The New York Times has an interesting think piece up on upper-class gender relations: Wall Street Mothers, Stay-Home Fathers.
The thrust of the piece is that many of the women with children who manage to make a killing on Wall Street are able to do so because their husbands have taken their feet off the gas pedal on their own careers and are handling things on the domestic front.
What the piece helps illustrate is that making a lot of money in America still mostly requires a lot of time spent working. It is therefore mostly incompatible with being the primary person responsible for raising children and running a household. With the ascent of women to the upper echelons of finance and other highly paid careers, the question for families now and in the future becomes, who is going to take care of the house and kids?
There are three primary responses to this question offered by most thinkers and commentators. But all of them have serious drawbacks and miss a huge part of the picture.
Women Love Being Homemakers
The first response is that women are naturally suited to and mostly like being the primary person responsible for raising children and running a household. Therefore, they should do it and let their husbands bring home the bacon.
It’s true that, when asked, most women say they don’t want to work as many hours as most men. As Independent Women’s Forum Executive Director Sabrina Schaeffer recently pointed out:
It may be unpopular – or simply not politically fashionable to say this – but most women don’t want to be Sheryl Sandberg. The Pew Research Center recently found that if offered the choice, only 23 percent of married mothers would choose to work full-time outside of the home. What’s more, “working fathers place more importance on having a high-paying job, while working mothers are more concerned with having a flexible schedule.”
The problem here is that it’s a solution which relies on but does not critique the role of pernicious gender-based expectations in shaping what women “are suited to” and “want.”
How ironic is this. By telling women that they are best suited to and should enjoy staying home and taking care of kids, the culture influences their desire to do so. Most women don’t want to be seen as “masculine,” just as most men don’t want to be seen as “feminine.” Mostly without ever realizing it, women are making choices that ensure they meet what they’ve spent their whole lives hearing are the expectations of their gender.
It’s also losing credibility as an accurate description of what women are best suited to as women are earning more degrees than men, and are also demonstrably better suited to earning money in an information- and service-based economy than are men.
Women Need Wives
The second response is that as now women are earning more degrees than men, it’s time for women to step into breadwinner roles and men to become the new wives. This is a big part of the premise of Lean In.
The problem here is that, as the article shows, even men without jobs aren’t doing as much in the childcare and household duties arena as unemployed wives do. And there is still societal stigma directed at men who don’t do paid work. As mentioned before, gendered expectations persist. In this environment, unpaid work is seen as “feminine,” and a patriarchal culture swiftly punishes men seen a man acting like women.
In fact, TIME just posted a response to the NYT article, <href=”#ixzz2n6ee41gj” target=”_blank”>Vivia Chen: When Stay-at-Home Husbands Are Embarrassing to Their Wives, pointing out how many feel about such arrangements:
All of this points to our entrenched ambivalence about changing gender roles. Men in these situations often feel alienated, particularly if they are surrounded by stay-at-home moms. But the power moms with the stay-at-home husbands are just as uneasy, often more embarrassed than proud that they’ve upset the traditional order.
Workplaces Should Cater to Women
The third response is that American workplaces should adapt to allow women the flexibility they need to be primary caretakers AND earn big paychecks. This is the solution offered by Anne-Marie Slaughter.
The problem here is that it is kind of a fool’s errand. As pointed out earlier, women don’t want to work as long or as hard as men, and no amount of corporate coddling is going to make them want to.
The Fourth Way
Who should handle raising the kids and taking care of the house? Simply put, it should be whoever’s opportunity cost is lowest.
Besides being a hindrance to women, gendered expectations actually inhibit economic growth by distorting labor markets. This wasn’t much of a problem in the past. In an agriculture and manufacturing economy, most women really didn’t have as much earning potential as most men. But in an information- and service-based economy, that’s no longer true. Keeping women with high earning potential in the home because they feel that’s where they belong robs society of their potential value in careers.
But where does that leave men? Simply put, high-earning women who want to unlock their potential should wife uneducated men. The big drawback to this solution is that it requires that individuals defy gendered expectations. This is a tall order, and people who defy expectations are stigmatized accordingly.
But it’s an economic reality that people who arrange their lives this way will be more financially successful than people who either don’t get married or cling to traditional gender roles. Economics will eventually re-dictate gendered expectations to conform to what’s most effective. The winners will be the early adopters.
This post originally appeared at TownHall.
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There is logic and reason… and then there is deeply entrenched emotional and cultural aspects. Since we have solid medical evidence that male & female brains structurally differentiate even before birth, I would dare even pose that evolution has bred into us differing emotional capabilities that may take thousands of years (or generations, even) to reverse.
Men and women are structurally different… not just in plumbing, shape & size, but in thinking, feeling, and intuition. Technology may bridge those differences incredibly rapidly, but culture and genetics don’t change nearly so fast.
I think its important to be tolerant with a slow-changing social culture… giving up habits established for literally millennia is not an easy thing, and not realistic to expect in any single generation, let alone a single relationship.
I would argue a few points…
>>What the piece helps illustrate is that making a lot of money in America
still mostly requires a lot of time spent working. It is therefore
mostly incompatible with being the primary person responsible for
raising children and running a household.
I would say that part of this is due to a lack of foresight on the part of both younger men and women with respect to education and career choices early on. So often I see young people following an educational/life path that will severely restrict their income potential. This seems to have a domino effect in terms of earning potential. As I’ve watched my own children grow up, I’ve seen this across the spectrum of social-economic genesis. Sure, there are always the stand-outs and the exceptions. For every one of those I can point to a number of college graduates who are still looking for work. With liberty comes responsibility, even at an early age. Of course, I could comment on parents who enable such behaviors too…
Mind you – I’m not saying don’t pursue your dream. However, if one’s dream includes having a family, then perhaps the choices one makes might need to be adjusted accordingly. I’m not even saying don’t pursue a dream that is … unlikely … but be prepared to adjust that dream soon enough that you can be an effective team of parents.
I can say this because I raised 5 children. I was married at 22, and all our 5 kids were born within 10 years… my wife never had to work (and freely chose not to), and we lived a comfortable life over those 10 years. When you consider that I didn’t even finish college, I’m living proof that it can be done. I worked near my home, and so was always active in my children’s lives. When my wife of 16 years left us (kids and all) my career afforded me flexibility to stay at home when needed.
Now – with my sixth child and being 48, I work from home for the most part. I do travel for work, but I take my wife (R.N. and MBA who chose to be a stay at home mom) and child with me.
The bottom line is that Liberty requires that we work on self-reliance early on. We need parents that teach self-reliance and good choices, common sense choices, early on. Liberty is really dead without principles and ethics…. Principles of work, principles of responsibility and ethical choices in how you do things, espeically raising your kids.
Again – let me be clear – following your dream is the embodiment of Liberty. However – if any part of that dream involves a child, then the ethics of Liberty may well inform your choices and demand they be different. Liberty is never easy, or simple, and it does not ensure perfection… but it does inform choices and generally, when those choices are made with ethical and common sense considerations, then it will lead to longer term happiness.
Oh, I could go on and on about how Liberty is about the long term, and how short term choices without long term consideration can so destroy it…
>>Who should handle raising the kids and taking care of the house? Simply put, it should be whoever’s opportunity cost is lowest.
I would argue that this boils down parenting to an economic decision, which it is NOT if you have prepared yourself for the challenge of being a parent (which so many do not). In such a case, only considering economic decision vectors will lead to bad choices more often than if the whole of the decision tree is considered. Considerations to variables such as ones desire to work, one’s desire to parent full time, one’s natural emotional disposition (for example, a parent with borderline personality issues might not want to be the primary stay at home parent) all need to factor into the decision process.
Liberty is not just about economics. While being economically stable is a pillar of maintaining ones liberty, there are a great many other facets that hold up the banner of Liberty. In my opinion, parenting alters the framework of what one peruses when one is seeking to preserve their liberty. It requires self-sacrifice, commitment to others and yet commitment to principles that are challenging and yet so very important.
Yet another possibility is that more housekeeping and other forms of what has been traditionally seen as “women’s work” will be outsourced to third party specialists (nannies, cleaners, etc).
This will be good for the economy due to the greater division of labor.
It will be great for feminism, as women will be free (i.e., not socially discouraged) to develop their capabilities outside the home and pursue life goals of their own devising. Also, what used to be “women’s work” will now be remunerative, bringing above board a lot of hard work that was once considered free.
But seriously, none of you has pointed out the obvious?
Okay, here goes:
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