It’s clothed in choice

You can tell it is the week before budget as the government softens us up for what is in store on Budget night and the Opposition attacks everything it can think of that may be in the Budget.

What I have noticed is the way changes are sold to us.

Choice In employment

This week has seen the discussion about increasing the participation rate of women in the workforce. The particular emphasis has been on increasing the number of mothers returning to the workforce and the speed at which they return after having given birth.

Because we do not put an economic value on ‘stay at home mothers’ the assumption is that mothers should return to the workforce whenever the inevitable economic arguments are presented.

One commentator, responding to the comment that mothers may choose not to return to the workforce said ‘our intention is not that all women be forced back to work, but that they have the choice to return to work if they wish’.

I was glad when I heard this comment, as it recognized that many people are willing to accept a lower standard of living with fewer toys in exchange for the privilege of being at home with the family. But then I thought more about it, and realised that choice for some takes choice away from others.

When choice is not a level playing field

The most expensive part of family life is housing. The price of housing, both for rental and for purchase is set by what the market is willing to pay. If we have more families on two incomes, then more families will be able to pay more for housing. This pushes up the price of housing. Some years ago I charted female participation rate in the workforce against housing rental costs. While I know there are other significant factors, it was very illuminating to observe that rents followed participation rate, only lagging by about a year.

That this happens is good news for landlords and home sellers but it takes away choice from others.

If rents rise, it makes it harder for families to survive on one income; so the opportunity to choose to stay at home is diminished, and economics again triumphs.

What do we learn?

When we read and listen to the ‘spin’ that comes with public policy, we need to keep asking in what ways does this change affect our choices in living the life of faith? 

Archie Poulos is Head of Ministry at Moore Theological College and Director of the Centre for Ministry Development.

Comments (2)

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  • Karin Nicole Sowada
    May 11, 11 - 12:13am
    Archie you would probably get the same result on rising housing rental costs if you modelled it against population growth and availability of housing stock.
  • Stephen Davis
    May 11, 11 - 3:56am
    Archie, I think the observations you make simply and accurately reflect the reality of life in almost any society. Regardless of whatever choices are presented to us, as Christians we need to remind ourselves to make sure our choices are made within the constraints of God's word. All the best.