Sonya Michel


The simultaneous expansion of employer-sponsored "fringe benefits" and of government welfare programs in the post-World War II period created what might be termed a "public-private welfare state" in the United States. These developments were continuous with the public-private partnership that had characterized American welfare provision since the nineteenth century. But the increased range and scope of benefits, both public and private, in the postwar period made them an intrinsic part of Americans' way of life and their sense of well-being-that is, of their social citizenship. Feminist political theorists often point out that social citizenship is highly inflected by gender; citizens usually gain entitlements and benefits based on sex or on types of status that are gender-related, such as employment, military service, and motherhood. This paper seeks to explore how differences in social citizenship play out in a public-private welfare state, where benefits are predicated, at least in part, upon private employment. I do this by analyzing the treatment of motherhood (the benefits accruing to women as mothers) in such a dual state during its formative period, using the provision of childcare as a marker of women's status and entitlements within the public and private spheres. In modem industrial societies, childcare is an essential element of social citizenship for women, for it allows them to participate in the labor force on an equal footing with men. (I should note that it is a necessary but not sufficient condition for economic gender equality; equal access to education and training, non-discriminatory hiring and employment conditions, and wage equity are also essential.) Thus this article will examine and compare childcare provisions in the public and private sectors of the postwar American welfare state.

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