I was in the middle of preparing my lecture on the gendered division of the labour when I saw Laura’s post on the decline of marriage. Laura says
I’m convinced that one of the reasons behind the dual income family is the fear of divorce and not greed. You never know for sure that your partner will be around to support you in the future.
It is also one of the reasons that mothers are starting to demand pay and benefits for the unpaid work of raising kids. There is just no guarantee that your spouse will take care of you. Taking time out to raise kids is very risky
And the facts bear her out. Divorce courts typically recognise material assets accumulated during a marriage as jointly belonging to the couple. But the earning capacity accumulated is regarded as belonging individually to the person who has it. I just worked out that a teacher working in our school district who took a 1-year leave to look after a first kid at age 28 would lose $57,000 in future earnings (assuming a retirement age of 64, and not counting the year of earnings she loses by taking the year off, and also not counting the foregone pension contributions and SS contributions on that $57,000).
Warning: this is a long post which takes a long while to get to the point…
The problem is that long working hours themsleves might contribute to a deterioration of the marital relationship. In the course of my preparation I have been reading James Tooley’s book The MisEducation of Women. The book is a bit of a rant against feminism, but bear with me. In the course of an argument that the traditional gendered division of labor is good for women James expresses a worry rather like Laura’s, but says that this might be a bad strategy because women who work are less desireable, and hence their husbands are more likely to leave. Please, bear with me. He indulges in a wonderful speculation about what Milton and Rose Friedman’s traditional, and seemingly satisfyng, marriage would have been like had Rose been a career woman. In the real case Rose seems by her own testimony to have had an incredibly fulfilling life, contributing to the reproduction of her husband and their kids, and also discussing ‘his’ work with him. He imagines a modern feminist Rose, who decides to make room in her life for her own, independent intellectual and public life. Would this have been a god thing for the relationship? Tooley asks ‘How would he (Milton) have got on with Rose Mark II, a modern career woman?’. He then answers:
A man in this position may have been resentful of the long hours that he had to put in with the children or domesticity were stopping him from getting the Nobel Prize which he felt he deserved or could have won with a little more work. Or he may have worried more about the children, knowing that they were at some child-minder whom he did not trust rather than with his wife whom he did. Or he may just have been psychologically uncomfortable with his successful wife, and increasingly resentful of her, without really knowing why, feeling that something was not right, but not being able to express it to her, or even to himself… like many men, if Rose had been such a career woman, the husband may have felt that she was not unique any more, that she was, in Graglia’s marvelous word, fungible, more easily replaced (113-114).
Two things are going on here. One is that Tooley assumes that men in some sense need the traditional division of labour for their own psychological wellbeing. The other is that he is worried that the independence women achieve from men by working outside the home makes men less inclined to be long-term monogamous.
Now, two things strike me about the passage. First, it is entirely implausible that anything would have these effects on all men. At most, it will be many, or most men, who suffer these consequences. The traditional division of labor is almost certainly as oppressive for some men as it is for some women: some men are in their basic constitutions better suited to (ie will get more fulfillment from) the work of rearing children than ‘public’ work and also than some women are. For any given regime of dividing up labour some people will lose out. Maybe Friedman would lose out with Rose Mark II but perhaps some other man would gain.
The second thing to say is that Tooley has a very low estimation of the capacity of people to adapt themselves to circumstances. The concerns he describes are emotional challenges: emotionally capable people negotiate such challenges and have different, but not necessarily worse, relationships. And if inter-connectness is valuable for men as well as women, men might gain from having to share in, and therefore negotiate with their spouses, the tasks in the domestic sphere, rather than not having to think about, or contribute to, it at all.
But why is the psychologistic passage from Tooley so jarring? As I said, he doesn’t give much acknowledgment to the adaptability of human beings to their circumstances. Sure, if MF has been socialized to expect a wife who will organize all the trivial details of his life for him—wait on him—then he is entirely likely to find her emergence as a career woman threatening and difficult, especially when this is not the prevailing norm of womanhood. But this is a transitional problem—if he is raised to expect that his future spouse might play any of a number of roles, and that he too might do the same, his response might be entirely different.
The other reason the passage is jarring is that Tooley entirely neglects the possibility that what he is describing might be exactly what many women married to male breadwinners and engaging in the traditional labour might be feeling. There is no reason at all suppose that women are not prone to these feelings. Why should we care about the men, and not the women?
Of course, within in marriage, people will do things that upset the other person. Public policy should not be directed to eliminating all the bad feelings people have to each other. But it might do well to try and ensure that public policy is not the direct cause of unnecessary bad feelings.
If you’ve borne with me to this point, I want to elicit the point that I think is, despite Tooley’s stringent anti-feminism, worth taking very seriously (though it is a gender-neutral point). There’s another way of expressing the wory that men are more likely to leave women who work many hours outside the home. When both partners in a marriage are focused for 40-60 hours a week outside the home, a great deal less energy is being devoted to the maintenance and enjoyment of the relationship. In the traditional companionate marriage one spouse was devoted, more or less full time, to maintaining the emotional infrastructure and physical space of the marriage. If you like, the stresses and demands of the outside world which once absorbed 50 hours a week of their joint time now absorb 100 hours a week of their joint time. Less time is left for companionship.
Similarly, it is unlikely that the 50 hours a week of work will be entirely simultaneous. If they are not, then the couples experience a serious time-squeeze. There is just a lot less time and energy available to devote to each other. Then the relationship is more likely to fracture, because relationships need time and work to succeed—that is, to be lasting sources of mutual flourishing.
One lesson you could take from this is Tooley’s—push women back into the domestic sphere. But another would be: push everyone back into the domestic sphere. We live in the wealthiest world in history, and what makes people flourish is not consumption (above a certain level) but lasting and intimate human relationships, and rewarding labor. So we should just encourage people to work less for pay—both men and women.