain

    • Feminists have no problem with temps covering them while on maternity leave, essentially an underclass that lacks the employment rights of permanent staff.

  10. What I find curious is the following. More and more women spend 3 years at university doing courses that involve ‘self-reflection’: women’s studies etc. Despite that extended period of navel gazing, they seem to to know themselves very little. They choose to have children, even though they find these children a burden. They choose to have children and find their elderly parents a burden, even though an university education is not necessary to see that one day they will be elderly parents to their own children. At least the feminist frontierswomen of the 70s accepted that not having children was a price they were prepared to pay in order to have their careers. Today’s feminists seem to be very unsure about the decisions they are making.

Comments are closed.