July 12th 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Will Telstra sale complete Liberals' takeover of Nationals?

EDITORIAL: The states' gambling addiction

WEST PAPUA: Rising US concern over Indonesian army killings

AGRICULTURE: Factory closure linked to stalled sugar reforms

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Counter-culture / Houses divided against themselves / Oil theories

DEFLATION: Is the world economy sailing into unchartered territory?

Partition of Kashmir? (letter)

Something rotten ... (letter)

Senate 'obstruction' (letter)

WORLD ECONOMY : The market is unpredictable

INTERVIEW: Cross-fertilisation the key to a vibrant world

SOUTH AUSTRALIA : Sex Education course leaves parents fuming

FAMILY: Tax splitting comes in from the cold

BOOKS: The West and the Rest, by Roger Scruton

Books promotion page

Tax splitting comes in from the cold

by Babette Francis

News Weekly, July 12, 2003
The lobbying by Sophie Panopoulos, federal Liberal Member for Indi, for family income-splitting ( "Putting family first", Melbourne's Herald Sun, June 25, 2003) represents the best opportunity pro-family organisations have had in years to achieve taxation justice for families.

Not since the efforts of South Australian Liberal MP, Ian Wilson, ten years ago, has the concept been articulated so vigorously, and it gives those concerned about the well-being of children and families an unparallelled opportunity to influence the Government, and maybe even the Opposition in a pro-family direction.

Sophie Panapoulos has correctly identified the contradictions between the taxation system which taxes income earners as if they were individuals, and the welfare system which excludes spouses and children from benefits because they are part of a family.

Greater benefit

Her recommendation would be of far more benefit to the majority of families than would maternity leave, because it would be of on-going value through the years when there are dependent children, unlike maternity leave payments in which is embedded an incentive to leave babies and return to paid work when the baby is 14 weeks old.

Income-splitting policy will inevitably be vigorously opposed by the feminists (and their camp followers in the ALP and Democrats) who for decades have encouraged young mothers to pursue self-fulfillment through employment, assuring them that their children will do just fine in the day-care centre.

Such assurances look deeply suspect in the light of sobering data now available from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care (NICHD-SECC). Based on three years of observations of 900 European-American children born in 1991, the NICHD-SECC data leaves little doubt: mothers who leave the home for employment less than a year after a child's birth are exposing that child to real and lasting psychological risk.

The risks posed by maternal employment stand out clearly in statistical tests establishing that "children whose mothers worked at all by the ninth month of their life had lower scores on a [standard test of child cognitive development] at 36 months than did children whose mothers did not work by that time." Although only the effect of maternal employment initiated by the ninth month reached the threshold of statistical significance, the researchers note that "the effects of any maternal employment by 1, 3, 6, or 12 months were also negative."

Maternal employment puts children most at risk when it is full-time: the data show that "the negative effect of having a mother who began employment by the ninth month was most pronounced for children whose mothers worked longer hours (30 hours or more per week) in the first year."

In part, children of mothers employed full-time are especially vulnerable because of the relatively inferior care these children receive when their mothers are at work and the insensitivity of the care they receive from their mothers themselves when they are at home.

Many readers will interpret the finding of maternal insensitivity among mothers employed full-time during the first year of their children's lives as a definitive refutation of the feminist notion that employed mothers can do as much for their children with a little "quality time" as homemaking mothers can do with much more "quantity time."

Unfortunately for feminist theorists, these data also show that full-time maternal employment hurts children even in those relatively rare cases in which employed mothers find high quality surrogate care for their children and in which they themselves manage somehow to avoid the maternal insensitivity usually associated with their employment status.

The NICHD-SECC analysts acknowledge that "even after [statistically] controlling for child care and home environment, a negative association was still found between full-time employment begun in the first 9 months of children's lives and the children's [psychological development] scores at 36 months."

Child care, again

Given the current ascendance of feminist ideology, especially within academe, it is entirely predictable that the NICHD-SECC analysts stress the importance of improving the quality of child care available to employed mothers and of passing federal legislation giving employed women the option of paid maternal leave from their jobs. (Shades of Prue Goward, Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner!) Still, the evidence of the harm maternal employment holds for children is so compelling that the analysts actually inch toward a challenge to feminist doctrines of female employment.

They question whether it would not be "prudent for policy makers to go slow" on welfare-reform measures that "would require mothers to enter the labor force [full-time] early in the first year of [their child's] life." And when the focus is not welfare mothers but mothers in general, the analysts remark that "one could conclude that encouraging mothers to stay home or work part-time during the first year would produce children with higher [psychological development] scores."

It is important for pro-family activists to write to Prime Minister, John Howard, and the Leader of Opposition (whoever he might be) in support of Sophie Panopoulos's policy suggestion on income-splitting as a preferred option to paid maternity leave.

  • Babette Francis - babette@endeavourforum.org.au

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