The High Tide of a Labour Market System: The Australasian Male Breadwinner Model

Melanie Nolan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Several Australasian historians are reassessing the 1950s. The decade may not have been as consistently traditional and conservative as once thought. It may not have been the peak of the traditional family with its male worker and female homemaker. This article argues that the tide was turning on the male breadwinning model by the 1950s. An examination of family benefits, the rising number of married women in the paid workforce and equal pay in the public service are evidence of the erosion of the male breadwinning system. The degree to which these developments occurred simultaneously on both sides of the Tasman is striking. However the models and approaches that labour historians have adopted to consider the period means that these changes have been overlooked. Much attention has been given to the rise of ‘male breadwinning’ or the family wage’ and, often associated with that, a wider state policy of social protection in twentieth century Australasia. This article concentrates not on the foundations but on the demise of the classic breadwinner model. And, in the process, the state's role in maintaining male breadwinning is reassessed. Some postwar state policies worked against the male breadwinner model. The state was not as coherent or traditional as it has often been characterised. Above all, the state s role as the largest single employer in labour markets experiencing serious labour shortage came into conflict with its assumed role as an upholder of traditional familial ideology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-92
Number of pages20
JournalLabour & Industry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes


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