The Family and the Market — Redux

Maxine Eichner


The relationship between the family and the market has long been an issue of contention in Western societies. Since the 1970s, that relationship has required renegotiation as women, who had performed the great majority of caretaking work, have entered the workforce in increasing numbers. At the same time, women’s movement into the workplace and the changes in public policy that have accompanied it have spurred significant scholarly commentary over how the family-market relationship should be reconstructed. This Article argues against one possible approach to this reconstruction, in which the state withdraws barriers between the family and the market that support families’ caretaking and human development activities. Under this approach, which by and large has been adopted in public policy in the United States, women’s movement into the role of breadwinner has been accompanied by decreased state support for caretaking and human development, in the belief that market forces should properly determine how these activities are conducted. This Article argues that the market is the wrong tool to use to “distribute” these activities. Doing so is not only resulting in an unjust distribution of these activities among and within families, it is causing serious harm, not only to society’s most vulnerable citizens, but also to the polity as a whole. The proper role of the state, this Article argues, is to buffer caretaking and human development activities from market forces in order to ensure the wellbeing of individuals, families, and society.

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