The Decline of Marriage

by Harry on May 3, 2004

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.



Gar Lipow 05.03.04 at 5:37 pm

>So we should just encourage people to work less for pay — both men and women.

A great deal of work time is spent buying security, and other things that are thought of as public goods. For example you have to save for your old age, because public old age pensions are not really big enough to live on. You are supposed to have cash on hand to tide you though periods of unemployment. In the U.S. at least either the parent pays of the kids post high school education, or the kid takes huge loans that have to paid back in during work career.

So if you want a rich nation to encourge people to work less, you have to change some thing (and the U.S. has one of the longest overall workweeks in the rich world. Not sure of Japan has longer, but if so it is the only one.) You need some sort of collective payment for health so that your level of health care does not depend upon your job. You need decent old age pensions for everyone. You need full funding of public education – pre-K though public university or technical school or apprenticeship program. Paradoxically you need full funding for child care. You need full employment policies so that people can take alternative paths on their career without fear of becoming unemployable.

real email: you need to type garlpublic followed by the at sign and then comcast and after that dot and then you type net.


Sam 05.03.04 at 6:19 pm

Yes, the thing we have to keep our eyes on is the larger economic context. What has changed so dramatically in the past 25-30 years is the intensity and nature of work. We may be richer but we all put in more hours, just to maintain a “middle class” standard of living, than our parents, collectively, ever did. It sparks my old Marxist impulses: capital, and its social relations, transform everything before it, marriage included. So, I agree with gar. The only way to address the stresses on marriage is to act upon the larger economic context. And, ever since Reagan and Thatcher, that context has experienced an erosion in the state’s willingness (yes, it is a matter of will as driven by ideology) to finance public goods through progressive taxation. How’s this for a campaign slogan: save marriage, tax the rich.


harry 05.03.04 at 6:27 pm

I agree with both of you (though I have some reservations about funding childcare — or at least, about providing people with material incentives to prefer paying for childcare to caring for children at home). But a great deal of the extra income from extra work does not go into savings (the private insurance which public insurance would obviate the need for, and which coule be funded out of taxing the rich) but into servicing debt, incurred through consumption. I’m in favour of taxing consumption, and regulation in the ’35 hour work week’ style, to discourage people from working long hours. Of course, redistributing income would be necessary too, but it wouldn’t do everything.


Robert Lyman 05.03.04 at 6:29 pm


If we follow your public funding solution, won’t we just spend our lives working our asses off to pay taxes, instead of to save for retirement?

But that aside, I think the conclusion is a really sound one. My wife and I are headed into the legal profession. I think we’d both be content to make about a third of what big-firm lawyers make, in exchange for working a third of the time. Then we could minimize or eliminate child care expenses, spend more time with each other and our kids, and still have all the money we need for daily life and future saving.

I wish that were possible; back in the real world, we still don’t known what we’re going to do.


harry 05.03.04 at 6:35 pm

I may be entirely wrong about this, but my understanding is that this is especially dificult for lawyers, Robert, because the standard reward structure in most law firms (as with many co-ops) has a component which is independent of your contribution to the profits the firm makes. Law firms are loathe to make judgments about who contributes what to profits, so are particularly ill-disposed to giving people family-friendly working hours, espcially on a long-term basis (which is what it is rational to want). Your situation is unenviable (well, to a slacker like me it is, anyway).


Robert Lyman 05.03.04 at 6:35 pm


If most of the money that comes from extra working hours goes directly into consumption, doesn’t that suggest that 1) we are maintaining a higher standard of living than our parents (contra Sam) and 2) that many of these problems are, at bottom, the fault of greedy/vain/foolish individuals, rather than the overall economic structure?


Courtney 05.03.04 at 6:51 pm

If you haven’t, you should definitely read Shirley Burggraf’s The Feminine Economy and Economic Man: Reviving the Role of Family in the Post-Industrial Age.

She uses her training as an economist to analyze this issue quite nicely.


harry 05.03.04 at 6:55 pm

bq. many of these problems are, at bottom, the fault of greedy/vain/foolish individuals, rather than the overall economic structure?

Depends how libertarian one is about these things. I go back and forth. Recent readings of Fred Hirsch’s Social Limits to Growth and Robert Frank’s Luxury Fever have pushed me away from the view of it you raise. Here are three reasons (all of them have wieght, none of them are conclusive) for rejecting your conjecture:

1) Sam is right about the structure, if not about the individual motives: if you wanted to be secure (in our economic structure) you would be rational to ‘over’-work, even if you only wanted to save for an ok retirement and

2) There’s a systematic tendency to evaluate one’s own standard of living by reference to other people’s standards of living, and there’s a kind of race to the bottom being experienced. This concedes that there’s a lot of greed, vanity, foolishness, but also says that its contagious, and anyway its legitimate to use public policy to combat bad things, as long as we do not violate basic liberties in doing so.

3) The economy is structured so that there are limited ‘in-between’ choices. Your own situation as you describe it is a case in point: the rational/sensible/non-greedy ideal is for you both to work 30 hour weeks, get an ok salary, be able to save, but curb your own spending. You have the option of both working full-pelt and having rotten lives; of one of you working full-pelt and the other not at all; or both dropping out of the rat race, not saving enough, etc. But the sensible option is not available. I’m not saying that the economy should be structured to give people all the options they’d like; but it makes sense to me to use public policy, if possible, to prise open more ‘in-between’ options for people.

But occasionally I look around at peoples’ behaviours and just want to scream. Better standard of living than our parents and grandparents, worse quality of life. Stupid.


blair berbert 05.03.04 at 7:10 pm

Continuing the Marxist thought from an earlier post, and expanding it onto the current services economy prevalent in the U.S. and in many other places (not just Western nations) around the world, I would say that human intelligence and capacity is the emerging form of capital that will be the most important in directing economic and social realities. To this extent, an actor can choose to contribute his capital (which can be more or less of a commodity, depending on education, experience, location, etc.) into economic enterprise to generate personal and social tangible benefit (salary & product, essentially liquefiable) or into relationships to generate personal and social intangible benefit (associational behaviors, stronger social networks and ties, “regenerative” practices).

Use Scandinavian nations as an example (to analyze the effectiveness of social policies in modifying individual behavior) for their strong general social welfare programs that more or less touch upon most of the points that the first poster mentioned, yet also have relatively comparable divorce rates to the U.S. along with corresponding economic growth*. Of course, these nations also have the most secular societies in the developed world, in contrast to the U.S., obviously. Notably, this shows up more in high suicide rates in Scandinavian nations than it does in divorce rates. For example, the crude suicide rate (per 100,000 people) in the U.S. in 2000 was 10.4**, while in Denmark it was in between 14.0 and 18.0 in 1998***. I would say that the economic philosophy of the American consumer is the greater motivator in longer work weeks, etc., than is any public policy. As much as I don’t feel that one specific portion of American culture can really be culpable for this, it is hard for me to escape the exorbitant spending-to-savings ratio of the U.S. public.

*Source: Bentzen, Jan & Valdemar Smith. An Empirical Analysis of the Effect of Labour Market Characteristics on Marital Dissolution Rates.
**2003 Statistical Abstract of the United States. “Death Rates from Suicide by Sex and Race: 1950 to 2000”. p.98
***Norwegian Plan for Suicide Prevention 1994-1998. .; The CIA World Factbook – Norway.


William 05.03.04 at 7:18 pm

You imply that Tooley implies that marriages where both partners work are more likely to break up, and that this happens because the man is more inclined to leave a woman who works. An alternative explanation, of course, is that a woman who works feels more empowered to leave an unsuccessful marriage. Does Tooley address that?

I remember, but can’t track down, an interesting Marginal Revolution post from the end of last year, discussing evidence for the theory that if both partners work, marriages are more likely to break up, simply because both partners encounter more potential spouses… this is, of course, yet another potential explanation. And yours in the post is yet another, and one with a fair amount of appeal.


ptitza odelay 05.03.04 at 7:23 pm

Good essay. One minor copy-edit:

“Of course, within in marriage, people will do things that upset the other person.”

within is sufficient, no?

~miss o, working towards a grammar grammy


Xavier 05.03.04 at 7:32 pm

Even assuming that Laura’s analysis is correct, I see no need to change divorce rules to protect women. Divorce rules are simply default provisions. A woman who plans to be a stay-at-home mother is perfectly capable of protecting her interests with a prenuptial agreement. The husband and wife both knew the rules concerning divorce when the decided to get married. Changing them later to protect the woman would be a terrible injustice. It should also be unconstitutional under the Contracts Clause, but I doubt many courts would agree.

I’m not sure I understand Harry’s point. If both spouses to choose to work outside the home and that harms the marriage, why would that be anyone else’s business? They voluntarily chose a higher income over a more stable marriage. I don’t see why government should question that decision.

Your argument also depends on a rather extreme form of gender neutrality. You assume that all expectations about gender behavior are socially created. That is simply not true.


pw 05.03.04 at 7:38 pm

The obvious problem with the “in-between” choices for lifestyle is (in the US at least) a strong tendency for hourly wages (imputed or official) to correlate way too strongly with hours worked. You can find plenty (ahem) of 50-70-hour-a-week jobs that pay $40 an hour and up, but the typical 20-30-hour-a-week job is more likely to pay $10-15 an hour.

One path that seems to be taking hold is to work the 50-70-hour weeks for long enough that one’s expertise becomes valuable independent of hours worked, but making that happen effectively is a dicey proposition at best. If people have to postpone the livable parts of their lives until their 40s or 50s that doesn’t really make for good lives of relationships — rather trophy spouses on both sides.

Meanwhile, the US is also widely known for barbaric practices with respect to vacations. Even at organizations whose paperwork grudgingly reflects the notion that two weeks a year are insufficient, staffing and delegation constraints often prevent people from taking vacations for years at a time. (Funny how the ostensibly fungible US worker becomes uniquely irrepplaceable the moment they want to take time off.)


Rachel 05.03.04 at 7:49 pm

I wonder if this discussion simply comes out of the time in which we live – this gap period. A time when many of us recall our mother staying home to take care of us while our father, “the bread winner,” toiled at work. Given the economic progression and regression that our country has gone through those Ward and June Cleaver days are over. Just in terms of dollars it is very hard on an average income to pay a morgage alone (granted I live in the NYC area) and afford to have kids. Perhaps our expectations of what a relationship or marriage is will have to change, sadly due to market forces.


Lindsay Beyerstein 05.03.04 at 8:04 pm

People keep saying that marriage is declining. Declining relative to what?

The fact that marriage is correlated with happiness doesn’t necessarily recommend a higher marriage rate, or a lower divorce rate. People aren’t randomly assigned to the “marriage” condition or the “single” condition. Saying that marriage correlates with happiness is tantamount saying that happy marriage correlates with happiness–given that these couples were at least happy enough to stay married long enough to be studied.


harry 05.03.04 at 8:07 pm

bq. You assume that all expectations about gender behavior are socially created.

Not at all. I’m assuming that the institutions that put caregivers at a disadvantage are socially created, which they are.

bq. Changing them later to protect the woman would be a terrible injustice

Do you object to all and any changes in the tax-transfer system that affect the gendered division of labour and are not grandfathered in as ‘terrible injustices’? EG the change to tax couples as couples rather than as two individuals in the 40s, the numerous changes in SS rules, elimination of the marriage penalty etc? Such a standard seems odd to me.


Lindsay Beyerstein 05.03.04 at 8:21 pm

What is the marriage penalty, exactly? I guess what I’m wondering is how people incur it. Married couples have the option of filing a jointly or separately. Opponents of the marriage penalty say that married couples end up paying more taxes than they if they were single. Why not just file separate returns, then? There must be countervailing tax incentives to file jointly. If so, are people being penalized for being married, or just not getting as big a perk as they’d like?


Richard Bellamy 05.03.04 at 8:31 pm

I don’t think this issue is one of marriage transitioning from A to B, with current newlyweds stuck in the middle. I think the marriage has drifted away from A, and while it is not at all desireable to “push women back into the domestic sphere,” it doesn’t not seem at all unusual that many women would want to go back there anyway. Having one spouse at home may be the only possible “equilibrium” solution.

I know that when I married, one thing I found important was that my wife was committed to staying home with the kids. After school, when we both had jobs (and no kids), we made all of our long-term financial decisions based upon only my salary, recognizing that if and when we had kids, she would quit her job.

Two years after we had our first child (and my wife had been home with her full time) I lost my job, and was unable to find something that paid a comparable salary. I accepted a job that paid less, and to make up the difference, my wife took a part-time job for a few years. While this wasn’t ideal, having her gone a few hours per week (often on weekends when I was home) was better than her being gone full time.

Although the book hadn’t come out yet, we avoided the “Two Income Trap” by relying on only one salary.

I agree with Harry that it is likely that both spouses working hurts marriage because there is less time to devote to the marriage. Having seen it both ways — with my wife working part time and not working at all — life was certainly harder for both of us when she worked. It didn’t push us to divorce, but I could see how it could under certain circumstances.

The problem is how — recognizing this in advance — a man who wants a career can seek out a woman who wants to stay home without being considered a sexist.


Richard Bellamy 05.03.04 at 8:44 pm


“Married filing separately” taxpayers are required to use different tax brackets than single taxpayers are.

It is section 1 of the Tax Code, so is very easy to document. Just using the lowest brackets:

Section 1(c): unmarried individuals

If taxable income is: Not over $22,100
The tax is: 15% of taxable income.
(more than 15% paid on amounts over $22,100).

Section 1(d): married filing separately:
If taxable income is: Not over $18,450 The tax is: 15% of taxable income. (more than 15% paid on amounts over $18,450.)

So if a single person makes $22,100, she pays 15%. If a married person makes $22,100 and files separately, she pays 15% of 18,450, and 28% of the next $2000+.

The “married filing jointly” rate is twice the “married filing separately” rate.

The rationale is that in a world where one spouse makes a lot more than the other, married people get a big benefit. If I make $36,000 and you make $0, and we are single, I pay 15% on the first $22,100 and more on the rest. You pay nothing. If we get married and we just double to $22,100, suddenly we pay 15% on everything. It made sense when one spouse making a lot more was the norm — the married and the single ended up paying about the same — but as spouses start earning more similar amounts, it turns into a marriage “penalty.”


emjaybee 05.03.04 at 8:45 pm

What no one has addressed here is inflation in relation to wages. Part of the difficulty of living on one income or two smaller incomes is that rent/mortgage now takes a greater percentage of your paycheck than it did 30 or 20 years ago.

My husband and I are flexible, and thrifty, and work very hard. But even we see little hope at present that we can ever save enough to buy a home and then be able to pay the mortgage, because we do not work in lucrative fields. And if we have a child…well, it becomes even more remote.


Another Damned Medievalist 05.03.04 at 8:48 pm

I think the idea of spending more time with our spouses and families and less working is great. It certainly would help my marriage (working on 10 years through thick and thin). I also think Laura’s right — there are lots of women who feel they need to have careers as a form of self-protection. I feel this way, and was lucky enough to find something I loved. I also would make a fairly lousy housewife and mother. But mostly, i don’t know how we’re going to get past the fundamental problem that most Americans have — defining a good life by the possession of material goods is killing us. If I’m going to work 50-plus hours a week, I at least want it to go into a good retirement fund!


h. e. baber 05.03.04 at 8:50 pm

Why, I wonder don’t Democrats, now casting about for a message, don’t latch onto the idea of security and safety nets as the vision thing?

The piecemeal system of private insurance schemes, private savings, private childcare and the like is expensive. Moreover lots of people fall through the cracks–and we pay pay the cost of bailing them out as well.

Health care is the obvious case–we pay a substantial premium to avoid a single-payer system and maintain the appearance of free enterprise. The premium doesn’t all go to research and high tech–quite a bit goes to clerks dealing with forms from all those insurance companies. On top of that we pay for the uninsured who use emergency rooms for routine office visits and get expensive treatment for conditions that could have been avoided with decent preventive care. (And yes I’ve had extensive experience with the National Health in the UK–it’s a lot better)

In general the costs of a system that only kicks in when things get desperate, with elaborate mechanisms for eligibility-checking and surveillance to see to it that only the truly destitute and deserving poor get state benefits, is expensive both in terms of money and in terms of quality of life. Qui bono?


Lindsay Beyerstein 05.03.04 at 9:00 pm

I’m dubious about the claim that it’s inherently more stressful for both spouses to work. Much depends on the preferences of the people involved.

Imagine the following scenario: Working spouse has to work at least as much, if not more. Home spouse is dependent, bored and isolated. As their roles diverge, it becomes more difficult for them to be friends and to relate as equals. Income insecurity mounts when the family depends on a single salary. There’s less disposable income for the couple to enjoy together.

Some couples find a one career life more congenial, but not everyone.


Gar Lipow 05.03.04 at 9:56 pm

Just one point. I was not arguing that the money is going into savings, but into stuff that collective cosnumption used to fund. One point is that in the U.S. at least (don’t know what the figures are for Britain or the EU) hourly wages are lower today than when they peaked in 1973. More to the point they are lower than in 1968. That means that for people who get the bulk of their income in wages reather from capital investment, 100% of the increase in “standard of living” comes from increased work hours. 100% of productivity increases (and a bit besides) has gone to the owners of capital.

And a great deal of increased “consumption” is really investment or spending that used to be collective in disguise. For example people put a much higher percent of their income into housing than they used. Well if you look at figures, a huge portion of this is because the single best predictor of how valuable a U.S. home is , is the quality of the schools it is attached to. So USA citizens, who knows that sending their kids to a lousy school drastically cuts their odds later in life, buy into the best school systems they can afford.

OK. When we talk about retirement – most people in the U.S. cannot in fact afford to save a great deal for retirement. And social security without some sort of supplement is damn hard to live on. So for a lot of people owning their own hjomes is the one investment they can afford. Most people choose fixed rate mortgages – so that part of the cost stays the same. And property taxes and maintenance and such tend to increase much more slowly than rents even in times of low inflation. Plus there is a gain in equity – which can realized at sale, or borrowed against. (And there are tax incentives. And there is the whole cultural thing where it is assumed in the U.S. that renters are parasites on the community cause they “pay no property taxes” – in spite of the fact that of course the landlord’s property tax is one of the expenseses covered in the rent check.)

Another thing – is the fact that in the U.S. for people of working age you have to depend on private insurance for health care (other than the deperately poor, some but not all of whom get medicatid which does not cover quite a number of medical needs.). So this is aonther reason why there is no in between choice – A more modest job will come wihout health insurance or with poor quality health insurance in the U.S.

Incidentally as to the question of whether collective consumption will force people to work their asses off to pay taxes instead of to buy this stuff individually – the evidence is no. Yeah under this system the taxes will be higher – but not as much higher as individual spending now.

Why? because I’m specifically talking of collectie goods. Look at health care. The U.S., though having a substantial public presence in health care, has a healthcare system driven by and more or less controlled by insurance and drug companies. The result: we spend more than any nation on earth per capita. We spend more than any rich nation on earth as a percent of GDP. For this higher rate of spending we rates somewhere around 22nd in life expectency, infant mortality, well vs. sick days. We are buying less health for more money.

In general financing collective consumption from taxation rather than forcing people to bargain for such things in markets with asytemtry in both information and bargaining power saves a great deal. For one thing it cuts out really overpriced middlemen; for another it eliminates some rather large externalities that occur when collective goods are purchased individually.


Chris Bertram 05.03.04 at 10:12 pm

Absolutely terrific post, Harry, and one that struck a chord with me. I’ve been not-married to my partner for the past 20 years and we’ve brought up two children together. It has been pretty stressful, though, both working. (For a long time she had a daily commute from Bristol to Cardiff and back, not easy.) I think, though, that *money* is only part of the story. I value being an academic and she values being a lawyer. Cutting back on hours isn’t an option because we both want to be taken seriously by our professional peers and to do so we need to show commitment to the job. As long as employers (backed by government targets in our cases) and colleagues have the expectations that they do, reducing the time we spend at the coalface doesn’t feel like a choice we have open to us.


Lance Boyle 05.03.04 at 10:43 pm

If child care professionals had status equal to the importance of their work, it wouldn’t be such a dereliction of duty, to enroll the kids while the parents head off to the salt mines.
But the amazing thing is, in a culture that’s shriekingly hysterical about the value of the innocent young, that child care, which takes place at a time that has been proven conclusively to be of the utmost importance to the development of healthy capable individuals, is paid, and respected, at a level commensurate with fast-food service work.
When Harry says:

“…I have some reservations about funding childcare — or at least, about providing people with material incentives to prefer paying for childcare to caring for children at home…”

it’s that McNurturing he has in mind, I’m sure.


harry 05.03.04 at 11:04 pm

bq. The rationale is that in a world where one spouse makes a lot more than the other, married people get a big benefit.

I think that’s not quite right. The change was made in the 40’s to close a tax loophole whereby the very rich could get a huge benefit by claiming a substantial part of their investment income in the wife’s name (since she typically had no earned income). Since marginal tax rates were above 90% at the time this was a huge loophole.

Whether and how much of a marriage penalty you incur depends on lots of variables like how much you earn as well how much relative to each other. Some unmarried couples incur a penalty (I believe).

bq. I would say that the economic philosophy of the American consumer is the greater motivator in longer work weeks, etc., than is any public policy

This jusyt seems wrong, and I agree with all of what Gar said in that long comment. I’m perplexed, though, by what I (very risk averse) experience as an incentive to accumulate capital (acknowledgement that I have to provide for basic security individually, and thus have to save rather than consume), when I se the behaviour around me in the middle classes — which is to consume rather than save, and to consume things which are obviously not important — ever bigger houses, ever bigger cars, etc) and which do not contribute to security.

bq. Use Scandinavian nations as an example (to analyze the effectiveness of social policies in modifying individual behavior) for their strong general social welfare programs that more or less touch upon most of the points that the first poster mentioned, yet also have relatively comparable divorce rates to the U.S. along with corresponding economic growth

The Scandanavians are very interesting in this regard. They have very low marriage rates (so divorce rate is not a great indicator of much) but my understanding is that unmarrieds with children separate at a similar rate to marrieds-and-unmarrieds-with-children as in the US. But, interestingly, Scandanavian family policy (well, Swedish, anyway) hinges on the drive to push women into the labor force, so suffers the drawback I point to. It is, if you like, an anti-familialist family policy, aiming to externalize caring work from the domestic sphere, and achieve gender equality that way. My suggestion is that that is undesirable (as a public policy). But it works; public policy is, indeed, an important motivator.


bair berbert 05.03.04 at 11:06 pm

My gut reaction to Lance’s comment is that two forms of parental-proxy childcare have been common in the U.S.: au pairs, complete with elitist overtone (not to mention the somewhat negative denotation of the phrase after the death of a baby some years back while in an au pair’s care), and mass daycare style enterprises. Neither of these has a great deal of appeal to me personally, the au pair for the reasons I already breezed over, and daycares, to some degree, because of what I regard as the failures of the American public education model that is set up much the same way.

Much of the dialogue around childcare still relates to the mother’s claimed moral responsibility to care for the child, reflecting standard sex roles. I am not so quick to dismiss this entirely out of hand, however, simply because of its sexist overtones. I feel that there must be something to be gained from a child being reared by a close family member (with no statement about the sex of the caretaker). Of course, this would suggest that subsidies for childcare should take the form of tax breaks for stay-at-home parents, as opposed to or in concert with similar breaks for dual-earner households.


Lindsay Beyerstein 05.03.04 at 11:26 pm

Richard and Harry,

Thank you for the very lucid explanations of the marriage penalty.


blair berbert 05.03.04 at 11:55 pm

Harry, you are absolutely right about the role of public policy in defining a person’s choices and what may or may not be rational to the person in question. I should have qualified my earlier statement re: actor’s state of mind/philosophy/thought process v. public policy by saying “in the short term”, since indeed, public policy plays a large role in creating the economic and social realities that describe rational decisions. I do think, however, that, while policy is a function of actor choices (broadly via democracy) and actor choices are a function of policy (via the process already described), neither one 100% reflects the state of the other, eg abortion, gay marriage, death penalty, etc. because of the essential nature of democracy in a heterogeneous society. Roughly then, I guess the question is “Do we use public policy to serve dual-earner households (which may relate to the productive capacity of the nation as a whole), single-earner households (with the hope that it soldifies familial relationships, lessening the cost of divorce and producing children better suited for civic participation and contribution), or take another approach entirely, namely attempt to change the “spender” economic philosophy via interest rates, etc?”


Lance Boyle 05.04.04 at 12:02 am

Bair B.-
“…two forms of parental-proxy childcare have been common in the U.S…”
Well, in the historical US. Which is less than ten generations old.
The context of the “domestic sphere” as a tidy little self-contained unit is pretty recent isn’t it?
Tribal living provides a child-environment of seamless transition from the hearth to the edge of the human world, whereas the nuclear family stops at the front door, or the sidewalk, and the less familiar community takes over. That is a profound difference.
A world in which children feel a part of the whole community for their entire lives, where family and community are inseparably interwoven and linked – or a world where the community stops where the family begins, those are two really different places.
We have arguments from people who view child-bearing and -rearing as merely one more option in the consumer buffet.
This same value system has a difficult time distinguishing the real breast from the silicone implant.
That should be argument enough right there, but I’m afraid much more is needed.
It’s always framed as nostalgic longing, the “return” to a romanticised time that never really existed, like the horse-drawn power of a less toxic age.
I’d rather see it as a longing for health in a morbidly ill, and deeply confused, patient.
Your argument seems to start with the fundamental acceptability of the culture that created the educational system from which institutional daycare proceeds.
I’m pretty convinced that doesn’t pertain.
These are symptoms, the disease is systemic.


freddie 05.04.04 at 12:14 am

When I married (for the 2nd time), I encuraged my wife to get a career, get into a training program. I told her: I don’t want you to be or feel economically dependent on me and my moods…first off you must be your own person. And that means a job, income, etc Then we can talk about mutuality etc


h. e. baber 05.04.04 at 12:19 am

The trouble with private child care schemes in the US, speaking as a mother of 3, is that they’re unreliable, hard to organize and hard to manage especially for infants unless you can afford Mary Poppins. It’s not only expensive–it’s stressful and takes lots of work by those of us who manage it–primarily women.

Most of us don’t have grandparents or other close relatives nearby who can serve as back-ups. Child care centers often don’t want evenly mildly sick kids on the premises. If the kid catches a cold you take him to work or stay home. Many won’t deal with kids who are disruptive or not properly toilet trained–if the kid poops in his pants once too often he’s out and you have to find another place to take him–“you” meaning, de facto, you the female parent. Care for infants is very difficult. Affordable nannies are unreliable and usually illegal. Home childcare providers who take infants go out of business and move out of the area.

IMHO even many of the most well-meaning, egalitarian males simply don’t understand the stress and work involved in finding and managing child care. I couldn’t relax until my youngest was in public school kindergarten where I could count on at least 6 hours of reliable childcare.

I take the point that we don’t want to institute a program that would virtually force parents (male or female) who prefer to care for their children at home into the labor force. However the current system makes it very difficult for young middle-income parents–like junior faculty on entry level academic salaries–and de facto the major burden is on women. One reason why women choose to stay home is the difficulty of affording and managing child care rather than a ceteris paribus preference.


Lindsay Beyerstein 05.04.04 at 12:43 am

Why do women allow themselves to be saddled with the full burden of daycare stress? How can egalitarian fathers remain ignorant of the facts h.e. describes? I’m not implying that individuals are to blame. I’m just confused. I know so many people who are sincerely committed to sharing child rearing equally. Practice usually falls short of theory, and where imbalance exists, it almost invariably favors the man. Why does this happen, even among couples who agree in principle to share 50/50?


b. berbert 05.04.04 at 12:48 am

I agree with you on a great deal. When I said that only two forms of child-rearing other than by the parents were common, I did not mean to marginalize communal or extended family measures.

Also, your mention of a society with an intertwined communties and families reminds me of immigrant populations banding together in one geographic location to share resources, not the least of which is communal child-raising.

I was operating from the assumption that all parents would choose to raise their children if they had the economic ability to do so, which is not demonstratably true. Rather, it is obvious to me when I put a little thought in from the other side that plenty of people wish to pursue their own careers and are forced to make due with what limited childcare there is generally available in the contemporary U.S. Were other choices available, or society organized in a way which did not differentiate so much between the family unit and the larger community then their choices might be much different.

My purpose in the post, however, was to question what might be done in terms of creating new modes of childcare, given the U.S. model of family-community relations and the assumption that current, common childcare practices are in some way flawed.


Jack 05.04.04 at 12:51 am

“I’m assuming that the institutions that put caregivers at a disadvantage are socially created, which they are.”

Implicit in the use of this statement as arebuttal seems to be the idea that socially created institutions do not contain any information about less arbitrary matters. Indeed I imagine the statement would be pointless were it not.

I do not think that is obvious or even probable. Being social creations we probably have the means to change such institutions but the working institutions we might create are constrained and were in the various stages the current ones have.

I think that the upshot of this is that more attention ought to be paid to why things are like they are when debating this issue. Why were caregivers disadvantaged in the first place? Why does that not need to be the case now? I don’t mean to deny that these questions might have answers, insted only to suggest that these are important questions.


Laura, 11d 05.04.04 at 1:23 am

I like your conclusion, Harry, even if that Tooley guy makes me want to blow chunks.

Yes, there is great irony that women work more to guard against divorce, but those long hours pretty much guarantee that they’ll end up divorced.

As much as I’m a fan of slacking off from work whatever the excuse, I’m not sure that more time at home is the answer. Divorce is more likely to happen when people are unemployed. Financial stress has a large impact on marriage.


h. e. baber 05.04.04 at 1:36 am

Lindsay, some reasons why women get saddled with the primary responsibility for organizing child care even in nominally egalitarian marriages are:

(1) Women typically earn less than their male partners and don’t have as good a chance for advancement so it’s rational for a couple to invest more heavily in the male partner’s career. If a woman stays home, goes part-time or cuts back on work to manage domestic concerns the opportunity costs are less.

(2) Employers don’t penalize women as heavily for taking off or cutting back on work to deal with kids–it’s perceived as normal and even commendable–whereas men who regularly took off to care for sick kids, left early to pick them up from child care, etc. would be perceived as abnormal, lacking in committment and penalized in most work situations.

(3) Institutions outside the family, including schools and childcare centers assume that mothers are primary parents, call them when kids are sick, expect them to be involved, organize the child care stuff. When mothers don’t do that they’re penalized whereas fathers who don’t aren’t penalized.

Even when partners are genuinely committed sharing childcare and domestic concerns equitably, institutions and practices outside the home make it difficult.


harry 05.04.04 at 1:45 am

bq. Divorce is more likely to happen when people are unemployed. Financial stress has a large impact on marriage.

Right, I agree with this — so I think the key is to find arrangements in which people can manage ok financially without working ridiculous hours. I suspect that some paid work is probably good (though I also think there’s a loss when lots of what would be voluntary work under a less productivist regime becomes paid work, for example child-care and political activism).

bq. am not so quick to dismiss this entirely out of hand, however, simply because of its sexist overtones. I feel that there must be something to be gained from a child being reared by a close family member (with no statement about the sex of the caretaker). Of course, this would suggest that subsidies for childcare should take the form of tax breaks for stay-at-home parents, as opposed to or in concert with similar breaks for dual-earner households

Blair — you and Lance seem to have sorted things out, but I agreed both with what you say here and with the worry about McNannying. I also think, though, that the parents miss out when, for whatever reason, childcare is done by someone else, because caring for one’s children is a a source of great good. That’s one reason I think that couples should share it more equally — because I believe that men miss out when they don’t do enough, and also because I suspect women miss out when they do too much. The left has (recently) preferred egalitarian policies which externalise caring activity, and I think that’s a mistake (but I understand that inpractice lots of internalising policiesm disadvantage women, as h.e. says — so the trick is to find non-sexist internalising policies.


Another Damned Medievalist 05.04.04 at 1:59 am

I second what Laura and Chris Bertram said. In regards to Richard Bellamy’s comment:

The problem is how — recognizing this in advance — a man who wants a career can seek out a woman who wants to stay home without being considered a sexist.

I would argue that the greater problem is how – recognizing this in advance – a woman who wants a career can seek out a man who wants to stay at home without being considered totally unrealistic and selfish.

I would add to H.E.’s comment above that the rational arguments only work if the partners are of the same age and educational background, or if the male partner has the better education. If the woman is significantly younger (10+ years, often the case in second marriages) the woman will be hitting her professional stride as her husband peaks out.

Also, I find it interesting that most of our comments have focused on divorce in marriages where there are children present. I’m pretty sure that many of the same tensions exist even for couples who have no children, or whose children are grown. It’s just that then the discussions are not based around childcare and surviving on less money, but on such things as career advancement, shifts in job markets, etc. Think about the moves involved in establishing a successful academic career. Few academics stay in their first jobs (unless it’s a nice tenure-track position in an ideal city with affordable housing and job opportunities for the spouse). I think women often end up in the “stay at home” or “secondary career” position even then.


Richard Bellamy 05.04.04 at 2:01 am

“I think that’s not quite right. The change was made in the 40’s to close a tax loophole whereby the very rich could get a huge benefit by claiming a substantial part of their investment income in the wife’s name (since she typically had no earned income). Since marginal tax rates were above 90% at the time this was a huge loophole.”

Not to get on a tangent about history, when we agree on the substance, but the marriage penalty in its current form dates from the 1969.

“How a “War Widow” Turned the Marriage Bonus into the Marriage Penalty

Paul and Lisa can blame a woman named Vivien Kellerns for their marriage penalty. Thanks to tax scholar Michael Graetz, we know that Kellerns was a single businesswoman who founded War Widows of America. Members were either widows or, like Kellerns, single women who claimed they had never married because WW II had created a shortage of single men.

In the 1960s Kellerns and her group protested what they considered to be a singles penalty: At the time, two single people often paid more then a married couple with the same income, sometimes as much as 40 percent more. The higher tax on singles resulted from Congress’s 1948 joint-return provisions, which allowed married couples to file jointly and pay double the single-filer tax on one half of their combined taxable income. The joint-filer provisions negated the effect of some states’ community property laws, which had been passed in an attempt to lower the federal tax burdens of those states’ residents. The joint-filer provisions also ensured that all couples with the same income were taxed equally, regardless of whether one or both spouses had an income.

In 1969, after much media attention and many tea bags mailed to members of Congress (a reminder of the Boston Tea Party), Vivien Kellerns and her allies achieved victory: Congress passed legislation that resulted in a “marriage penalty” for some couples — mainly upper-middle-income couples at first — while creating a bonus for others. Subsequent legislation increased the number of couples who received a penalty.”


cafl 05.04.04 at 3:14 am

Couples like Robert Lyman (above) and his wife might consider the path my husband and I followed. We founded our own professional services company with like minded associates, that is structured to allow us to work less than full time. We did this after we had children. It allowed us to adjust our child care arrangements. Younger school age kids do well in school-sited after-school care (in our experience) since they get to spend time with their friends but have a structured setting for homework. As kids get to middle school, they start to chafe in such an arrangement, and our family coped by my arranging to work at home in the afternoon. In high school this continued, since it was beneficial to be there when the teenagers came home, so that they could “tell about their day”. Both my husband and I spent time volunteering at school and doing the carpool duties so the kids could participate in sports. This wasn’t always easy, but it is possible to do these things if you make the trade off of money for time. This is easier if you are your own boss. Your clients don’t need to know that your blocked out time is for your kids, not for another client.


Lance Boyle 05.04.04 at 5:06 am

But it isn’t about the parents missing out on something; what a parent is, is a parent.
The whole idea of the individual as a consumer unit, that’s new and mostly fictive. The sanctity of the individual with his or her “choices”.
It’s why we’re all so damned lonely.
People used to work close to where they lived, and have far less a sense of themselves as individuals, and far more a sense of the community operating through them.
So the elderly had personal, familial care, the children had care, and everybody had an investment in the upkeep and well-being of place and community.
And that business up there about women being mostly caregivers because they’re paid 72 cents on the dollar is egregious.
Women have breasts, not as so many young people now think, because it makes them girly-sexy and easier to tell from boys, for the most part, but because they, and their wombs, are where children come from. Because they are genetically predisposed toward motherhood.
Breasts are for providing sustenance to infants.
I find it exceedingly stark and freakish that people need that explained to them.
Women are naturally best suited for earliest child-care.
Though an aftermarket Roomba© with appropriate retrofitting and a really well-thought-out suite of software could probably get the job done, at least minimally.


Lindsay B. 05.04.04 at 3:50 pm

This could be an argument for adding wet nurses to the consumer buffet.


harry 05.04.04 at 4:16 pm

bq. Women are naturally best suited for earliest child-care

This is ambiguous. You might be saying that ‘All woemn are better than any men’. But that is just false. Nursing is just one aspect of early child-care, and the other aspects — cuddling, being kind and affectionate, providing warmth, stimulation, etc — are done better by some men than by some women. Some women cannot nurse, and whereas their children used to need wet-nurses or would die, now they can be bottle fed: and neither sex has a natural advantage in that department. Bottle feeding is not, in my view, child abuse, btw. The moment children can thrive nutritionally without nursing the natural advantage you point to that women have disappears.

Still, a much weaker reading of your claim might be true: ‘on the whole, for any given man and woman, it is more likely that the woman will be a good child-carer than the man, and this probability is explained by nature, not social forces’.
I can believe that (I’m inclined to believe it, but haven’t seen compelling evidence). Not much follows from it, though.
There are two, quite different, cases for having parents (male and female) do the bulk of the caring for children. The one you are pushing is that this is best for the child. That may be true. But the one I’m pushing is that, on the whole, it is (usually, by no means always) best for the parents — it contributes to their moral flourishing and ultimate enjoyment of life in a distinctive, and important, way. My case is gender neutral, even if women are naturally better carers, because I believe that (most) men, even if they are not as good at it, can get much more satisfaction from it than form the realistic alternatives. And I think it is only important that children are reared well, not that they are reared in the best possible way. I think that both sexes frequently miss out on aspects of parenting they would rather be there for, and do so because of (rightly or wrongly) perceived economic pressure to earn money.

I accept Chris and ADM’s points. Most work, thugh, is not like the work of an academic or lawyer: it is work done primarily for money (in fact, mostof the lawyers I know regard their work that way too). I don’t see how to avoid *some* trade offs between a satisfying and rewadring work life and a satisfying and rewarding domestic life. But certainly the productivist ethos governing these professions doesn’t help (ironically, my experience of it is that it is worse in the UK in academia than in the US, and worst of all in Education — not academia, but schools).

Thanks Richard, for that digression — brilliant to know all that. I was, of course, talking about the introduction of joint-filing in the 40’s.


push 05.04.04 at 4:18 pm

a rather late contribution, and apologies if someone has already made the point and I missed it in my quick scan.

My own anecdotal experience appears to be quite different. A lot of my male married friends would rather their wife works, if only part time. As sole earners they have to take high paying pressurised jobs. When they return, their spouses are so fed up with caring for children at home they thrust them on the tired males, and therein lies the cause of many an argument.

Also the evidence is that past the first year, mothers going to work do not have a negative impact on child development.


Z*lda 05.04.04 at 4:31 pm

This is a really insightful post which has garned some great comments. I’m speaking as a college educated stay at home mother who struggles with frugality to try to survive on one income.

My husband has a good job, for Iowa, yet we are barely keeping up with the bills and unable to afford to be homeowners. I patch our clothes, drive a rusty old car, make home cooked meals and shop at garage sales.

On the other hand, our children are growing up healthy and nurtured. We don’t need to rely upon paid childcare. I don’t comprehend how working mothers can cope with all their responsbilities. Something must give. Definitely the children of working mothers have a different experience. Many of them, even middle class kids, are left at home alone at an early age.

Has being a stay at home mother been a “choice” for me? Yes and no. My degree is in liberal arts and has never amounted to much in the workforce. My husband is unfortunately a nonparticipant in domestic chores whether or not I work outside the home. Hence, holding a paying job (I tried it for a while) means that my personal workload grows immensely.

Has our relationship suffered? Well, early on, when the kids were babies and toddlers, we were excruciatingly poor. I believe that parents are penalized harshly in an economic sense. The money struggles definitely took a toll on our relationship, but have eased up now that my husband is advancing in his career. No wonder that so many people “choose” a two income lifestyle.


h. e. baber 05.04.04 at 5:06 pm

I (philosophy) and a colleague in econ team taught a course on “Women and Work” over the past 15 years. Since the course met GE requirements and requirements for the business major we got a good cross-section of students most of whom had no particular interest in “women’s issues.”

Things changed over the years but even when we began teaching the course we found that most men wanted their (future) wives to work. As one said, memorably, “I wouldn’t put up with a wife that was just a drone.”

Earlier on though the general attitude that guys had was that while they wanted women to work, they didn’t want women to pursue careers that would interfere with domestic support services, block them from relocating to promote their own careers, etc. They wanted women to be “flexible workers” who could be hired out to earn wages or called back do work in the home as circumstances changed. Some also felt that women were unfairly advantaged because (they said) while they had to work women had a choice and weren’t under the same pressure to achieve.

When we last taught the course, 3 years ago, the expectation by both men and women was that women would have careers, not just jobs and that there would have to be compromises when it came to supporting two careers, and the recognition that women really didn’t have the option of not working outside the home. On the downside (from my perspective) most believed that there was little or no discrimination and were firmly opposed to affirmative action. Moreover my impression was that they were more likely than in the past to believe that “men and women think differently” and that women had uniquely feminine “management styles.”


notofthisblog 05.05.04 at 3:17 am

The fact that you were preparing a lecture on “the _gendered_ division of the labour” speaks volumes. ;) You also keep apologising at the suggestion that there might be anything good in anti-feminism, which is a very sad state of affairs to be in, as truth should not be compromised by prejudice, whether it comes from radical or conservative perspectives. I can only guess that in Wisconsin academia today, suggesting that feminism might have some drawbacks is political suicide. The emancipation and masculine progress of women certainly has had an effect of marriage, but there are some much more boring reasons as well.

The decline of marriage needs to be put in perspective, average marriage lengths of say 15 years over the years have not declined, if at all, because we live much longer. To be harsh, you could get married to someone 150 years ago that you weren’t that keen on because you knew they might (or you might) die in the next 10 years anyway. Death from war and disease is so much less these days.

Also historically, marriage popularity drops in harsh times, so if we see a drop now we need to consider the question are people in some way unhappier at the moment. Quite possibly true for so many reasons. Certainly a lot of people are greedier.

Divorce conditions make marriage much less attractive too, as individuals can in theory survive quite well by themselves, there is not the disincentive to get divorced when times get tough.

Finally, there is an old marxist/conservative debate as to whether demographics is driven by economy or mentality. The answer is probably somewhere in between. The economy provides the foundation for the mentality in many cases. But who knows!


harry 05.05.04 at 2:19 pm

bq. I can only guess that in Wisconsin academia today, suggesting that feminism might have some drawbacks is political suicide.

Nonsense. If it makes you feel better, I don’t talk the same way to my students. My job as a teacher is to challenge all my students while simultaneously educating them. In a class of 80 students this means challenging unreflective feminists and un-reflective anti-feminists simultaneously, and also draw in the majority of students who are reflective. This requires presenting both the feminist and the anti-feminist arguments in their best light, and pressing them against objections, as well as pressing objections against them. My participation in a blog is quite different. But, since the way Tooley makes his own argument is deliberately inflammatory, and not designed to persuade his opponents, it is entirely proper of me to try to keep people predisposed against him with me as I try to elucidate the rational kernel.


notofthisblog 05.05.04 at 10:25 pm

Harry – Thanks for the clarification on the difference between Wisconsin academia and the readership of this blog.

It would be nice if inflammatory works were published alongside non-inflammatory versions, which could then be discussed in a calm and thoughtful way. Maybe someone could do that for Tooley’s work.


harry 05.06.04 at 4:12 pm

I can’t tell whether you are teasing me. But, I have to admit, the thought of simultaneously publishing inflammatory and sober versions of the same book/article really appeals to me. I used to have a running list of inflammatory alternative titles of my (soberly titled) academic papers, but I’ve gotten out of the habit. Maybe now I have tenure I’ll start just giving future papers inflammatory titles as their actual titles.


hanaleah 05.10.04 at 10:10 pm

“I suspect that some paid work is probably good (though I also think there’s a loss when lots of what would be voluntary work under a less productivist regime becomes paid work, for example child-care and political activism).”

Is some paid work good for any reason other than the present difficulty in living without it? Raising one’s own child is indeed not the only reason one may want to work less hours, or even not want a paid job at all. I’d like to see more scope for the existence of these less productivist regimes, and opening out the internal choices of nuclear families to be one or two income, pay for childcare or not, only goes so far.

We also can’t assume that every person who would like to take up an alternative has someone to bread-win for them, however the tax could work out. The question isn’t always between marriage and a committed, monogamous, heterosexual relationship (which in Australia is an almost identical proposition, give or take a ceremony); some people don’t want (or simply don’t have) a marriage, or a heterosexual relationship, or a partner at all, let alone kids, for many and various reasons.

Even Gar’s beautiful vision doesn’t quite acknowledge these sections of the community, and the Scandinavian situation, though it gives a good deal generally, still predicates welfare and political representation on being involved in paid employment, or dependence on someone who is, even more than the rest of the western world. Not that I’d sniff at real pensions, full free education and child care. Surely every aspect is more mobile when all people have better access to education and panic less about a destitute old age.

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