Mommy-Tracking the Ivy Leaguers

by Kieran Healy on September 20, 2005

Here’s an irritating piece from the New York Times about how high-achieving women students at elite schools are planning to quit their jobs and have children when they’re a bit older:

Cynthia Liu is precisely the kind of high achiever Yale wants: … So will she join the long tradition of famous Ivy League graduates? Not likely. By the time she is 30, this accomplished 19-year-old expects to be a stay-at-home mom. “My mother’s always told me you can’t be the best career woman and the best mother at the same time,” Ms. Liu said matter-of-factly. “You always have to choose one over the other.” … Many women at the nation’s most elite colleges say they have already decided that they will put aside their careers in favor of raising children. Though some of these students are not planning to have children and some hope to have a family and work full time, many others, like Ms. Liu, say they will happily play a traditional female role, with motherhood their main commitment.

Now, let’s be clear about why the article is annoying. I don’t begrudge these women their choices in the slightest. I hope they make happy lives for themselves. In many ways they get the absolute best deal possible. But as usual, the article is steeped with the standard way of framing the issue, viz, only women have work-family choices. It’s up to them to be “realistic”, while of course the male students do not have any work-family choices at all. The subtext of the piece is the indirect vindication of those crusty old bastards in the 1950s who couldn’t see why they should hire, say, Sandra Day O’Connor because she’d only be taking a place away from a man with a family.

Shannon Flynn, an 18-year-old from Guilford, Conn., who is a freshman at Harvard, says many of her girlfriends do not want to work full time. “Most probably do feel like me, maybe even tending toward wanting to not work at all,” said Ms. Flynn, who plans to work part time after having children, though she is torn because she has worked so hard in school.
“Men really aren’t put in that position,” she said. … [Another student says] “I’ll have a career until I have two kids … It doesn’t necessarily matter how far you get. It’s kind of like the experience: I have tried what I wanted to do.”

The focus on women at elite schools makes this tendency even worse. Cynthia and Shannon seem oblivious to the idea that a rather large number of women do have to go out to work, in order to make ends meet for their families. It’s immediately clear—though I think never plainly stated by any of the women themselves—that it’s the comfortable prospect of a very wealthy husband that allows them to plan their lives as they do, without any worrying about how they’ll support themselves and their darling kids when they reach their 30s.

That kind of complacency drives second-wave feminists nuts, because these students are like free-riders. They plan to take the upside of the revolution in women’s participation in elite education, but they are tacitly aware that they don’t have to expose themselves to any of the risk if they don’t want to. I remember the Times had what amounted to a companion piece to this article a while ago: it featured interviews with a lot of women who’d been amongst the first women admitted to the Ivy League, in the early ‘70s. Many of them had decided to quit their careers in the formal economy and raise families, and they spent a lot of time talking about how great it was to have children and work a little bit on the side and live in a nice big house. Which of course it is, assuming that the money is still coming in to keep everyone in good shape. It has to come from somewhere. Because, as Max Sawicky comments in a related vein (about Welfare Reform) today,

Work doesn’t pay a single woman enough to raise children. Never has. Welfare reform is about pushing a woman into the workforce for not much more money and a lot less time with kids, plus a child care bill that somebody has to pay. It’s ridiculous. … There are basically two viable choices for public assistance. One is a rich system of supported work. Wage supplements, government as employer of last resort, subsidized day care and health care. This is expensive but in keeping with the popular animus against the other option. The other option is cash support for people who don’t work, especially single mothers. This is cheaper, but people hate paying able-bodied people who won’t take jobs.

The third option, of course, is to privatize the problem, but in a gender-specific way so that it’s up to women to find the right answer. The students in the article have the widest range of opportunity under the latter option. Again, I emphasize that what’s wrong here is not these choices as such—which many of us would like to be in a position to make—so much as the constant, wilful neglect of anything except that pristine, individual decision and the preferences behind it. On the institutional side you have to ignore all of the ways that work is organized to engineer “work/family tradeoffs” for women but not for men, and much else besides—like the far harsher choices faced by the poorer families whom Max discusses. And on the resources/power side you have to ignore all the things that make it possible in the first place for smart, highly-educated people to cheerily plan on being out of the workforce in ten years having a grand time at home with the children.

A few voices in the article make some of these points in a muted sort of way:

“They are still thinking of this as a private issue; they’re accepting it,” said Laura Wexler, a professor of American studies and women’s and gender studies at Yale. “Women have been given full-time working career opportunities and encouragement with no social changes to support it.
“I really believed 25 years ago, … that this would be solved by now.”

Exactly. And they can think of it as a private issue because they know they’ll be marrying right at the top of the income distribution. It’s a nice life if you can get it. You probably worked hard to get it. But it’s not just a matter of your own decisions and preferences.

A secondary theme in the article is the claim, repeated by students and their mothers, that childcare (outside of mothering) is a bad thing:

“I’ve seen the difference between kids who did have their mother stay at home and kids who didn’t, and it’s kind of like an obvious difference when you look at it,” said Ms. Abugo … [A mother of a student said] “I do have this bias that the parents can do it best,” she said. “I see a lot of women in their 30’s who have full-time nannies, and I just question if their kids are getting the best.”

Ack. Perhaps more than any other bit of society, opinions about child-rearing are subject to a quite phenomenal amount of endogeneity. People who avail of daycare are likely to think that kids are sociable, robust little things who need a healthy amount of interaction with other children and, given that people don’t have families with 8 children these days, a good daycare has a lot to offer in that regard. Conversely, people who raise their children by themselves, at home, are likely to think that children need a lot of individualized care and attention—the sort that only a mother can provide.

If they don’t think that at the beginning, as time goes by they are more and more likely to think it because, frankly, who wants to believe they are making bad choices for their children? The thing is, though, that there’s plenty of room to hold these beliefs because of the undeniable fact that there are multiple pathways from childhood to a pretty successful adulthood. How could it be otherwise? I mean, look around you at the sheer variety of people you encounter. Do you have Ms Abugo’s gift of telling which of them had their mother stay at home and which did not? Can you tell, just by looking, how many parents of the day-care-kids spent a lot of time with them versus the ones who did not? Or how many of the stay-at-home moms were cheery centers of activity versus the ones who just plopped the kid in front of the TV? If Ms Abugo has this gift, she should go into show business, making bets with studio audiences about the kind of care they received as children. She could make a good career out of it—except she knows won’t have to.

{ 5 trackbacks }

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09.22.05 at 1:22 am
Noli Irritare Leones » Blog Archive » What I’m reading
09.24.05 at 3:20 pm

{ 170 comments }

1

mythago 09.20.05 at 12:21 am

Granted we’re only getting snippets, but it’s interesting that none of these young women consider choosing a man who will share the work of rearing children, or perhaps even a stay-at-home dad. I wonder how much of that is cultural (“Gosh, I never thought of that!”) and how much is some kind of deep belief that if you start demanding fairness and participation by a potential husband, you’ll never find one. Notice their passive language about how men “aren’t put in that position”, as if they are unable to make such choices in their own families.

but they are tacitly aware that they don’t have to expose themselves to any of the risk if they don’t want to

They have more of a safety net than their poorer sisters, but marriage as a meal ticket is very much a risk.

2

catherine liu 09.20.05 at 1:11 am

You know what is most irritating about this article? It’s about Ivy Leaguers. I am one of them, and I can cry me a river about how hard my life is because I chose an academic career and to be a mom at the same time…but you know — who cares? I’m relatively privileged.

The NY Times always does “lifestyle” pieces about the rich, the very rich and the about to be very rich. It’s irritating, but not worthy of much more comment.

I am gladdened by Kieran’s points about the lack of affordable childcare and the discussion of life/work issues in such a context, but let’s NEVER make Yalies the center of this debate.

And what does Abugo’s “getting the best” mean? The best of what?

3

catherine liu 09.20.05 at 1:12 am

By the way, I’m absolutely NOT related to insouciant Cynthia and her husband hunt!

4

fjm 09.20.05 at 1:16 am

What always irritates me is the way that well off women (and I include here anyone on more than £20,000 a year) frequently ignore the degree to which the choices we make are made on the back of other women.

Our entire childcare structure looks like bloody meerkats. Poor women look after the children of rich women in order to be able to give second-class care to their own. In some cases they give their children third class care because of the scandal of imported childcare which gives visas to women to become nannies but not to their children.

Did you hear of the ongoing row in Canada? Nannying is classed as semi-skilled so a visa for nannying comes with longer obligations to the sponsoring employer than does skilled (ie male) work. The result has been a form of imprisonment for many women and guess what? Their employers were frequently nice young liberals who see themselves as helping.

5

fifi 09.20.05 at 1:16 am

I grew up in a predominantly Italian neighborhood. Tight families, both parents working, that kind of thing. The social support system was grandma and grandpa. Worked great.

6

yoyo 09.20.05 at 1:17 am

Perhaps they simply don’t want to be with men who would choose that – they’re not ‘ambitious’ enough or something like that.

7

M. Gordon 09.20.05 at 1:27 am

My question is: who really thinks that what some 18 year old Ivy Leaguer belives she’ll be doing at 30 will have any impact on where she’ll actually be? I don’t know how good the correlation is, but I suspect it’s far from perfect. Even the most conservative of Ivy League schools will broaden your horizons a lot, and make you rethink your life priorities. A few joints and a couple of hundred beers down the road and these girls might have their minds completely changed.

Or, put another way, in the inimitable fashion of RvB (on the subject of why you should not get a tattoo): “Think about yourself now. Now, think of yourself ten years ago. Were you smart back then? No, you were a goddamn idiot.”

8

Martin James 09.20.05 at 1:36 am

I’m betting watching Ozzy and Harriet reruns isn’t your idea of bliss.

Why are you so convinced that traditional gender roles and gender discrimination are bad?

Does it bother you that some smart Yale girl prefers a crusty young man with a fat wallet to an enlightened man without one?

Relax, there are still some crusty young women that will let men fret over whether to stay home or just do the career.

I mean did you REALLY think there would be no counter-revolution, that the forces of repressive patriarchy had no moves left for the future?

Remember, the gender-neutral forces of status, class and envy can still bring a some serious gender differentiation to bear.

Just go what some Gloria Steinem re-runs and you’ll feel much better…

9

Martin James 09.20.05 at 2:03 am

I don’t begrudge these women their choices in the slightest, either?

10

robbo 09.20.05 at 3:02 am

How better to prepare for competent parenting than with a robust program of Home Economics for $23 per unit down at the local JC? Of course, you won’t land a guaranteed sugar daddy at JC, so I guess it all makes perfect sense.

11

Aidan Kehoe 09.20.05 at 3:17 am

But it’s not just a matter of your own decisions and preferences. Eh, not paying pre-eminent attention to your own decisions and preferences is masochistic. No-one else is likely to do it for you. The New York Times shouldn’t be reporting this; “the rich can choose more comfort and less paid employment, because money gives you more choice” is not news.

12

sarah 09.20.05 at 3:24 am

This article made me so angry. I really hope the data are not indicative of a trend among female undergrads at other colleges and universities. These women are obviously not getting the education they need.

13

a 09.20.05 at 3:54 am

There’s was a factoid reported recently that a difference between the rich in America today and the rich 30 years ago was that the rich today work longer hours than the average, while 30 years ago they worked shorter hours. Maybe there’s some kind of reversion to the mean, as the rich decide to work less.

14

Dave F 09.20.05 at 4:22 am

fjm, so your argument suggests that rich women who stay at home and look after the kids — or “have a grand time with the kids”, as Mr healy so steoreotypically sees it — are actually allowing less well off moms to spend more time with their own kids? I don’t think so. It just means more competition for fewer nanny jobs.

15

nik 09.20.05 at 5:24 am

That kind of complacency drives second-wave feminists nuts, because these students are like free-riders. They plan to take the upside of the revolution in women’s participation in elite education, but they are tacitly aware that they don’t have to expose themselves to any of the risk if they don’t want to.

Is there a problem with financing here?

Certainly in the new UK student loan system, a mother who goes to University and stays at home to raise children will get her student loan written off by the taxpayer. These people are free riders in a literal sense. Some form of change to the system so that spouses are jointly liable for student loans is required.

I’m personally not terribly concerned about the “public good” justifications of education. I don’t think I can support the idea that you are morally obligated to do something with your degree, once you’ve got it, or that access should preferentially go to people deemed liable to do something useful with their education.

16

Brett Bellmore 09.20.05 at 5:52 am

Oh, come on now! It goes as far back as Adam Smith, that you make more pins by having one person make the heads, and the other make the shafts, than by having both people make both. Why isn’t one person raising the children full time, and the other devoting themselves completely to being employed, more economically efficient on the same theory? And if it’s almost always the woman doing the raising, I hope you haven’t really bought into that crazy notion that women and men don’t on average have different biological imperatives…

If I see anything to complain of here, it’s what went unmentioned: The terrible inefficiency of scarce college slots being consumed by people who have no intention of using the education they’re obtaing. Maybe the top schools could come up with formal “Mrs degree” programs, that would allow women who intend to become housewives the social interaction as peers with the men they’re hunting, while leaving the class slots available for the more career minded?

And to be fair, of course, a formal “Mr. Gigalo” program, too.

17

JR 09.20.05 at 6:36 am

It’s a mistake to read this kind of NYT article for the content. The article exists to drive the eyeballs of young wealthy consumer-oriented women to the advertising. Have no fear, the NYT knows its readership and it knows how to pander.

18

y81 09.20.05 at 7:13 am

brett bellmore, the purpose of an Ivy League education is to enable the recipient to lead an examined life, not to make a lot of money as a bond trader.

On another point, why doesn’t max sawicky consider a third option–not having children unless you’re married. It never ceases to amaze me that left/liberals, who are so hot to stop us from smoking, make us wear seatbelts, prevent us from telling dirty jokes in the workplace, ban fox hunting etc., somehow blench from recommending the sort of individual behavioral change that would actually improve people’s lives.

19

Seth Gordon 09.20.05 at 7:59 am

The authors of the article, and the women they quote, seem to assume that once you become a stay-at-home mom, you never go back. My wife is staying home with our kids right now, but she fully intends to go back into the paid work force once they’re all in school, and she’s more than a little worried about what kind of opportunities she’ll have when she starts looking for work.

Do the women quoted in the article intend to do the same thing (in which case, having a Yale degree certainly won’t hurt them)? Do they plan to metamorphose from “stay-at-home mom” to “stay-at-home wife”? Have they not thought that far ahead?

20

tps12 09.20.05 at 8:05 am

Yeah Brett, because male Ivy League graduates always put their educations to such good use…

21

tps12 09.20.05 at 8:08 am

Dave F, I think Kieran’s “grand old time” was referring to the way the privileged women in the article have (under the influence of huge cultural pressure) romanticized child-rearing as being sort of like retirement but with more cartoons.

22

Kieran Healy 09.20.05 at 8:23 am

or “have a grand time with the kids”, as Mr healy so steoreotypically sees it

_I’m_ not the one who sees it that way: it’s _their_ idyllic visions we’re reporting here.

23

Mrs. Coulter 09.20.05 at 8:49 am

Wow. I guess I’d better give the admissions folks at Harvard a ring, offer them my apologies and turn in my degree. Clearly I don’t deserve it since I’ve spent the last year and a half home with my daughter. Perhaps they can give me the numbers for everyone who was rejected when I was admitted so that I can apologize for “stealing” their spot. Should I call the women’s studies department as well?

Frankly, this whole discussion (at least in the comments) is a disgusting display of self-righteous male privilege. An Ivy League degree isn’t necessarily a meal-ticket to marry a wealthy husband (hey, I married an academic, or rather, at the time, a grad student, which is definitely not a meal-ticket, as most of you should know). Furthermore, no where on my diploma does it say that I have the obligation to choose to work outside my home and outsource my childcare. fjm hints a the dirty truth, which is that for a lot of upperclass women, their choice to work is supported by the exploitation of much poorer women, often illegal immigrants. I’m not sure why *that’s* a better feminist choice than choosing to provide own childcare.

Feminism is supposed to be about choices, not shoehorning women into a one-size-fits-all set of expectations. Frankly, I think that our current system, which penalizes women who stay home and penalizes women who work, places the expectation of “sacrifice” firmly on women’s shoulders, and constructs workplace norms based on the 1950s ideal of man who never actually sees his children and has the support of non-working spouse, is thoroughly broken. However, threatening to revoke the feminist (or academic) credentials of women who recognize that they don’t want to outsource their childcare is demeaning and misogynist. I recognize that my choices aren’t available to everyone, but that doesn’t make me an anti-feminist to have made them.

24

Isaac 09.20.05 at 8:53 am

Also what’s annoying is that it raises it as a strict dichotomy: career or child-raising, which is rather misleading. For it is possible to put together both, to an extent.

And the commenter above who points out that none of the women would consider choosing a husband who wants to share in the child-raising is right: that’s ridiculous.

But I’d remember that these people are 20; I’m 20 and I know that all of my grand plans are likely to be rather different in 10 years.

25

david 09.20.05 at 9:02 am

Just when you think Adam Smith invocations can’t get any sillier, along comes Brett Bellmore.

The snippets of this article suggest to me that these young women did precious little babysitting in their high school years. They won’t be staying home when they’re 30. Or if they do, they’ll be using their inherited money to buy a whole lot of child care anyway.

26

Cryptic Ned 09.20.05 at 9:08 am

[A mother of a student said] “I do have this bias that the parents can do it best,” she said. “I see a lot of women in their 30’s who have full-time nannies, and I just question if their kids are getting the best.”

This a quite a quote. Does this woman also see a lot of women in their 30’s who ARE full-time nannies? Are their kids getting the best? Is every single one of their kids less advantaged than every single one of the kids of the women she’s talking about? I believe so. Who’s got the real problems here?

27

nik 09.20.05 at 9:11 am

“On the institutional side you have to ignore all of the ways that work is organized to engineer “work/family tradeoffs” for women but not for men, and much else besides—like”

I’m not sure that institutions are the problem. There are three groups of people here:

(a) fathers
(b) mothers
(c) the childless

I’ll be blunt. Mothers suffer considerable disadvantage because fathers offload their share of parental responsibility onto them. The problem isn’t the way work is organized; it’s that mothers are treated unfairly by fathers, and no-one really cares about this. If childcare were shared equally, there would be no disadvantage suffered by mothers relative to fathers – they would both have the same problems.

The issue I have is that providing a public solution to the “work/life balance” problem essentially means redistibuting from the childless to mothers. This is just spreading the injustice about – and means that women can’t opt not to suffer this form of unfairness by not having kids.

What really gets on my nerves is that this form of “solution” benefits fathers, if they live in the same household, even though these are the very people who are causing the problem. It doesn’t address the advantage they receive: they get to carry on as before, and their wife receives subsidised childcare and so on benefiting them both.

If we want to solve the problem we have to do so by going after the people who profit from it. This is problematic in itself: for obvious reasons wives would much prefer a solution to involve redistribution to them from a third party, rather than from their husbands.

28

paul 09.20.05 at 9:12 am

News Flash: The New York Times is run by (mostly) men who wish it were the 50s or the 1890s again. And panders to advertisers and readers who ditto.

Other News Flash: even at the most elite universities you can find first and second-year students who will say stupid things to reporters.

I may be reading too much into the names and hometowns, but I wonder about the backgrounds of the students quoted. If, as I suspect, they’re first-generation Ivy, their intentions may also say something interesting about social stratification and glass ceilings even within the upper brackets.

29

Hektor Bim 09.20.05 at 9:13 am

Mrs. Coulter,

Outsourcing child care was the norm for all of human existence until the 1950s and the rise of the nuclear family. What did you think grandparents did all day when the parents were out doing things? What did you think older children did during the day before mandatory schooling? What is mandatory schooling but outsourcing childcare?

This model of a single person taking sole care of their children is a very new innovation, and still not practiced by most people.

“Oursourcing” child care is the time-tested model. It is you who should try to defend your new-fangled childrearing approach to the rest of us.

30

Jason G. Williscroft 09.20.05 at 9:53 am

Welcome to the real world, Kieran: you can’t have income parity without putting in the time. Not at MY expense, anyway.

People have to make choices… and there’s absolutely no ethical justification for forcing ME to subsidize the choices that YOU make. A couple who wants an adequate mix of income and attention for their family–whatever “adequate” means to them–is bound to split the effort in a way that works for them. If the woman isn’t willing or able to make trade-offs in her professional life, then the man usually must… unless they can afford full-time help, which carries its own trade-offs.

As an old commanding officer of mine used to point out, “fair” is what you pay to ride a bus. [You can safely assume that I know how to spell "homophone."] So get over it, and quit hassling young women who are, after all, only doing exactly what YOU would do in their shoes.

31

fred lapides 09.20.05 at 10:10 am

We all get annoyed in differing ways.
1. The NY Times does life styles (?) of the down and out too!
2. These young ladies are taking places in schools that others are closed out from because they are filling seats and getting degrees till the time comes to stay home. For guys and women wanting full-time careers, they have a right to bitch about this.
3. Women go to schools today becuase they are independent and develop their potential etc etc…
Years ago, they went to college to hook up to guys who would be good money earners. These “dorpouts” will hookup while biding their time…we have returned, with a twist, to the good old days.
4. I am old so my view is What, me worry? who cares? let them do as they will and I will go my way without further need for blood pressure pills today. Best advice: you ignore too and don’t get riled.

32

Dan Nexon 09.20.05 at 10:21 am

Hektor graces us with the following comment:

“‘“Oursourcing’ child care is the time-tested model. It is you who should try to defend your new-fangled childrearing approach to the rest of us.”

I’m looking forward to his next post, when Hektor puts the burden on us for not pursuing careers in subsistence agriculture, warrior, or divination sectors of the economy.

Better yet, perhaps Hektor will defend the time-honored model of hunter-gathering clans. I understand that whole agricultural thing is pretty newfangled.

33

Martin James 09.20.05 at 10:22 am

The “framing” of this discussion that is curious to me is that children seem to be conceived of primarily as a consumption good with high maintenance costs.

A large group of posters here sees “childrearing” as something of a dead-weight loss, in that fathers are benefitted by not doing the childrearing and rich women are benefitted by having nannies and not doing the childrearing.

But what type of enjoyment do the parents get from their children if not from the relationship that is built through childcare? An ownership benefit? A spectator benefit? This persepctive seems to treat children like a car or a garden that can be enjoyed while someone else does the labor.

It just strikes me as so odd. Don’t these people love being with their kids? I mean let’s re-phrase it like a marital relationship. Do people gain by outsourcing dating their spouses?

Comparing babysitting to raising one’s own child is like comparing being a sex worker to having a relationship with one’s lover. Its the love that makes the work rewarding, right?

Count me with the 1950’s romantics; self-fulfillment ain’t.

34

Thomas 09.20.05 at 10:26 am

Now this is interesting. Kieran ostensibly is writing about a wrong-headed NY Times article, and not about the subjects of that article. Further, Kieran insists that he does not begrudge the subjects–college-age women who see themselves as future stay-at-home mothers–their choices.

Then he attacks the young women.

These young women “seem oblivious.” They are ‘complacent’ and “free riders” (in a new and unusual use of the term, to mean, people who aren’t doing what I’d have them do).

And then, to top that, Kieran spends a paragraph ridiculing the reported statement of an 18-year old young woman.

(One can only imagine how he treats the students in his classes!)

All of this, for what? Supposedly the problem is that the Times article has the wrong frame. But, of course, it really doesn’t have the frame that Kieran suggests.

We are supposed to be surprised by the choices these young women are saying they’ll make–surprised and disappointed. And we’re supposed to think of this as Kieran does, as a problem that should be solved.

The reaction quoted in the article makes that quite clear:

For many feminists, it may come as a shock to hear how unbothered many young women at the nation’s top schools are by the strictures of traditional roles.

“They are still thinking of this as a private issue; they’re accepting it,” said Laura Wexler, a professor of American studies and women’s and gender studies at Yale. “Women have been given full-time working career opportunities and encouragement with no social changes to support it.

“I really believed 25 years ago,” Dr. Wexler added, “that this would be solved by now.”
_____________

Kieran misunderstands–he’s the intended audience for this piece, and his reaction–scorn for these young women, and renewed attention to the issues related to their choices–was the desired one.

35

david 09.20.05 at 10:30 am

Children are conceived of as delightful and irritating little buggers that demand a great deal of work from the adults nearby. If you think that’s a consumption good, more’s the wrong with you.

And if you think that a relationship is necessarily stronger from each hour spent together, you are far removed from reality.

36

Dan Simon 09.20.05 at 10:38 am

Shorter Kieran: Apparently, wealthy women are rushing to embrace a particular domestic arrangement which Kieran doesn’t happen to like very much. This bothers Kieran–although he respects their freedom to choose–because the non-wealthy can’t afford the domestic arrangement that wealthy women seem to prefer. Kieran’s solution: massive public subsidies and social support for an entirely different domestic arrangement, which wealthy women are currently fleeing in droves, but which Kieran happens to like much better.

37

BigMacAttack 09.20.05 at 10:41 am

Yea. Replacing fathers with the state is a very expensive task.

A two parent family where the primary wage earner earns 50% below the median hourly wage and works 50 hours a week and the primary care giver works 20 hours a week, off hours(or maybe mommy stays home and watches the professional single mom’s kid), at 50% below the median hourly wage earns about 30K a year and has about 154 hours a week, based on a 16 hour day, to provide to the two kids.

The professional mommy earns 50% above the median hourly wage and works 40 hours a week and pays out 20K a year in day care which leaves that family with 30K a year and has 1/2 the time, 72 hours a week to provide the two kids.

Replacing dad with the state is extremely expensive even if you don’t include the time he spends with his children.

So institutionally what can we do about this problem?

38

C.J.Colucci 09.20.05 at 10:42 am

I’ve practiced law for over 20 years, watching many women struggle with the competing demands of work and child-rearing. It’s painful even for me as an observer. Fair or not, it’s just a brute fact that women care more about balancing these conflicts than men do and end up making the sacrifices. (As for me, I’m infertile so the issue hasn’t come up.) Many of them end up not having children at all.
I’ve toyed with the modest proposal that instead of having young women in their prime, child-bearing years (another brute fact, by the way) deferring childbirth and, often, marriage to their age peers while pursuing their careers, we ought to return to the practice of women marrying somewhat older men. They could spend the key child-rearing years at home while affluent hubby footed the bill and re-enter the career market free, energized, and able to be the same type of hard-driving a**hole that hubby had to be to make it.

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ppn 09.20.05 at 10:51 am

If these young women’s prophecies come true and they quit their “high-powered” jobs by age 30 to raise children while their husbands continue to work (and this proves to be the colossal trend the NYT loves to make it out to be), I wonder what happens to the women who do stay on in the increasingly male-dominated “high-powered” workplaces. Will they feel lonely? Will their male co-workers treat them differently? Will their female co-workers treat them differently? Will they be as effective? Less? More? I’m sure studies have been done on this, but I haven’t read them.

What troubles me about these women’s attitudes, which I’ve seen reflected elsewhere, is the lack of respect given to women who make different choices: they aren’t just making a “personal” decision but passing judgment on other women. This doesn’t bode well. If it is harder for women to work without social support than for men — or even if it’s equally difficult — how tough must they be to stay in a stressful, increasingly sexist workplace after all their erstwhile peers have bailed for the better-networked life of stay-at-home motherhood, and are devoting their considerable mental energies to “succeeding” at this most valuable of careers? (If it isn’t better-networked already, I imagine this scenario will make it so.)

Perhaps I’m being unrealistic. It seems like the social pressure could be self-amplifying, though: if enough women leave the workplace, the workplace could be an increasingly shitty place for the women who stay, and they’ll feel compelled to drop out to preserve their well-being — particularly if they do have kids, even if their husbands or third parties are providing care.

I also get the impression that, for a lot of the young women in the article, child-rearing is about “my kids.” It isn’t valuable work in general to provide full-time child care or ensure that kids have a safe, productive and stimulating experience; it’s just important that you do the maximum possible for your own children. Speaking as someone incapable of spending more than five seconds with a toddler, let alone ten of them, I do wonder: is it really a good thing to have a system in which women who are willing and able to provide childcare apply those caregiving skills as narrowly as possible? Horrifying as it is to ask Ivy League graduates to become daycare workers… Or do we now think it’s “natural” for women to care only for their own children?

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mythago 09.20.05 at 10:59 am

seth, nobody said that being a stay-at-home parent means never going back–but the working world does not stay in time-stasis while you are rearing your cihldren. Unless your wife is returning to an unskilled position where lost work experience and time is irrelevant, she is [number of years out of the workforce] behind in experience, job skills and current information. And that time off is opportunity cost, not merely lost salary.

This persepctive seems to treat children like a car or a garden that can be enjoyed while someone else does the labor.

Funny how we only chide women for offloading their childcare. When a man spends long hours at work, nobody asks him why he doesn’t involve himself in childcare, or why he lets “someone else” do the labor.

m. gordon, I suspect these young women will get a clue when they realize that childrearing is not all rocking the sleeping baby in one arm while holding open one’s book of French lessons with the other.

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Barbara R. Bergmann 09.20.05 at 11:11 am

The Times story is mostly anecdotes. It doesn’t quote any data on, for example, the trend in employment of women lawyers, physicians, managers. It quotes a survey of college women’s “plans” or expectations, which may or may not represent what they actually will do. The gap between what young women claim they expect to do and what older cohorts are currently doing is not a new thing.

About 50 percent of women with children under 3 hold jobs, and this has been true for quite some time. The percentage is bigger for women with more education. But this still leaves lots of women to tell the Times about their desire to follow the mommy track.

The Times story comes out of the editors’ desire to amplify what they see and hope is a trend toward women’s retreat to the home. A story with this message has appeared on the front page every two years or so, for as far back as I remember.

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Kieran Healy 09.20.05 at 11:30 am

(One can only imagine how he treats the students in his classes!)

Actually my teaching evaluations are pretty damn good.

We are supposed to be surprised by the choices these young women are saying they’ll make—surprised and disappointed. And we’re supposed to think of this as Kieran does, as a problem that should be solved.

You’re actually not too far off the mark, insofar as the framing of the article probably does suggest we’re supposed to be disappointed by their choices. But this is just another instance of the problem I’m talking about. The choices these women are making are not problematic in themselves: I am not saying they are wrong to want to have children and raise them at home, and most of the people who study this stuff wouldn’t say that either. But, inevitably, in coverage like this the problem gets parsed as judging the quality of individual choices. You’re doing the same thing I was complaining about, which is trying to turn the discussion into a debate about whether people ought to make that kind of choice, with me supposedly cast as the person who looks down on them for what they want. From there it’s a short step to a common or garden line about elitists not respecting other people’s decisions.

In fact, I’m saying we need child-care arrangements where more people have more room to freely choose what to do. Similarly, most feminists and policy experts in this area want to expand this realm of choice, not dictate people’s preferences. Under the current system, several viable options are ruled out by an institutional context that mainly benefits employers, puts the whole burden of “tradeoffs” on women, and makes it difficult for those who try to pursue other arrangements. Comparative research shows that this context can be changed and the nation won’t go bankrupt or suffer a breakdown of social order after instituting a fairer set of policies.

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Hektor Bim 09.20.05 at 11:32 am

Actually, Dan Nexon, outsourcing child care is the norm in the world today. Almost no one in the western world until the creation of the nuclear family – which really dates to the 40s and 50s, lived only with their spouse and children.

What Coulter is putting up as her choice would be deeply weird to most people on the planet, who live with their extended family close by and outsource child care to them. That was the norm in the western world until the middle of the 20th century as well, and even now many people simply cannot afford to have a full-time stay-at-home spouse to provide childcare.

So this isn’t some return to a mythical hunter-gatherer time. This is the norm in the world today and was the norm in industrial and even post-industrial societies.

The nuclear family is a recent innovation, and may not survive, especially if mean wages stagnate.

So, Dan Nexon, why do you think we should all live in a 1950s time warp where everyone is supposed to live in a free-standing house with only a spouse and kids and no “outsourcing” of child care?

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mythago 09.20.05 at 11:40 am

This is the norm in the world today and was the norm in industrial and even post-industrial societies.

hektor, this isn’t true. In most of history, “work” was where you lived. There was no childcare because the children didn’t go anywhere.

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djw 09.20.05 at 11:42 am

Kieran misunderstands—he’s the intended audience for this piece, and his reaction—scorn for these young women, and renewed attention to the issues related to their choices—was the desired one.

Thanks, Thomas, for the demonstration of the sort of mental gymnastics required to maintain the view that the NYT is a left-wing propaganda mill.

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nolo 09.20.05 at 11:44 am

m. gordon, I suspect these young women will get a clue when they realize that childrearing is not all rocking the sleeping baby in one arm while holding open one’s book of French lessons with the other.

I bet you dollars to donuts that a good number of these Ivy Leaguer stay-at-home moms end up hiring nannies anyway. I’ve seen it happen.

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skarphedinn 09.20.05 at 11:52 am

What I found very interesting (and unfortunate) was the focus on the child-rearing/work plans of WOMEN at elite universities.

Would it have been much more work to survey both male and female students? Even if the focus of the article remained on the women’s plans, I suspect that an effort to compare/contrast the responses of the women to those of the men would have been worthwhile (and perhaps revealed some unexpected results).

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mary 09.20.05 at 12:02 pm

It is fairly clear that the women who get portrayed as the represenatives of women are choosing a quasi traditional role. And it goes back to previous generations. It is interesting how the alleged “anti materialists” of the sixties and seventies morphed into pioneers of perhaps the most conspicious spending in our history.

One thing that disturbs me in all this is that it really isn’t “traditinal values” in a full sense. These women do not say that in this role as full time housekeeper I am going to help rebuild neighborhood or take on the other functions that stay at home moms once held. Their kids are not playing in the streets with other neighborhood kids, there is a whole set of institutional slots starting as soon as they can toddle. And they plug the kids in.

Or that’s the cliche which is at least somewhat true. Motherhood seems to have become a very high stress occupation were as before it was simply really tough at times, nowadays there seem to be all kinds of goals that must be met and an accompanying sense of rivalry and inadequecy.

Not that any of this is completely new, but it has IMO intensified.

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mkl 09.20.05 at 12:04 pm

A few obs, from a father of four small children whose wife’s degrees are lying fallow:

1. Raising large numbers of small children is terribly hard work, and most days are not a fulfilling whirl of tender moments and brilliant discoveries from your little genius. Bond trading has actually much lower risk of being screamed at, hit or shat upon than child rearing.

2. The difficulty this creates for a primary childcare provider to remain at all positively disposer to her (or his) charges, much less seek to quit such employ, is a major reason for mothers to quit work and take over raising the children. The level of stress and anger than child rearing can create, and the amount of discipling the children it requires, is something many parents would rather not outsource beyond themselves or family members, if available.

This all does point up the general cluelessness of 20 yr olds in these regards, which has been well made by others here. But I’d like particulary to point out the glib carelessness the women in the article show toward their future careers, seeing them as a fun phase of their lives to show they can make it in the world before settling down in a comfy manse in Old Greenwich. And, likely, married to a graduate not of Yale but a much more plebian school, as…

3. There is nothing so obtuse in these discussions than the notion that men do not face work/family issues. Raising a family is really friggin’ expensive and is a huge limiter on the career options of stay-at-work fathers. Why are middle-to-upper-middle-class fathers so often seen as dull schleps who toil away at faceless jobs? Because those jobs provide the income, and moreover the longterm stability of income, needed to raise a family. The psychic rewards and acclaim of a career can definitely take a back seat to the paycheck when there are several people wholly dependent on your earnings.

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Mrs. Coulter 09.20.05 at 12:20 pm

Hektor, if you think I am criticizing women (and men, for that matter) who make the choice to send their children to daycare, you are gravely mistaken. Nevertheless, given the family structures of modern society, women who want to work outside their homes must pay other women (daycare workers and nannies are rarely male) to care for their children; most of us do not have an extended family of available caregivers. We are generally paying childcare workers very low wages (daycare workers are at the very bottom of the income scale, probably because of the overall very low value placed on “women’s work”). Quality childcare is also expensive and difficult to find in many areas, leaving women who must work outside their homes to accept substandard care (at least, to constantly worry if they have accepted substandard care). If quality childcare were affordable and easy to find (which it should be), might I have made a different choice? Perhaps, but that’s a counterfactual that isn’t easy to puzzle out.

Furthermore, what is the “value” of an Ivy League degree? Is it legitimate to say that some jobs “don’t require an Ivy League degree,” therefore it is inappropriate for Ivy League grads to perform those jobs? If it is a “waste” of an Ivy League degree to provide infant/toddler childcare, is it a waste for an Ivy grad to be an elementary school teacher? How about a high school teacher? Does a person deserve their Ivy League degree only if they take a high-paying job? Or does it have to be socially worthy? Is it a waste of that degree to become an investment banker? Or a management consultant? Really, if you want to be talking about value, shouldn’t we all be saving starving Third World children or working pro bono for wrongly convicted death row inmates? Who judges the worth of an individual’s career choice?

As usual, women get the short end of the stick, with all-knowing male so-called feminists chiding them for recognizing the circumscribed options available to them in our patriarchal society. Do I wish that the girls quoted in the article had openly acknowledged that the reasons they think they can’t “have it all” is that our society devalues “women’s work” and assumes that women either must bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities or else pretend to occupy a traditionally masculine job role? Yes, I wish they showed a little more awareness of *why* they feel that they can’t have it all. But they aren’t the ones who are truly at fault here, and pasting the blame squarely on them is just a way of shifting responsibility for the problem onto the shoulders of the victims. The solution is not to yell at them, but to work to open more palatable options.

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anon 09.20.05 at 12:21 pm

I grew up in a predominantly Italian neighborhood. Tight families, both parents working, that kind of thing. The social support system was grandma and grandpa. Worked great.

What some innovative liberal needs to do is think outside the box and invent something that will make it more natural for wealthy tykes to spend time with their grandparents. Perhaps a golf bag that can be carried by small children.

I’ll be blunt. Mothers suffer considerable disadvantage because fathers offload their share of parental responsibility onto them.

Not blunt enough. What is this disadvantage? It is the risk mothers take that they will lose their looks and their peak career building years bearing and weaning children, immediately after which they will be divorced.

Note that this is relevant only to the social classes who have the concept of “career building years”. One might be tempted to make snarky comments about how seriously the rich take their marriages, but it’s not so much the case that the lower classes have more love, just that they are more stuck with one another.

Anyway, perhaps the problem here is the mistaken idea — against which feminism must struggle, and which finds common expression in the actions of both men and women belonging to the wealthy classes — that youthful women alone have maximum utility. If this is the problem, then some innovative liberal genius needs to think outside of the box. Maybe George Soros could be petitioned to start a 24-hour nonstop Bette Davis/Katherine Hepburn channel.

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Beth Popp Berman 09.20.05 at 12:25 pm

1) Random data point: At Penn around 1993, I took an undergraduate class in sociology of the family that surveyed itself (n=100-ish) about attitudes, future plans, etc. The thing I found very striking at the time was that the large majority of women expected to be working full-time while raising small children, while a small majority of men expected to be married to women who were staying home with kids. I remember thinking that these people were going to have some serious problems coupling up.

Who knows if the NYTimes interviewees are representative of anything at all — or if my classmates were — but if they are, isn’t it interesting that women’s expectations have changed so much in 12 years? The lesson has been learned that you really can’t have it all, although the ways these women expect to solve this reality are frustratingly inegalitarian.

2) As a mother of a one-year-old whose husband is currently the primary caretaker of our son, I have been really surprised by how uncomfortable our arrangement makes many people. And they are less worried about me than about my husband — it is really seen as rather freakish that he is choosing not to work full-time, particularly given that he now has a child for whom he is responsible. And this is in Berkeley. What’s going on here?

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Katherine 09.20.05 at 12:28 pm

what’s staying at home with the kids? is it a matter of one year, five years, ten years or twenty years? pretty big difference. I get that it’s not the first but I have no idea whether it’s five or twenty.

I actually went to Yale and “got my Mrs. there” in that I married my college boyfriend (not in that I didn’t go on in my career). And still I find it totally clueless and useless.

About once a year the Times does a story EXACTLY like this–it was in the magazine last time: making it entirely the woman’s problems, setting up a complete dichotomy between having kids and having a career, and expressing surprise that some women choose the former. Well, actually, the dichotomy is not quite so stark, though there is always a tradeoff. And the noteworthy thing is not that some people choose one side of it or the other, but that they are forced into this choice when it needn’t be so.

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Mrs. Coulter 09.20.05 at 12:29 pm

Bond trading has actually much lower risk of being screamed at, hit or shat upon than child rearing.

What a great line.

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save_the_rustbelt 09.20.05 at 12:35 pm

“I’ll be blunt. Mothers suffer considerable disadvantage because fathers offload their share of parental responsibility onto them. The problem isn’t the way work is organized; it’s that mothers are treated unfairly by fathers, and no-one really cares about this. If childcare were shared equally, there would be no disadvantage suffered by mothers relative to fathers – they would both have the same problems.”

That is crapola.

Even if men were jerks, children KNOW the differences between mom and dad, and mom is always first in demands and in affection.

And besides, wives (even a gem such as mine) tend to treat men as second class, men just aren’t smart enough to raise children as well as moms (that’s my daily stereotype).

Likely, what we need is not outcomes determined by feminists, we need maximum freedon to make decisions and take responsibility.

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Slocum 09.20.05 at 12:43 pm

Granted we’re only getting snippets, but it’s interesting that none of these young women consider choosing a man who will share the work of rearing children, or perhaps even a stay-at-home dad. I wonder how much of that is cultural (“Gosh, I never thought of that!”) and how much is some kind of deep belief that if you start demanding fairness and participation by a potential husband, you’ll never find one.

But my sense is the women interviewed don’t want a man who will share the child-rearing so they can share the bread-winning. They want a man who will pay the bills so they can stay home and play house. They want any Ivy League degree and a high-status job for a few years to give them cachet, but then they want really early retirement.

Fighting words coming from a man? I’m a man who has shared the care of my young children. I know that babies and toddlers are a lot of work and that, in the early years, leaving the house and going to a job can seem like a vacation day in comparison. But I live in a well-off neighborhood with lots of mothers who, whatever they originally intended, have NOT gone back to work when their children got older. Instead, they volunteer, and they exercize, and if they have a job at all, it’s part-time and doesn’t pay much but is pleasant and status-enhancing (teaching an evening dance class, perhaps). I don’t mean to be too snarky about it–my wife isn’t one of them, and they’re certainly nice enough as friends and neighbors, but the idea that the pressures of family life are falling uniquely on these women is absurd.

I really believed 25 years ago, … that this would be solved by now.

You know, 25 years ago I think it was a lot more solved than now. I was an undergrad 25 years ago–the women I knew then did not aspire to be mommies. I think there’s been quite a lot of retrograde motion since then.

I turned on Comedy Central the other day in the middle of an act, so I’m not sure the comedian’s name, but he was riffing on this topic. I’m paraphrasing:

My wife’s great, but the problem is she won’t get a job which leaves her way too much time to sit at home and think of weird shit for us to do. I came home the other day and she said that we should pretend to be strangers and meet somewhere. I said, “OK, how about I’ll go to a bar and you can come in later like, you know, you just came from WORK. And then we’ll have some drinks and you’ll pay because, you know, you just got a check from WORK. And then we’ll go home and we’ll have to go to bed early because, you know, you have to get up for WORK.” She said, “That’s not a fantasy!” And I said, “Hey, that’s MY fantasy, baby.”

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Steve LaBonne 09.20.05 at 12:46 pm

Even if men were jerks, children KNOW the differences between mom and dad, and mom is always first in demands and in affection.

I love baseless generalizations; all I can say is, not in my house. I’ve been separated for a couple of years and will soon be divorced; my daughter (almost 13) lives with me and makes weekend visits to her Mom, who (as both of them well know) has never been much of a parent. I’ve always done the great majority of the parenting. And while I am presumably in the minority I don’t think it’s a tiny one. The idea that parent = mother, which so thoroughly, even if almost unconsciously, permeates all sides of discussions like this, truly pisses me off.

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Dan Nexon 09.20.05 at 12:57 pm

Hektor,

Do you understand the difference between defending a personal cost-benefit calculation, as Mrs. Coulter does, that might lead someone with an Ivy League education to interrupt an external career in favor of child raising and the idea that people who make a different decision are immoral, deviant, or necessarily incorrect given his/her personal circumstances?

Nothing in your argument suggests that you.

I’m also puzzled why you think a defense of that decision is a defense of the nuclear family? Yes, it would be nice if advanced industrial societies supported the same patterns of child rearing based on extended families living on agricultural plots, or in quasi-nomadic clans, but they don’t. Advanced industrial societies have well-recognized implications for social relations. Your own comparison with other extant socio-economic situations implies you should be aware of this fact.

So I ask you again, if the “is” of historical social patterns implies an “ought”, why aren’t you out looking for berries or bison rather than typing on a computer under conditions of physical and economic security that, however tenuous, would still be the envy of most human beings?

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dipnut 09.20.05 at 1:08 pm

…the purpose of an Ivy League education is to enable the recipient to lead an examined life, not to make a lot of money as a bond trader.

Depends whom you ask, I suppose. It seems rather expensive, when an examined life can be had practically free-of-charge. Besides, the product is often defective.

There’s nothing wrong with being a bond trader.

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Kimmitt 09.20.05 at 1:09 pm

Even if men were jerks, children KNOW the differences between mom and dad, and mom is always first in demands and in affection.

Heh, no.

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Mrs. Coulter 09.20.05 at 1:11 pm

Hektor, I’m not sure why you keep referencing “traditional” familial arrangements in this debate. The parts of the world where these traditional childcare arrangements persist aren’t exactly feminist paradises. The whole notion that *anyone* should work outside the home is a fairly modern one, for that matter. Until the industrial revolution, most people were engaged in either subsistence farming or tradeswork, on their own premises. No only did children “not go anywhere,” as mythago points out, but they were an important part of the domestic work force. Furthermore, in these preindustrial social arrangements, women still bore the brunt of unpaid domestic labor. I really don’t understand how you think this is an argument in favor of women working outside their homes, or why choosing to be your own childcare worker is necessarily a fulfillment of a 1950s ideal. Childcare is more exhausting and taxing than just about any white collar job you can imagine. You work 12-13 hour days, and there are no weekends, vacations, or sick days. On an average day, I am hit, kicked, and occasionally peed, shat, or vomited upon. It is a fact of life that having both partners in the workforce requires families to outsource some domestic work, whether that is childcare or housework, since there aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all yourself, even if both partners contribute absolutely equally. It’s just that women are the ones who are made to feel bad about that choice. In life, there are always trade-offs, and we all have to weight them as apply to our own lives.

The reality of modern society is that most of us don’t have extended families to rely on for unpaid childcare. Furthermore, as we have children later in life, grandparents are more likely to elderly and less up to the task of chasing active toddlers. So why do you keep insisting that this is a possible arrangement?

No, you, the man, know best for all women. This is the very essence of patriarchy. If you want to see it, look in the mirror.

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Mrs. Coulter 09.20.05 at 1:13 pm

Argh…please excuse the typos above. Really, I can spell and write using proper English grammar.

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JR 09.20.05 at 1:19 pm

Wow! If the balance of comments on this thread is any indication, we are in worse trouble than I thought.

The game here is really simple. The women quoted in the article are buying in to a vision of womanhood straight out of the late 19th century, when upper-middle-class women were entering the workforce: work for a few years for pin money, then give it up when you’re married with children.

The women in this article didn’t just each independently make that idea up themselves — any more than American women in the 1970s each independently made up the idea that they were going to be full-time workers, or than French women each individually magically make up the idea that group child care works well and is best for their kids (as compared to Americans, who think the opposite). The big forces here are cultural, not individual, as much as the libertarian types on this thread just luv to dress up whatever anyone does as their own disembodied, influence-free, totally personal gosh-darnit choice. Get real. We’re in the grip of one of the most massive and important cultural phenomena of the last century, the cultural backlash against feminism.

So we shouldn’t be real surprised that somehow, these American women quoted in the article have each independently magically come to the conclusion that group child care is crappy and they’d better do it themselves or get a nanny (and don’t even think about asking dad – he’s too busy doing hard, masculine work). That’s where much of America is right now culturally, and the only disappointing thing is that elite women and men are no more likely to think for themselves than anyone else is, despite more education. As Yale College Dean Peter Salovey, a psychology professor, laments in the article:

“What does concern me,” said Peter Salovey, the dean of Yale College, “is that so few students seem to be able to think outside the box; so few students seem to be able to imagine a life for themselves that isn’t constructed along traditional gender roles.”

So where’s the nub of the problem? Part of the problem is that child care really IS worse in America than in many other countries, which is partly a public funding problem. (But backlash mythology makes it out to be uniformly or inherently bad, whereas actually some of it is great but some of it is terrible.) Part of the problem is that high-status Americans work longer and longer hours at their jobs, making the “division of labor” plan where only one partner actually uses his education for a full, serious job start to look like the only available path. The biggest problem is that we’re still attached (as some posters are above) to the idea that women are simply inherently more suited to feminine caring tasks like childrearing, and men to paid work. That venerable but totally unsupported ideological premise took a hit in the 1970s but has been resurrected.

As a man who went to Yale just a few years before these women, I’m incredibly sad that this is what my institution has to offer the world right now. I hope to combine work and family, playing a larger role in childcare than my own father, but the choices these women are making erode the chances I’ll have to make that choice, by reinforcing ever more strongly this ressurected dynamic of woman-home, man-work that the feminists of the 1970s never dreamed would still be haunting us today. And the impact on the choices of poorer women and men is much much worse.

These gender role demands have been resurrected with a libertarian gloss that is in fashion right now, but it’s a thin disguise. It’s not even new: in addition to believing that too much thinking and responsibility could rot the ovaries, the 19th-century apologists for gender hierarchy in that era reported, correctly, that most women were “choosing” to stay home (as of course their “nature” would predict). Well all righty then! Forgive me! As long as everyone’s “choosing,” it’s all okay!

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nik 09.20.05 at 1:30 pm

Kieran;

I disagree with you on the need for public funding of childcare. I don’t think it’s a legitimate part of the welfare state – in the way the health care, education and pensions provision are.

Other than that, I’m not really sure why we disagree. I appreciate it could be done and would expand choice for mothers; but I’m not clear on what the justification for such a scheme is. Perhaps you could expand upon this.

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Steve LaBonne 09.20.05 at 1:43 pm

Part of the problem is that child care really IS worse in America than in many other countries, which is partly a public funding problem. (But backlash mythology makes it out to be uniformly or inherently bad, whereas actually some of it is great but some of it is terrible.)

And of course, as usual, the status-happy Ivy League yuppies don’t even know where to look. My daughter went to a superb, inexpensive YWCA preschool that was far better than some much more expensive programs in the area where we then lived, with which acquaintances of mine who had kids in them were not very happy. But yuppies would never allow their cherished little Muffy to be around “those” children at the YWCA all day.

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Thomas 09.20.05 at 1:44 pm

“You’re doing the same thing I was complaining about, which is trying to turn the discussion into a debate about whether people ought to make that kind of choice, with me supposedly cast as the person who looks down on them for what they want. From there it’s a short step to a common or garden line about elitists not respecting other people’s decisions.”

Kieran, I certainly agree that your policy position doesn’t entail looking down on these women for the choices they say they want to make.

Your unseemly animus (e.g., oblivious, complacent, free riders,etc.) toward these women, then, was something entirely gratuitous.

Why you made these attacks, whether these attacks reflect some sort of elitist view, and whether these attacks are, rhetorically speaking, helpful or persuasive, are separate questions. I thought it was interesting enough to point out that you had done it, without calling names suggesting I knew why.

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Slocum 09.20.05 at 1:55 pm

The interesting thing to me about this discussion is seeing to what degree people come to terms with the fact that these women are not planning to be stay-at-home moms because there aren’t good daycare options (of course, most of these women would have no trouble affording excellent day care or nannies) or because they don’t think they can find husbands who would help with the childcare, they’re planning to be stay at home moms because that is what they want to do.

Of the 85 women surveyed, only 2 thought their husbands should be the primary caregiver and 2 more thought it should depend on who was farthest along in his or her career.

And if this is the opinion of women in the Ivy League (who wouldn’t be there if they weren’t ambitious, industrious, and smart and who are probably significantly more liberal than average), what does this suggest about the attitudes and desires of college-age women as a whole?

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SK 09.20.05 at 1:56 pm

“Argh…please excuse the typos above. Really, I can spell and write using proper English grammar.”

I do hope so; for your and for Harvard’s sake. :-)

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Steve LaBonne 09.20.05 at 1:59 pm

Can’t blame them- I’d stay home too if I could find a sucker somebody willing to support me! As it is I’m stuck with providing mucho spousal suport for my ex the next few years while also supporting our daughter and trying to save for her education, all on a fairly modest public-employee salary. Yeah, men have it all, I tell you.

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Lee 09.20.05 at 2:03 pm

A predictable, cliche-ridden story where evidence is provided by anecdote, conjecture, and over-stretched analogy.

Move on folks – nothing to see here.

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Slocum 09.20.05 at 2:12 pm

A predictable, cliche-ridden story where evidence is provided by anecdote, conjecture, and over-stretched analogy.

They did survey a non-trivial number of students. Now I’m sure the sample did not meet statistical standards of randomness, but the results were extremely one-sided. Do you have any contrary evidence to suggest the numbers they found are way off?

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Judy K 09.20.05 at 2:17 pm

The women in the Times article are adapting themselves, somewhat akin to what girls in high school do when they figure out the social scene. Even though they outperform boys in math and science up to this age level, they surprisingly start doing worse on tests. Have they lost the ability to think? No, they’ve figured out their accomplishments exact a social price they no longer wish to pay. (And maybe this is why many women condescend to men, as one person mentioned–maybe that’s the price the culture exacts from men because women don’t make this calculus without some resentment, even if it’s not expressed directly.) Girls start deferring to boys because they prefer getting dates, being the object of male attention, to outperforming their potential boyfriends. I found it interesting (but sad, too!) that one woman commented that men in her college class think her decision is “sexy.” That is an example of the self-reinforcing experience that she keeps in her mind to support her decision. She takes comfort in having her decision sexualized, so prevalent now.

Look, we want babies, and we know that this culture has decided it’s up to us to set the boundaries for how our families organize themselves. I’ve seem 2-income earners practically kill themselves trying to juggle everything. It’s not each woman’s responsibility to arrange her life to promote political ideology–we all operate as self-seeking individuals. We should focus our attention more on the rigid working structures that make it difficult for both parents to experience both a career and childrearing in a meaningful way, while also recognizing that some couples prefer specialization. I think many girls grow up yearning to have the territory that she sees her mother possessing, as a way of validating her femaleness. Thus, some women’s decision to sacrifice a career may actually be an acting out of other psychological needs.

(Glad to see your comment, Barbara B – I took a class from you some years ago!)

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Dan Nexon 09.20.05 at 2:18 pm

“But yuppies would never allow their cherished little Muffy to be around “those” children at the YWCA all day.”

I’m not a yuppie, but I have to say: says you! This graduate of two Ivy League institutions has his kid in the equivalent. And it is still expensive.

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Mrs. Coulter 09.20.05 at 2:21 pm

The anxiety expressed in the concept “other people can’t do a good job caring for my child” suggests that these young women have endogenized the widely held notion that quality childcare is hard to find, even if they aren’t expressing it as such. Finding quality care for one’s children is one of the primarily anxieties I hear expressed by working parents. In many areas, getting a spot in a licensed daycare requires that you spend years on a waiting list, with no guarantee that you will even get a spot when you need it (I was shocked to discover that many daycare centers accept people onto their waiting lists who aren’t even pregnant yet!).

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Steve LaBonne 09.20.05 at 2:23 pm

Exactly, you’re not a yuppie. But as an Ivy League non-yuppie, I did in fact know borderline yuppie types who were clearly kind of horrified that our kid was in the YWCA preschool.

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a 09.20.05 at 2:25 pm

“Part of the problem is that child care really IS worse in America than in many other countries, which is partly a public funding problem.”

Since I think most of the women quoted in the story are capable of earning six figures and paying for a nanny if they should choose, I don’t think it’s a question of publicly funded childcare.

I don’t see anything wrong wanting to spend most of one’s life wanting to raise children. That seems to have as much value in it, if not more, than most activities. People here agree with that statement, don’t they? If so the question would seem to be how we can get more people in a position where they are able to make the same choice.

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Lee 09.20.05 at 2:29 pm

Do you have any contrary evidence to suggest the numbers they found are way off?

No. But then I am not making sweeping generalizations based on apparently non-random samples. Note how the article uses the “many women” phrase over and over again, as if repeating it makes it significant beyond its rhetorical value.

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Brett Bellmore 09.20.05 at 2:31 pm

“The anxiety expressed in the concept “other people can’t do a good job caring for my child” suggests that these young women have endogenized the widely held notion that quality childcare is hard to find, even if they aren’t expressing it as such.”

Alternatively, it suggests that they believe that, if somebody else is raising their children, those children will cease to be their’s, every bit as much as if they’d formally adopted them out.

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SamChevre 09.20.05 at 2:36 pm

And they can think of it as a private issue because they know they’ll be marrying right at the top of the income distribution. It’s a nice life if you can get it.

I do not think this is at all the case. (Maybe for these particular women, but a not for most stay-at-home moms.) I know numerous families with stay-at-home moms, with family incomes in the range of a teacher in a public school. (Sam’s rule of high income: public school teachers do not have high incomes).

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Steve LaBonne 09.20.05 at 2:37 pm

Alternatively, it suggests that they believe that, if somebody else is raising their children, those children will cease to be their’s, every bit as much as if they’d formally adopted them out.

Which if true explains the epidemic of helicopter parenting about which so many colleges are complaining, since this utterly asinine belief that use of child care amounts to “someone else raisng your chidren” arises from an unhealthy emotional dependence on one’s children, whereas the essence of good parenting is to work steadily towards the eventual obsolescence of your role as a parent (the relationship with adult children should be of a quite different kind.)

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joe o 09.20.05 at 2:40 pm

You have to be a pretty well off couple to be able to have one partner stay at home at home with the kids. Part of the problem is housing costs as talked about in the book the two-income trap . If you can afford to have one partner stay home, this gives you flexibility in times of crises. The kids will probably turn out fine either way.

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fifi 09.20.05 at 2:40 pm

One other option conflicted young ladies at Yale have is to move to a developing country where child care is deemed necessary for reasons of economic and social strength. In the Dominican Republic, for example, unspoken for grandmothers between 60 and 90 who would otherwise die of poverty or loneliness are given work running child care centers. One thing that worries me about this kind of communitarian ju-jitsu, is communism far behind?

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Slocum 09.20.05 at 2:51 pm

If you can afford to have one partner stay home, this gives you flexibility in times of crises.

I would say that if you have two incomes, but — if pushed — could live on only one of them, then you really have flexibility and security. I recommend this approach highly. Step one–don’t buy a house (and cars) where two incomes are necessary to service the debt.

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Dan Nexon 09.20.05 at 2:52 pm

I should note that spending time with a child has many rewards; there are reasons to not want to outsource child care to even wonderful professionals.

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Steve LaBonne 09.20.05 at 2:56 pm

Of course it has rewards, and that’s why family-friendly jobs are an important social goal- one can use child-care during a reasonable workday and still have plenty of time to spend with one’s child. But I do not think the 1950s model of Daddy the absent breadwinner and Mommy and child inseparable 24/7 is healthy for anyone, certainly not for the child. And it’s a historically aberrant pattern, not a traditional one in any reasonable sense of that word.

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Tim 09.20.05 at 3:00 pm

Why has no one mentioned the prospects of full time work at home? No small business owners in the CT readership?

When my brother was one and I was T-minus-five months, my father quit his job working for an accounting firm to go into business by himself, working out of an office in the front room of our house.

This wasn’t paradise, for sure, but the rewards were great. I think that the parallels between owning a small business and childrearing are pretty obvious, but I’ll point out a few:

You have a few small people depending on you, as well as a few adults and their families (if you have employees). The buck stops with you; when something needs to be done, you have to make sure it gets done.

After your kids stop keeping you up all night, your work might; and you’re not doing this to please your boss, you’re doing it to survive.

I’ll spare you stories of clients acting like children (yes, handholding, yelling, and screaming, though, to my knowledge, no excreta).

Yes, come the summer, my dad could take off a week or two to go camping with his sons — but from February through April 15, he was as far gone as any Yalie lawyer working 80-hour weeks downtown. But every few hours his kids would come crashing through the door, sometimes with “My brother hit me!!!” and sometimes with, “Can we have your old adding machine tapes to make light sabres out of?”

In case you’re wondering where my mother was all this time: when we were old enough to be left to play in the backyard — which really extended pretty far into our neighborhood — for a few hours, she started managing my father’s office and then doing independent consulting work for other small businesses.

Sacrifices, rewards. And we can’t forget the risks.

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healthcarethinktank 09.20.05 at 3:06 pm

Very few have the nerve to mention this in public, but with women being 50% of medical schools grads, a crisis is coming, because women are avoiding many specialities (especially surgery with high trauma committments) and many women physicians are asking for part-time schedules, especially after their second child is born.

By the way, females make really terrific docs in a higher percentage than males, in my humble opinion.

Some medical periodicals and newsletters are starting to have an open discussion, but even that is somewhat timid.

To be fair, many male docs are looking for less rigor and more family time, but not so much the part-time schedule.

I’m all for flexibility and options, but this doesn’t work well in the physician’s world, at least not when a high number of docs in a physician group are looking for flex time at the same time.

I recently attended a conference, and at lunch time sat at a table with 9 female medical practice administrators. Were they sympathetic to the female docs? Not in the least (many of them have the same balance issues). Most saw the female dcos as a pain in the fanny.

How we work this out will become critical as the boomer docs (almost all male) retire and the new generation takes over.

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mkl 09.20.05 at 3:08 pm

The economic pressure toward the division-of-labor/nuclear family model arises from the high return to marginal work in a hierarchical society. Whether or not there is an explicit up-or-out track, most workers do not have the option to freeze their career position, in terms of earnings, prospects and stability, for a number of years. Instead, there is a constant winnowing of the marginally successful, who enjoy much higher compensation, from the marginally less so, who face diminished earnings, prospects and job security.

This hugely affects work/family issues, much more than the simple availability of quality day care. A family that selects the parent with better career prospects and dedicates him or her to working 60 hours a week is likely to do much better than if they share the load and each work 35 hours / week. And, a spouse who withdraws entirely from the work force for a few years to raise kids generally will have to reinvent their career on reentry, with much different options than where they left off.

As per above, I think the fact that it’s generally the man that ends up in the worker role is a result of societal pressure on men to choose careers first on the basis of their earnings potential, whereas women are given more encouragement to follow their interests (on the assumption their careers are just a pre-motherhood diversion). This could clearly be improved to the benefit of both gender roles.

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Barbar 09.20.05 at 3:18 pm

Post 49 hits the nail on the head. The girls quoted are simply expressing a fantasy of early retirement.

Let’s put aside for a moment the issue of whether or not a woman’s ability to pursue her career while raising a family is a public or purely private problem.

I find the glorification of work implicit in a lot of this discussion pretty funny. Most people work because they have to, for a source of income. And although most people who make lots of money in high-powered careers could certainly “afford” to cool off and make less money in exchange for more leisure time or whatnot, they generally are driven by a need for maintain and increase their status.

The girls from Yale have it all figured out. First, overachieve your way through high school and college, go to a top school and land a high-paying prestigious job. Work for a few years, prove that you belong, and then well, it’s time to raise a family, which of course has been terribly underrated. Hubby keeps on working, making big bucks to take care of you and the kids — money that you could have made if you wanted to, but sometimes in life you have to make sacrifices. Instead you’ll be shopping and taking walks in the park while still being rich.

Bottom line, I don’t think this is particularly relevant.

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luci phyrr 09.20.05 at 3:22 pm

This conversation has too many moving parts for me, but there was this from the article:

A senior at Harvard, said many of the men in her American Family class approved of women’s plans to stay home with their children. “A lot of the guys were like, ‘I think that’s really great. One of the guys was like, ‘I think that’s sexy.’

Then they said, “show us your boobs!”

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y81 09.20.05 at 3:28 pm

dipnut, I certainly didn’t mean to imply that there’s something wrong with being a bond trader: indeed, it’s no better or worse than being a lawyer or a homemaker.

As to whether one could obtain true knowledge of the good without being in a community of seekers after knowledge, probably not. Man is by nature a social animal, and the individual can achieve but little. But certainly it doesn’t have to be Yale: a local Gramsci discussion group, or a local Bible study group, or whatever, could suffice.

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ben wolfson 09.20.05 at 3:51 pm

Just in case any women in their early or middle twenties who want to raise a family but continue working their remunerative, satisfying and demanding jobs are reading this, I would make a great house-husband and stay-at-home dad. Email me.

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James Chalmers 09.20.05 at 4:09 pm

“In fact, I’m saying we need child-care arrangements where more people have more room to freely choose what to do. Similarly, most feminists and policy experts in this area want to expand this realm of choice, not dictate people’s preferences. Under the current system, several viable options are ruled out…”

Trouble is, the women in the article CAN already, if they choose, take a fraction of their and their husband’s high salaries and use it to purchase the services of the best allomothers the market has to offer.
We have here two generations of women who have this option. The first said they intended to exercise it and then didn’t. The second says they don’t intend to exercise it. But Nik is mistaken to say that wicked men are laying off this responsibility on unwilling women. Instead, the women quoted in the article (who do have alternatives) are willingly embracing it.
Nik then must hope to reform women as much or more than men. And Healy can’t count on funding of childcare to correct the improper socialization that has led these women to make the choices he disapproves of.
Everybody inclines to SAY that they respect both the choice to lean toward staying at home and the choice to lean toward doing more paid work. But then their disdain for those who make the wrong (not my) choice shows through. And in Healy’s case they come out in favor of a subsidy for those who make the correct choice (paid for by the taxes of the husbands of those who stay at home).

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Uncle Kvetch 09.20.05 at 4:37 pm

From jr’s excellent comment in #63:

Part of the problem is that high-status Americans work longer and longer hours at their jobs, making the “division of labor” plan where only one partner actually uses his education for a full, serious job start to look like the only available path.

I think it’s a huge part of the problem. It’s been interesting to see how many commenters here simply take for granted that a 60-hour work week is a reasonable expectation for anyone looking for a “successful” career. Being one of those peculiar ducks (peculiar in American society, at least) who works to live, rather than vice versa, I find the relative absence from this discussion (apart from jr, of course) of any consideration of the continual upward trend of work demands in the US speaks volumes.

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Slocum 09.20.05 at 5:02 pm

Why has no one mentioned the prospects of full time work at home? No small business owners in the CT readership?

When my brother was one and I was T-minus-five months, my father quit his job working for an accounting firm to go into business by himself, working out of an office in the front room of our house.

Oh yes, I’ve been doing that for over 10 years (during which time my kids have gone from pre-schoolers to high-schoolers). But I know it’s not an option available to everyone. And I haven’t exactly sacrificed financially (the small business thing has paid rather better than the alternatives).

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CKR 09.20.05 at 6:28 pm

…and of course none of these young women will ever, ever get divorced…

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Giddings 09.20.05 at 6:38 pm

Check out my response to this at:
http://www.icallherjohn.blogspot.com

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Steve LaBonne 09.20.05 at 6:47 pm

uncle kvetch, that’s exactly why I now consider my abortive academic career a huge blessing in disguise; in my current job running a small county forensic DNA lab I almost never work more than my standard 40 hour week apart from fairly rare after-hours calls to crime scenes. (I interviewed in the past at some commercial labs and was absolutely appalled at the ridiculous hours people worked, and for hardly any more money than I make now.) That’s what makes it possible for me to be an effective single parent and also pursue my avocational interests. And since the job also gives me considerable psychic income, I consider myself thoroughly spoiled and I’m acutely aware that not many people have it so good. Which is why the whining of the overprivileged so often “reported” in yuppie house organs like the NY Times irritates the hell out of me.

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clew 09.20.05 at 6:49 pm

In most of history, “work” was where you lived. There was no childcare because the children didn’t go anywhere.

In _Lark Rise to Candleford_ the children all get sent outdoors all day as soon as they can toddle. They mostly come back chilblained, but they mostly come back.

A lot of housework was heavy and dangerous, of course; boiling kettles; boiling lye; unshielded flames.

As far as the Yale undergraduates go, I think they’re overestimating job security for a single earner; also the security of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., probably.

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Laura 09.20.05 at 7:59 pm

What nobody defending women who take of their kids? Cowards.

Okay. Kiernan says that it’s fine for these women to stay at home; they’ll have rich husbands. But what about all the poor mothers who have to work?

My answer: Well, more women and men should have the opportunity to raise their own children if that is what they want to do. Subsidize parental care instead of childcare.

And I agree with Kiernan, that women alone shouldn’t be burdened with these work-life issues, but we are. Don’t see why he’s blaming the victim for that one.

Just as Kiernan sees an underlying judgments about working women in the NY Times article, I see an underlying judgment in his post against women who stay at home. He writes, And on the resources/power side you have to ignore all the things that make it possible in the first place for smart, highly-educated people to cheerily plan on being out of the workforce in ten years having a grand time at home with the children.

Man, you’ve got no clue. Raising kids is work. Say it with me. Raising kids is work. It is rewarding work. Much more rewarding than 99% of the other jobs out there. But it is work. To portray raising kids as a rich person’s way to loll away the time is uninformed and rude. Women shouldn’t have to apologize to anyone for raising their own kids.

More here.

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Tracy W 09.20.05 at 8:18 pm

I think raising children and having a career is always going to be difficult.

Firstly, high quality childcare seems to mean a high-ratio of carers to children. Unless we are going to start enslaving people to be carers, wages are going to track average wages. Consequently childcare is going to be expensive compared to the average person’s income. (If there is serious income inequality, it may be cheap compared to the rich people’s incomes, like rich Victorians hiring a nanny and a nursemaid and a governess. That doesn’t help the average working mum though.) It is going to be expensive regardless of whether it is paid for personally or out of taxes. If it is paid for out of taxes it will be up against pressures for more spending on healthcare, education, environment, etc. Unless we decide that one adult can look after 10 or more children quite happily (and I know nothing about child-care quality, perhaps they can, but politically that doesn’t seem to be popular), childcare is going to be expensive regardless of whether it is provided in childcare centres or by parents at home and regardless of who pays for it.

Secondly, a number of information jobs in my experience by their nature produce increasing returns to scale. The more time you spend on the job and the more things you deal with, the more effective you are. You can copy solutions from other situations that you know about, you know more factors to keep in your head. So for example at one stage I was worrying about three different government departments. That meant when I encountered a problem in one I could keep an eye out for, and prevent it in another. Yes, there are information management tools, but a lot of information is tacit. It’s not much good having a document sitting somewhere on the network saying “if the CEO starts talking about prioritising, do this, this and this” if it doesn’t occur to the person listening to the CEO that this might indicate a problem. For another example, studies find that patients’ outcomes from operations improve as their doctors have done more and more of the same operation. Unfortunately these things inherently take time. So there will be pressures in certain careers driving people to work more hours per week.

Thirdly, men are absolutely hopeless at getting pregnant, and terrible at breastfeeding. Sorry to be so critical of half of the human race, but it is true. And pregnancy can be hard on the human body. There are some women that run marathons at 6 months, but there are some who throw up everything, including water. Biology means women confront choices that to be blunt, men don’t. “Do I formula-feed my baby and feel guilty about IQ results, try to juggle work and breast-feeding with all the assistance of breastpumps and refrigerators can offer, or stay at home until the baby’s weaned?” “Dearest, if I have a bad pregnancy and have to give up work until after the baby’s born, does it make sense to demand that you take off an equal amount of time?”

Also, a couple where one partner has a full-time paid job and the other has primary responsibility for the children doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no childcare sharing by the jobbed partner. For a time, my father worked long hours while Mum stayed at home with us. But then my father’s life, to my memory, consisted of work, playing soccer, and family, while Mum was involved in several other organisations. And I know a number of men of my generation who, despite working full-time while their wives stay home, can change a nappy and, the ultimate test of whether someone has looked after a two year-old, can hold a rational adult conversation while being interrupted every thirty seconds.

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Barbar 09.20.05 at 8:22 pm

Laura, read posts 21 and 22 re: “a grand time at home with the children.”

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skarphedinn 09.20.05 at 8:29 pm

It continues to surprise me that the plans of the women are the only side of the equation that’s being looked at and discussed.

Aside from the anecdote about the male classmate finding her attitude “sexy” (and ignoring any ulterior motives that may have him misrepresenting his true opinion on that), I’d love to hear from some Ivy men about their reactions to these women’s plans for the future.

For every woman who plans to stop working and stay home, there needs to be an man willing to play his part and forego his child-rearing (and perhaps early retirement) dreams. Do we have a pretty good match in terms of numbers, or in a decade will we start hearing about divorces resulting from both parents insisting on being the one to drop out of the workforce?

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yoyo 09.20.05 at 8:41 pm

“A senior at Harvard, said many of the men in her American Family class approved of women’s plans to stay home with their children. “A lot of the guys were like, ‘I think that’s really great. One of the guys was like, ‘I think that’s sexy.’

Then they said, “show us your boobs!”
Posted by luci phyrr “

The girls then said to their suitors “show us the money!”

105

Mrs. Coulter 09.20.05 at 8:55 pm

Frankly, the exchange in comments 21 and 22 does nothing to absolve Kieran of his ridiculous characterization that these women think they are going to have “a grand time at home with the children.” None of the young women says anything that gives even a hint of what they expect child-rearing to entail, which is a lot of hard work and boredom, interspersed with moments of sheer joy and pleasure. Perhaps they think it will consist mostly of walks to the playground and sipping coffee with other mommies while the kids play quietly in the other room. Or maybe not. We have no way of deducing this from the snippets of interviews. The more I reread this comment, the angrier it makes me, since it so thoroughly devalues child care, suggesting that women have a valuable contribution to make to society only if they become law partners or investment bankers.

How many of the commenters on this thread have had sole care responsibility for an infant or toddler for 24 hours, with no outside help? Try borrowing one (manual not included, I warn you) before you say anything suggesting that child care isn’t real work.

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Kieran Healy 09.20.05 at 9:04 pm

Some of this stuff is enough to make you wonder whether people are able to read plain English.

And Healy can’t count on funding of childcare to correct the improper socialization that has led these women to make the choices he disapproves of.

Go back to the original post, and my comments, and see how many times I say I think these women are making choices based on “improper socialization.”

Kiernan says that it’s fine for these women to stay at home; they’ll have rich husbands. But what about all the poor mothers who have to work?

Go and read the original post, why don’t you? Practically the whole damn thing is about how choices which are easy for rich women aren’t available to poor women.

women alone shouldn’t be burdened with these work-life issues, but we are. Don’t see why he’s blaming the victim for that one.

I give up.

*cheerily plan on being out of the workforce in ten years having a grand time at home with the children.*

Man, you’ve got no clue. Raising kids is work. Say it with me. Raising kids is work. It is rewarding work. Much more rewarding than 99% of the other jobs out there. But it is work. To portray raising kids as a rich person’s way to loll away the time is uninformed and rude.

Oh Jesus H Christ on a stick, Laura. Just read the post that’s on the page, will you, instead of the one you’re assuming I wrote? It’s these young women, not me, who imagine it’ll be a blast hanging around the house with their imaginary brood of happy, always-rewarding children. I have a 20-month-old daughter. Don’t lecture me about childcare or the work involved in raising kids, especially if you’re not going to bother to read what I’ve written.

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Mrs. Coulter 09.20.05 at 9:11 pm

OK, Kieran, what specifically do any of these women say that indicates that they think that they will have “blast hanging around the house with their imaginary brood of happy, always-rewarding children”?

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Henry 09.20.05 at 9:19 pm

For goodness sake – some of the interpretations of what Kieran is “really” saying here about the politics of childcare are off the wall. He’s explicitly and repeatedly made it clear that he’s _not_ condemning the women who have chosen to stay at home with the kids. Instead, he’s talking about the institutions which structure this choice. Read this earlier “post”:http://crookedtimber.org/2003/09/03/minding-the-kids/ for background. You’re reading something into what he’s saying that manifestly isn’t there. Mrs Coulter – is it really offensive to remark that people who haven’t had kids yet tend to have an idealized impression of what it’s going to involve? As a soon-to-be-parent myself, the one thing I’ve heard repeatedly from everyone who already has kids is that it’s simply impossible to understand how much work and disruption to your life they cause. And isn’t it true that this depends on class? While it involves real sacrifices, even if you’re in the middle class, it simply isn’t an option for many women who either don’t have a husband/partner with sufficient income, or don’t have a husband/partner at all. Which is part of Kieran’s point. This isn’t an offensive statement. It isn’t a lifestyle judgement. It’s what I understand to be a more or less factual statement. I really think you’re getting the wrong end of the stick here.

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Laura 09.20.05 at 9:28 pm

Look, I totally missed any reference in that article to the Yale women thinking that motherhood was all that easy. I did hear them saying that working full time with kids is really hard.

I guess, even after rereading your post several times, I have no clue why anyone should care whether some college girls want to raise their own kids. Women shouldn’t have to feel like their letting down the movement if they want raise their kids.

I’m the first person to criticize the way that women are often put in this work-family bind. I

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Hektor Bim 09.20.05 at 9:30 pm

Mrs. Coulter,

I still haven’t seen a reasonable defense of why you like what you are doing. If it is so terrible and such hard work and you worry so much about the exploited daycare workers, there is a simple solution. You go out, get a reasonably paid job, and pay your nanny at far above the market rates, say $30+/hour. No one is forcing you to exploit daycare workers if you don’t want to. I dare say that if you paid a nanny rates like that, you would get an exceptional one who would care for your child extremely well.

“The reality of modern life” of which you speak is that most of us can’t afford to support a spouse who stays home, earns no money, and looks after a child or two. Your choice is simply not available to most people, and won’t really be available to you if your husband loses his job or divorces you for someone who also works for pay because he is sick of working long hours to support you. So most people must “outsource” their child care either for pay or to relatives, even in our modern “post-industrial” society.

Dan Nexon,

Yes, I do understand the difference. But Coulter presents her argument as largely to avoid oppressing other women. There’s an easy way around that – pay your nanny more.

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Laura 09.20.05 at 9:34 pm

..oops… hit post too soon… let me finish…

I’m the first person to criticize the way that women are put into this work-family bind. But I don’t want to turn around and criticize individual women for their choices.

It is difficult to know when you are critizing the imperfect choices that these women have been given and when you are criticizing these women.

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winna 09.20.05 at 9:46 pm

I was a recruiter for a time.

I had a lot of women come in after the divorce, with little to no work experience and twenty years as a homemaker, and do you know what you can do with a degree after twenty years out of the workforce?

Not very much, no matter where it is from, at least in this area.

These women are setting themselves up for a disaster when the little playmate they’ve chosen to fund their lifestyle opts out of the game. And yes, I am criticising the choice to stay home with the children. It is a dangerous one, not only for the women but for their children. It is a foolish thing to depend on another person for your food and shelter.

Perhaps that makes me a bad feminist, but I had to hand tissues to too many weeping women in my office over the years.

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Kieran Healy 09.20.05 at 9:57 pm

I did hear them saying that working full time with kids is really hard.

I heard them (and their moms) say explicitly that working full time with kids is bad for the kids. “I’ve seen the difference between kids who did have their mother stay at home and kids who didn’t, and it’s kind of like an obvious difference when you look at it” and so on.

I have no clue why anyone should care whether some college girls want to raise their own kids.

This is why we are actually on the same side. For the nth time, it’s not the individual choices that are the issue, but to read the NYT you’d think it was all that mattered — a few women changing their mind about how to make work/family choices. What’s really important are the institutional arrangements that make some choices unavailable to some or very difficult for many, to the point where the only people in a position to have a real set of choices are the very wealthy. It doesn’t have to be like this, as comparative evidence shows very well. None of the women even mention the fact — and it is a fact — that the life they have in mind for themselves and their children will require a high-earning husband. They just take it for granted, because they can. This is what I mean when I say that they have the luxury of complacently contemplating an particular kind of home life — one that many people would happily choose, if only they could afford it.

As Henry points out above, some of the background to my views on this are in “this post”:http://crookedtimber.org/2003/09/03/minding-the-kids/, which has links to scholars who advocate in detail for the kind of choice-enhancing social policies I have in mind. I assure you, the very last thing on my mind is condemning individual women for their choices. I just want us to see the political and institutional context that structures the menu of options we get.

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Mrs. Coulter 09.20.05 at 10:10 pm

Kieran, your choice of words and your characterizations of the young women in question is at odds with the rest of your comments. I think Laura has a very valid point.

Hektor, you fail to comprehend my argument at all. Have you done the math? Most women can’t afford to pay a childcare worker $30 per hour, plus overtime, since if you are working a 40 hour week, you are going to be out of the house (commuting time, don’t forget) for at least 45 hours per week. Assuming that I’m a good employer and give my domestic employee paid vacations and the overtime she is legally entitled to, she would be paid nearly $70,000 per year. Now that’s putting some real value on childcare. Is it worth saving $70,000 for me to provide my own childcare? Oh yeah, you bet. It’s a hell of a two-income family who can afford that.

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mythago 09.20.05 at 10:18 pm

I have no clue why anyone should care whether some college girls want to raise their own kids

Here we go again–women are not “raising their own kids” unless they are at home full time with their children. Men are raising their own kids as long as they come home after a day at work.

As a mother of a one-year-old whose husband is currently the primary caretaker of our son, I have been really surprised by how uncomfortable our arrangement makes many people.

Weird, isn’t it? I can’t imagine how bad it would be OUTSIDE the Bay Area.

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Thomas 09.20.05 at 10:37 pm

“For the nth time, it’s not the individual choices that are the issue”

Kieran, if you call someone a free rider, that certainly suggests a criticism of more than just the arrangements that might allow them to free ride. Criticizing free riding is criticizing individual choices, isn’t it?

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Barbar 09.20.05 at 10:40 pm

The more I reread this comment, the angrier it makes me, since it so thoroughly devalues child care, suggesting that women have a valuable contribution to make to society only if they become law partners or investment bankers.

First off, this article is about a number of 18-year-old women pontificating about where their lives will be in 10-15 years.

The young women in the article are saying that they will CHOOSE to be homemakers, even though they go to Yale and Harvard. The NYT writer adds a healthy dose of “nonchalantly” and “matter-of-factly” just to make sure the reader realizes how casually these super-bright students are walking away from all that traditional feminists hold dear! (BTW, it seems fairly clear to me that this is what triggered the “grand old time” comment — the whole point of the article is that these women think they are going to be stay-at-home moms, AND IT’S NO BIG DEAL TO THEM. No, no one literally says that raising kids will be a “grand old time,” but I think it’s pretty strongly implied that there’s not much of a sacrifice involved. If anything, spending more time with your kids is a way to make sure they get the very “best,” unlike what some people get.)

As Kieran points out, this is just annoying, on a couple of different levels:

1. It ignores the extent to which “career vs. family” is a public issue, not just a private one.

2. These 18-year-olds are talking about going to law school, working for a few years, quitting and raising kids, and then maybe working part-time. I think the existence of Mr. Moneybags is pretty strongly implied by these thoughts. In short, this is an article about people who plan to solve a widespread dilemma by being rich without working; as I said above, they are basically fantasizing about early retirement.

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Kieran Healy 09.20.05 at 10:47 pm

Criticizing free riding is criticizing individual choices, isn’t it?

No, it’s criticizing the structure of the options and the incentives on offer.

Also: what barbar said.

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Thomas 09.20.05 at 10:59 pm

“That kind of complacency drives second-wave feminists nuts, because these students are like free-riders.”

As many times as I’ve read it, I still can’t find a structural criticism hidden inside that straight-ahead criticism of these young women. Where did you hide it?

What part of barbar’s comment do you associate yourself with? The absurd suggestion that young women contacted by the Times are “pontificating” when asked questions about their future plans? That there’s some tension between going to Harvard and choosing to be a stay-at-home mother (“even though”!)? The suggestion that the typical career options chosen by high-achieving Ivy Leaguers involve having a “grand old time”? (Isn’t this investment banking grand? Yes, this week’s line-by-line review of financial statements and disclosure documents for hours on end is just as grand as last week! No sacrifice involved here!) The bizarre assertion that parenting full-time is equivalent to “early retirement”?

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mythago 09.20.05 at 11:03 pm

as I said above, they are basically fantasizing about early retirement

Except their early retirement is not based on a fantasy about inventing the next Microsoft, winning the lottery, or discovering a cure for cancer–it’s based on the idea that they can marry a man who will pay the bills while they are at home. That’s a far more attainable goal than most get-rich-quick schemes, and that’s why it’s so seductive.

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DaveL 09.20.05 at 11:11 pm

One of the things that’s depressing about the repeated misreadings of Kieran’s point is that Mrs. Coulter et al. seem to identify more with young people of the same gender who are fantasizing about their futures than with another adult who’s also raising a young child but who is of the opposite gender. Which, again, kind of gets at the basic point that we’d all be better off if we thought a little more broadly than just “what’s best for me and mine given current institutional structures?”

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Barbar 09.20.05 at 11:27 pm

Thomas, high-achieving 18-and-19-year-old Ivy Leaguers don’t realize that investment banking sucks. Seriously, they don’t have a clue. The poor suckers spend a great chunk of their college experience angling for that perfect and oh-so-important job at Goldman Sachs, which curiously involves working 100 hours a week, most of it seemingly sitting around until 1 AM to begin to put together a PowerPoint presentation — but most of them don’t realize this until they get there. Trust me.

You’re probably right that I’m being a little too harsh in my rhetoric about these kids. My main point is simply that a lot of people face similar challenges and don’t have similar options available to them, hence my comments. If my main point was that staying home to raise kids is underrated by society (also true I think), my rhetoric would probably shift to something like yours.

I think there’s a lot of debate going here between people who don’t necessarily disagree with each other. Rather, different elements of the NYT article jump out at them, and this seems to create some unnecessary conflict.

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Crystal 09.20.05 at 11:34 pm

What’s going to happen when one of these young women falls in love with a poorly-paid but oh-so-handsome-and-kind math teacher or something?

Or will they prove to be modern-day Charlotte Lucases, willing to settle for Mr. Collins if Mr. Collins is “suitable” (i.e. rich)? Will they be like Gabrielle on Desperate Housewives and cheat on their big-bucks provider hubbies with the pool boy?

It may have been easy enough for Charlotte Lucas to be mercenary, because she had few other options in life and, Lizzy and Darcy notwithstanding, love was not an essential part of marriage. Women thanked their lucky stars if their husbands treated them decently – love was a luxury.

Nowadays, both men and women expect love to be the basis of marriage; they expect soul mates. Even the conservative-leaning National Marriage Project has data that backs this up – over ninety percent of both young women and young men agree that “First and foremost, my partner must be my soul mate.”

Perhaps Cynthia and Shannon and their friends will luck into a soulmate-cum-sugardaddy. If you’re young, thin, beautiful, not too demanding, and it also helps if you’re white or Asian, it can happen. But it isn’t very likely. Life has a way of throwing curve balls and strewing banana peels in one’s path. What one says one wants at eighteen and what one actually does at thirty or so is usually quite different. One might fall for a loving but not-wealthy man. One might fall passionately in love with a career. One might find oneself divorced. Anything can happen.

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Barbar 09.20.05 at 11:42 pm

But to address thomas’s objections a little more concretely:

The absurd suggestion that young women contacted by the Times are “pontificating” when asked questions about their future plans?

Yes, it’s totally absurd to suggest that an 18-year-old Harvard student has an overly optimistic and detailed view of what life will be like ten years from now.

That there’s some tension between going to Harvard and choosing to be a stay-at-home mother (“even though”!)?

Yes, it’s totally absurd to describe the New York Times article as being motivated by the tension between Ivy League careerism and the desire of young women to be stay-at-homes. What was I thinking? Do I even know how to read?

The suggestion that the typical career options chosen by high-achieving Ivy Leaguers involve having a “grand old time”? (Isn’t this investment banking grand?

High-achieving Ivy Leaguers typically choose career options based on status. Even though they plan on not fully pursuing careers, the women described by the article don’t seem that different. They obviously plan to marry a high-earning husband, for one thing. Or perhaps they haven’t really thought about how much money is needed to raise a family.

The bizarre assertion that parenting full-time is equivalent to “early retirement”

I’m not sure how else to describe being financially secure at age 35 without working for a living.

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Thomas 09.21.05 at 12:03 am

barbar–Now I find a lot to agree with you about. I agree about the unfortunate Ivy undergrads and the obsession with Wall Street jobs. I agree with your reference to these kids as kids–I’ve avoided it til now, but it is certainly appropriate in this context; these aren’t women who have made choices, but kids talking about choices they’ll make. (I was a kid at 18, certainly when it came to planning my future.) That’s a large part of my reaction to Kieran’s attack–and I still think it’s right to see it as an attack–on these kids.

I agree that many people face similar challenges without similar options. I disagree about the scope of the available options–I’d guess that many, but certainly not most, middle-class two parent families could survive for a few years on one income. It doesn’t take a big salary.

As for the sense of entitlement these kids have, I’m not surprised by it. Most 18-year olds think things will turn out for the best, and I imagine that most 18-year old elite college students are even more confident. So these kids think it will be easy to find a spouse who agrees with and supports their choices, who will earn an income they believe satisfactory for raising a family, and that they won’t regret leaving the opportunities of the paid workforce–they probably think that marriage will be wonderful and easy, kids are always cute, no one from an elite college ever loses a job, all the law schools will open their doors to them, investment banking sounds like fun, etc. etc. etc. Why pick out this one little bit of the fantasy to crap all over? Why not tell them, well Cynthia, by the time you get around to finding a mate, you’ll be infertile. Or, Shannon, you’ll be staying at home with the kids when your husband is down-sized.

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Martin James 09.21.05 at 12:07 am

Kieran,

I’m trying to understand the institutional structures that would allow all women (and men)the same option that these women are choosing.

If, as you state, you are not showing a preference for women working over women not working, and at the same time stating that its the institutions not the indiviudal choices that matter, isn’t incumbent on you to illustrate the institutions that would allow all women to stay at home.

I can imagine some: government payments to all women, paternity support laws requiring higher levels of support for children, considerably larger tax breaks for one income parent families.

Are these the type of structures you have in mind?

Or are only structures that presume that women will be in paid employment when not rearing children under consideration?

Also, the notion that most one-income, two parent families with children are wealthy is wildly off the mark. The median income of families with 2 or more children where only the husband worked was $49,079 in the 2000 census compared to an average of $67,524 where the wife also worked and $71,653 where the wife worked full time. The average male full time worker for the same period made $50,557.

In other words, the roughly 25% of households with two or more children that only have one earner, are families with average male workers but below average income.

Furthermore, a very high percentage (81%), of high income households (100k+) have two or more earners.

It seems to me that the economic institutions are doing just fine (i.e. work more, make more) and that options do exist for a broad segment of the population, albeit with a lower economic status.

Furthermore, in terms of freedom, the most unfree are the children: no choice as to existence, no choice as to parent, little choice over primary caregiver, no vote in the political system, etc.

What institutions do you propose be created to remedy this unfreedom and create a better child/parent balance and bind the parents to the wishes of the child?

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Dan Simon 09.21.05 at 12:15 am

What’s really important are the institutional arrangements that make some choices unavailable to some or very difficult for many, to the point where the only people in a position to have a real set of choices are the very wealthy.

True, the wealthy, such as the women in the New York Times article you cite, are the only ones who can afford the family structure that they–and presumably millions of less affluent women, as well–prefer. So what can we all do to enable more women, including the not-so-wealthy, to make this particular preferred choice?

Actually, you never say, and frankly don’t seem terribly interested in asking.

None of the women even mention the fact—and it is a fact—that the life they have in mind for themselves and their children will require a high-earning husband. They just take it for granted, because they can. This is what I mean when I say that they have the luxury of complacently contemplating an particular kind of home life—one that many people would happily choose, if only they could afford it.

Of course, at one time–not so very long ago, in fact–the vast majority of families could afford it. Indeed, the vast majority of families could probably still afford it today, if “institutional arrangements” were friendlier to it. For some reason, though, that doesn’t seem to be the kind of “real set of choices” you’d like to empower women with, no matter how popular it happens to be among those who have access to it.

As Henry points out above, some of the background to my views on this are in this post, which has links to scholars who advocate in detail for the kind of choice-enhancing social policies I have in mind.

Actually, that post says absolutely nothing about “choice-enhancing policies”. Rather, it notes that women these days simply can’t afford to stay at home and care for children–and then proceeds to ignore that particular “choice” completely, discussing instead the various inconveniences faced by women who choose instead to stay in the workforce.

As in this post, Kieran, you advocate there that society expend considerable effort and money to realign itself to accommodate this latter choice, not the one that today’s wealthy women–who have complete freedom of choice–are actually opting for. In other words, “choice-enhancing” means, to you, enhancing the ease with which people can make the choice that you’d like them to make, rather than the one they apparently prefer, when they have a full slate of options.

Sure, 1950’s traditionalists may have been guilty of arranging society so as to herd everyone into their favorite family structure. But at least they never dressed up their smug moralism with hypocritical tripe about “choice-enhancing policies”.

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CR 09.21.05 at 12:33 am

It seems to me that the economic institutions are doing just fine (i.e. work more, make more) and that options do exist for a broad segment of the population, albeit with a lower economic status.

This is a two Americas question. It’s just not possible in most of the prosperous sections of the US to live well on $49 K with two kids. In the NYC metro area, $49 K drops you into the struggling classes (poor housing, especially poor schooling…)

$49K might be OK in Memphis. But not in NYC, Boston, DC, San Francisco, LA, Chicago, Miami, etc…

(And, preemptively – no it’s not always possible / desirable to relocate to a behind the curve area…)

2 bedroom apartments in Brooklyn sell for $800,000 today. Starter homes in NJ are not so far off that pace… In the rust-belt city where I currently live, you can buy a very, very nice house for $200 K.

This makes all the difference in the 1/2 working parent equation.

I’d love to see the distribution of $49 K single earner families on a map….

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Crystal 09.21.05 at 12:45 am

I know a couple of families who manage the stay-home mom thing on about 47K a year. They live in Texas and Utah. It’s definitely do-able in low-cost parts of the US. But not in New York City, nor in many other expensive areas. And something tells me that Cynthia, Shannon, and their cohorts aren’t going to be moving to Utah anytime soon.

I have absolutely nothing against women choosing to stay home with their kids, as long as such women have a back-up plan in case of divorce or disability or other unforseeable events. But I surmise that the high-flying ideals of Cynthia, Shannon and Co. will butt up against hard reality once they are out of their Ivy League cocoons. The primary possibility is that they may not in fact find the wealthy provider of their dreams. Or Prince Charming turns out to be penniless royalty.

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Hektor Bim 09.21.05 at 5:56 am

Mrs. Coulter,

That’s the whole point. If $30/hour is too much, even $20 or $15 is a good wage by child care standards. You’re right that most people can’t afford it, but my whole point was that most people can’t afford for one spouse to earn no money. Since in your situation you obviously can afford that, assuming you could then get a reasonably remunerative job, you could afford to pay a nanny a non-exploitative wage. So why aren’t you doing that? The only explanation I can see is that the whole exploiting the underclass angle is not the main factor. What is the main factor for you?

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bellatrys 09.21.05 at 6:29 am

Echidne deconstructs this article here. Notice how not only are they dealing with a minority of a small minority of elite females, but turning the story around to make it seem much more than it actually is, via the headline.

They’re also acting as if the “choices” women make are made in a vacuum apart from all exterior financial and social pressures. (I have also noticed this in the sort of pablum spouted when media gatekeepers want to talk about college students moving back home, and yet desperately don’t want to talk about the economy tanking for anyone who isn’t a CEO, a CEO’s kept woman or child (I think most marriage is legalized prostitution, so I’m not more favorable towards mistresses-with-rings like the aims of the girls in the story, in fact I prefer an honest courtesan to a self-decieving smug married woman in a meat-for-sex arrangment) and what this means for job prospects and coping with the increasing cost of living interesecting with the pays-a-living wage downward curve.)

Why, if you were a paranoid conspiratorial sort, you *might* almost think that their editorial staff had some sort of interest in perpetuating, or restoring, the 19th century upper-class status quo!

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Amy P 09.21.05 at 6:58 am

Hektor Bim, you still don’t get it. Most women couldn’t afford to pay your “generous” $20 or $15 an hour (even if it included the nanny’s taxes and health insurance). The point is that generally a mother of moderate income has to either squeeze her help or compromise on childcare quality in order to net anything. Oh, and by the way, in our area, the going rate for nannies is around $500 a week take-home pay, with taxes and medical insurance on top of that. So a lot of middle class mothers would come out ahead if they stayed home with their own child and took in somebody else’s child a few times a week. When I do that, I make $13 an hour with no need to pay for childcare. I’m not going to get rich on that, but it pays for an awful lot of Cheerios. Likewise, morning preschool in my neighborhood starts at about $5500 a year. My family is economizing this year by sending our preschooler to the city co-op for the grand total of about $700 (about $4 a day for three hours).

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Daniel 09.21.05 at 7:17 am

I prefer an honest courtesan to a self-decieving smug married woman in a meat-for-sex arrangment

Hmmm, could you outline the pros and cons of both and we could perhaps run it as a guest article? I’m guessing that most of our readers will only have had experience of one or the other so they might be messing out.

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Dan Nexon 09.21.05 at 7:26 am

Hektor,

You’re really not making sense at all. Really. Give it up. If you’re whole point is that some people can’t afford for one spouse to earn no money: no shit, really? Are you even reading Mrs. Coulter’s posts?

Maybe in your world earning sufficient money to pay someone $35K, plus payroll taxes and benefits, to raise your child is a simple matter. Let’s say Mrs. Coulter could drop what she was doing and earn $75K a year (if you think this is “no sweat” from someone with an Ivy League degree, you’re even more pathetically ignorant than you seem from your other comments). After taxes, transportation, and other costs of working she would net a tiny marginal income. My own back of the envelope calculations suggest, in fact, that she might even lose money on the transaction.

And for what? Simply to avoid seeing her child for 40+ hours a week?

Why do you hate women?

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Dan Nexon 09.21.05 at 7:27 am

Hektor,

You’re really not making sense at all. Really. Give it up. If your whole point is that some people can’t afford for one spouse to earn no money: no shit, really? Are you even reading Mrs. Coulter’s posts?

Maybe in your world earning sufficient money to pay someone $35K, plus payroll taxes and benefits, to raise your child is a simple matter. Let’s say Mrs. Coulter could drop what she was doing and earn $75K a year (if you think this is “no sweat” from someone with an Ivy League degree, you’re even more pathetically ignorant than you seem from your other comments). After taxes, transportation, and other costs of working she would net a tiny marginal income. My own back of the envelope calculations suggest, in fact, that she might even lose money on the transaction.

And for what? Simply to avoid seeing her child for 40+ hours a week?

Why do you hate women?

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Dan Nexon 09.21.05 at 7:28 am

Crystal,

Plenty of families live in New York, DC, and other major cities on less than 47K a year. They don’t live at the standard of living you might find minimally acceptable, but they don’t live so terribly as you might imagine. I agree with the thrust of your post, but be careful about class bias here.

(Sorry about the double post)

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bellatrys 09.21.05 at 7:46 am

hektor bim sez: …Since in your situation you obviously can afford that, assuming you could then get a reasonably remunerative job, you could afford to pay a nanny a non-exploitative wage. So why aren’t you doing that? The only explanation I can see is that the whole exploiting the underclass angle is not the main factor. What is the main factor for you?

–Oh, as far as expecting one of the bourgeoisie to refrain from exploiting their workers, even when they could afford to do otherwise (that’s what makes them part of the bourgeoisie after all) is like expecting your house cat to stay off the table and keep its nose out of your plate.

They can’t help themselves; they’re missing some bit of human social imperative, although they are vaguely aware of this, or at least that real people don’t like them jumping on the table and stealing the eggs, so they will make placating or huffy noises about how they’re taking your bacon for your own good, to stop you from getting heart attacks, you don’t *need* three scrambled eggs, you can live just fine on two, etc etc etc…

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Hektor Bim 09.21.05 at 7:59 am

Dan Nexon,

Your computation is unfortunately limited to the present year. You are ignoring the quite real economic cost to being out of the work force. People can’t just drop out of work for five years and expect to jump back in when the kids are in school and make anything like what they would make if they had been working the whole time. You lose any raises, experience, contacts, and Social Security and 401K benefits you might have had. The current estimate is that having a child costs a woman a significant amount in lifetime earnings if she stays home for a significant period to care for her children. I’ve seen estimates up to a million dollars.

My point is that Mrs. Coulter has presented herself as a selfless sacrificer who refuses to have a job and pay for child care because it is exploitative. But she complains about how hard it is to take care of children. You can’t have it both ways. If child care is really so thankless, then there is an easy escape – get a job and pay for day care, and if you don’t want to exploit people, pay them more. This suggests to me that Mrs. Coulter actually has other motivations for staying home that she is not sharing with us, effectively hiding behind the “think of the poor, oppressed daycare workers”.

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Matt McGrattan 09.21.05 at 8:05 am

Some of what bellatrys says rings true.

My wife was an au pair for two years.

Until you have any experience of people in that situation it’s difficult to comprehend the tight-fisted, money-grabbing, scum-like behaviour that the wealthy can actually engage in. While my wife’s employers were generally OK, I could spend hours detailing horror stories from her friends of exploitation and needless penny-pinching on the part of the people employing mostly young vulnerable women from Central and Eastern Europe to look after their children. Mistreating the ‘help’, or least being blithely unaware of the ways in which their behaviour towards them is unacceptable, seems the norm rather than the exception.

I think part of the reason the article raises hackles is that the people interviewed are mostly smug and wealthy.

That doesn’t take away from the real and difficult choices parents, and particularly women, have when it comes to finding some work/child-care balance. Both my mother and my sister, who are single parents, ended up on state benefits as there was simply no way for someone in their financial circumstances to work and pay for child-care. I’m sure they’d have loved the luxury of these women’s choices.

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Uncle Kvetch 09.21.05 at 8:38 am

Notice how not only are they dealing with a minority of a small minority of elite females, but turning the story around to make it seem much more than it actually is, via the headline.

Well, I suppose it’s a step up from the days when Andrew Sullivan would “explain” gender differences (and shut those pomo types up once and for all) on the basis of something that happened to him at the bar the other night. But not a big step.

It’s been said several times in this thread, but it bears repeating: this is the classic NYT “lifestyle” piece–the words and deeds of a sliver of upper-/upper-middle-class America is blithely extrapolated to some profound sea change in societal mores. And at least once a year, the sea change in question is The Death Knell for Feminism.

Given that this these are the folks who bring us the armchair sociology of Bobo Brooks, it’s really not surprising. But it is disheartening.

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eudoxis 09.21.05 at 9:15 am

I wonder what it was about this article that was so irritating. When I first started reading it, I lost interest. So, women like to make choices about staying home. We’ve come a long way from the days when I was an undergraduate and the social pressure for a career was so strong that women didn’t dare suggest they were planning on staying home with children.

The NYT runs many articles about choices that are available only to those with money. Sports cars. Restaurant reviews. Elite colleges. Real estate. I suspect that the choice to stay home with children is available to far more women than many of the options dangled on the pages of the Times.

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Dan Nexon 09.21.05 at 9:43 am

“My point is that Mrs. Coulter has presented herself as a selfless sacrificer who refuses to have a job and pay for child care because it is exploitative.”

Then you fail reading comprehension as well as math.

You can flail about long-term opportunity costs all you want, but if one can’t afford to pay the rates you suggest on a year-to-year basis, that doesn’t matter very much, now does it? I assume you know why poor and lower-middle class people rent, even though it is a raw economic deal. Same issue.

My wife made the same choice as Mrs. Coulter. I cannot possibly imagine how we would pay our most basic bills in the scenario you describe… and I repeat: for what possible benefit?

143

mythago 09.21.05 at 10:06 am

So what can we all do to enable more women, including the not-so-wealthy, to make this particular preferred choice?

Why only women? Do you have issues with fathers wishing to spend more time on childcare and less at the workplace, too?

Of course, at one time—not so very long ago, in fact—the vast majority of families could afford it.

Let’s pretend that’s a statistical fact for the moment. “Not so very long ago,” families didn’t have much choice, because the limitations on women’s working outside the home were not voluntary. In a workplace where women were expected to quit their jobs upon marriage or pregnancy, and where it was legal to fire, demote or refuse to hire women simply because they were women (or married, or mothers), staying home was less an option than an expectation.

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Matt McGrattan 09.21.05 at 11:13 am

Mythago:

Versions of that still take place — where women are constructively dismissed by working conditions that essentially make it impossible for them to continue.

One relative of mine had to give up her job as a nurse as the hospital decided to take away the dedicated night shift staff and instead make night-working compulsory for all staff.

The effect, essentially, was that in one fell swoop they lost all of their single mothers — or at least those that didn’t live near other relatives — since overnight child care is more or less impossible to get.

145

mythago 09.21.05 at 11:19 am

Versions of that still take place—where women are constructively dismissed by working conditions that essentially make it impossible for them to continue.

Absolutely. Sometimes that’s done intentionally. But it’s no longer legal to fire women purely because they got married, or to refuse to hire women because one believes they should be at home with their family, or to pay them less because they clearly don’t need the money as much as a father would.

146

Crystal 09.21.05 at 11:23 am

This article reminds me of the Stephanie Brown article from last year. Remember “Men are biologically programmed to want subordinate wives?” A researcher at the University of Michigan named Stephanie Brown, and her cohorts, interviewed a couple hundred U of Mich students on whether they’d want to marry their boss or their secretary. When most of the boys answered “I want to marry the secretary” Brown and Co. concluded that “the human race” was “hardwired” to prefer male-breadwinner marriages. The media, of course, just ate this up. One is tempted to quote Mark Twain on lies, damn lies and statistics but this kind of neo-conservative, ev-psych stuff is what the media loves these days.

I’m surprised that the ev-psych types haven’t been all over this latest article like a cheap suit, but give it time.

On a more materialist note, I wonder how much of this beating of the drum for women to stay home is related to the tight job market? Rosie the Riveter was sent packing after WWII because men “needed” the jobs. Perhaps this push for stay-home motherhood, especially on the part of women who could potentially fill plum jobs, is not so much a conscious backlash against feminist gains so much as a way to lower the competition for good jobs in an increasingly tight market.

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Kay 09.21.05 at 12:00 pm

It seems like a number of the responses take issue with the women because of a perceived elitism that goes with the Ivy-League degree. Do your reaction to their choices change if we remove the WASP-y element from the article?
I just wanted to throw out a scenario:

Mother is a 28-year-old Amherst College and Harvard Law graduate who stays at home with the 16-month-old. Husband is a bond trader. No nanny, but the maternal grandmother is present 5 days a week.

Is anyone’s opinion of this woman changed if I then tell you that I’m black (African-American) and from a blue-collar background? Does it make any difference at all to the sociological implications of the arrangement? What if the father isn’t black?

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Helma Bim 09.21.05 at 12:06 pm

Until you have any experience of people in that situation it’s
difficult to comprehend the tight-fisted, money-grabbing, scum-like
behaviour that the wealthy can actually engage in. While my wife’s
employers were generally OK, I could spend hours detailing horror
stories from her friends of exploitation and needless penny-pinching
on the part of the people employing mostly young vulnerable women from
Central and Eastern Europe to look after their children. Mistreating
the ‘help’, or least being blithely unaware of the ways in which
their behaviour towards them is unacceptable, seems the norm rather
than the exception.

This was the main point of many of the essays in “Global Woman :
Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy,” Hochschild and
Ehrenreich, eds., (Holt, 2002). Child-care workers receive low wages,
often receive no benefits, and, in the case of immigrants, can be
treated as slaves with their passports confiscated if they are legal
immigrants and threatened with deportation if they are not legal. What
is extremely irritating about a lot of the discussion of this article
(and the NYT article itself) is the rhetoric of choice that appears in
it. Somehow, the whole idea that women are completely responsible for
childcare and the decisions about childcare, and that it is a choice
not made under coercion has firmly taken root in the US and will not
die. Thus, Mrs. Coulter (even in her own words) is staying home for
the sake of her children or for the sake of the exploited child-care
workers (I’m not sure which) as opposed to she is staying home because
the last time the US even considered a law providing federal funding
for childcare was 1971 (goddamn, we miss you Walter Mondale!) which
passed congress but was vetoed by the president (Richard Nixon,
wherever you are, I hope you are in excruciating pain!). I don’t know
what kind of a choice it is supposed to be–either be an unpaid
nanny/housekeeper/mistress to one man in return for room and board and
risk old-age poverty from having been out of the labor force, the
social security system, and any pension or retirement account
contributions; or scramble around constantly one step from child-care
disaster with always full day care centers that can’t provide even
rudimentary medical care (common in World War II era daycare centers),
in-house babysitters, and the goodwill of various relatives.

In my more fanciful moments, I picture kings and lords upon a dais,
watching the spectacle of parents attacking one another over the
pathetically miniscule spoils ($500 tax credits, FMLA of 1993) as
kings of old would watch the beggars sack the wall of food as part of
carneval festivities, and laughing heartily. Somewhere, somehow,
parents (and some nonparents) have been convinced to waste energy and
time calling one another names and attacking one another’s lifestyles
as opposed to trying to better our sorry-ass lot.

But first I must confess: Hektor Bim is my husband. (And whatever Dan Nexon says, he is a terrific husband and father and
a better feminist than any other man I have met.) We have an infant daughter. He works full time in the corporate
world while I am a full-time graduate student (a reverse of the
arrangement we had a few years ago where I worked full time in the
corporate world and he went to graduate school full time). He shells
out $1200/month for daycare and $18/hour for babysitting not during
9-to-5 hours (because my whopping TA stipend doesn’t go far toward
this). And he is desperately negotiating the vagaries of a ridiculously
old-school, male-dominated company where he received no parental leave
(because he had been there less than 12 months, the damn cheapskates),
where he was called at home and asked to come into work two weeks
after our child was born (for which he was taking his vacation time),
where he was sent to a meeting out of state six weeks after our child
was born, and, when he became elegible for parental leave, had to ask
a manager whose only reponse was “I don’t know how to do that.”
(Illegal, yes, but what is Hektor going to do? If he gets fired his wife
and child will be in desperate straits.) And all the while he gets to
hear from smug colleagues who have stay-at-home wives who brag about
having returned to work the week after the birth of a child and offer
such helpful advice as “Make sure your wife is breastfeeding right
away. That way, you never have to get up in the middle of the night.”

As for the smug (and mathematically impaired) posters (Yes, you Dan) who have oh so
cleverly pointed out that a middle-class woman might lose money on
hiring childcare, you are just plain wrong. A college-educated woman
does lose more for being out of the labor force than paying for
childcare. I really don’t need to summarize-it’s been published many
places but feel free to read Ann Crittenden’s “The Price of
Motherhood” if you don’t believe me. And, as many other posters have
noted, low-income women don’t have the option of leaving the paid
labor force at all (which is the real dirty secret in all of this
useless “choice” rhetoric).

Mrs. Coulter, if you did not burst into tears looking at your social
security statement from the years you were (are) out of the paid labor
force you are a stronger woman than I am. All that work of wiping shit
of someone else’s butt is worth NOTHING! NOTHING AT ALL! NO WAGES FOR
YOU! NO SOCIAL SECURITY WHEN YOU GET OLD! (Muahahahah!)

Finally, at the risk of contradicting my previous paragraph about how
parents shouldn’t fight with each other, I do have to agree with my
husband that staying at home with children for no wages in the absence
of social pressures and coercive fiscal policies is not a valid
lifestyle choice–it is a form of union-breaking. It is not in any way
feminist to say that childcare is worthless and should be done for
free, and women who are willing to do it for free by choice (and not
by necessity) should be treated as scabs and/or antifeminist corporate
stooges. Saying that child-care workers are underpaid bacause women’s
work is always undervalued misses the economic reality that child-care
workers are underpaid because a certain class of women are willing to
do the work for free and the paid workers can’t compete. (Go ahead,
flame me. I’m covered in spit up so it won’t hurt me at all.:)

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Uncle Kvetch 09.21.05 at 12:29 pm

Jack Schafer does a pretty good job of shredding the article, not for its ideological bent (if anything, I think he’s too easy on the Times in that respect), but because by the most basic standards of journalism, it’s a piece of garbage.

150

Mrs. Coulter 09.21.05 at 12:45 pm

Hektor, in continuing to shout that stay-at-home mothers are “freeloading” off their husbands, you are failing to comprehend that those mothers are providing something in the range of $30-$35,000 in childcare to that family (and possibly more if there are multiple children). Yes, there is an opportunity cost in terms of fringe benefits, such as 401k, Social Security, etc. However, would you be shouting about this if the women in question were dropping out of the workforce for a couple of years in order to pursue an advanced degree?

FYI, although I did get married immediately after college, I also entered the workforce immediately after college, and spent the next eight years working to support my husband while he completed graduate school. If he had also gotten a job instead of going to grad school, he would have higher earnings and more retirement savings. As an academic, it is unlikely that he will ever make up for the lost earnings he might have had if he had decided to drop out of grad school and accept an offer to turn a summer consulting job into a permanent full-time job. So did he make the wrong choice? If not, then why is my choice morally inferior to his?

All of life involves cost-benefit calculations, and the evaluation of that cost-benefit calculation varies from person to person. Not everyone has the same preferences, and very often there is no “morally better” set of preferences, just different preferences. Despite your continued insistence, I make no attempt to extend my preferences, which are formed out of my particular set of circumstances, to other people, other than to note that I’m not the only one who has similar preferences. They are not inherently bad or good. Women who work outside the home are not bad mothers. Women who stay home with their kids are not bad wives. There are certainly plenty of women who stay home with their kids who are clearly not good parents, and plenty of women who work outside the home who are terrific parents.

151

Dan Nexon 09.21.05 at 1:35 pm

Helma,

Are you even paying attention to my post? Because in your rush to defend the paternal capabilities of your husband, you seem to have ignored the substance of my arguments. For example, in response to his claims about the lost earning power of women in the workforce, I did not write that he was wrong. I wrote the following:

“You can flail about long-term opportunity costs all you want, but if one can’t afford to pay the rates you suggest on a year-to-year basis, that doesn’t matter very much, now does it? I assume you know why poor and lower-middle class people rent, even though it is a raw economic deal. Same issue.”

And I have to say that I think you should’ve thought a bit more carefully about your post. You accuse Mrs. Coulter of “union-breaking” because she provides uncompensated child care – which, by that logic, makes me the enemy of all taxicab drivers for taking my own car to work, all typists for writing my own papers, all personal trainers for designing (poorly) my own workouts.

Yet you have the unmitigated gall to also write this: “Somewhere, somehow, parents (and some nonparents) have been convinced to waste energy and time calling one another names and attacking one another’s lifestyles as opposed to trying to better our sorry-ass lot.”

So, Helma, which is it? Are you going to attack those defending a particular set of choices (made, yes, under conditions unfavorable to mothers) as you do in your post – and your husband has been doing in this comment thread for quite some time – or are you going to work to try to “better our sorry-ass lot”?

I might add that the 1.2K you all shell out a month – a princely sum for many – to subsidize your pursuit of a graduate degree probably doesn’t make any difference in terms of improving the compensation of childcare workers. Why? Because, to my knowledge, the labor market is not sufficiently tight to translate your contribution to demand into higher wages. But if it does, more power to you. I wonder how many single moms will be further squeezed out of quality childcare by your decision?

The problem, honestly, with these discussions is easy to see here. Childcare decisions are emotionally wrenching for many. For most, there are no good options (for the structural reasons outlined by Kieran and many others here). So what happens? People defend their own decisions by attacking those of others. Mrs. Coulter becomes a “scab” pursuing an eeevil choice. Actually, I think the words you used were not a “valid” lifestyle choice, that she’s an “antifeminist corporate tool.” And you did this in the same post in which you described your husband’s capitulation to his patriarchal employers, even in the face of a violation of labor law?

I don’t know what to say. I really don’t.

152

Barbar 09.21.05 at 1:45 pm

Is anyone’s opinion of this woman changed if I then tell you that I’m black (African-American) and from a blue-collar background? Does it make any difference at all to the sociological implications of the arrangement? What if the father isn’t black?

The key thing isn’t the WASP-iness of the young women (or their Asian-ness), it’s that they are the subject of a New York Times article. Which isn’t their fault.

The women are being criticized as being symbols of a larger trend, not for their individual preferences. The background idea is that high-powered women are going to willingly give up their careers in the future, and the implication is that this means that the family/career dilemma for women is generally fading away through the power of choice. Hence all the comments about the girls being upper-class, 18 and clueless — the context is this larger argument.

153

Dan Nexon 09.21.05 at 1:58 pm

I shouldn’t… I really shouldn’t… but I can’t resist.

A question for Helma:

If your husband is right, why the heck are you in graduate school and not earning as much money as you can to pay a 40+ hour-a-week childcare professional $15-30 an hour, plus fringe?

154

Martin James 09.21.05 at 3:03 pm

Loved your post Helma.

Hoever, the portion about social security was not completley correct. Since it was designed by crusty old liberal men, a person who is married for 10 years becomes permanently entitled to half a benefit(75% when the spouse dies) based on the earnings of their spouse even if they didn’t earn a dime, ever.

Not only that but should hubby die, they can get a 100% pension immediatley if they are not working and caring for a child under age 16.

Paternalists are nothing if not paternalistic.

155

Martin James 09.21.05 at 3:31 pm

Many posters here dismissed the charming young Yalies as pampered snobs.

Contrarian that I am, I read it as an anti-snob move rejecting status based on earnings and employment for status based on mommying.

Is there no room in the feminist tent for those that want to glorify the status of mommying?

Related to status, another area that people have not commented on is the increased income and status inequality that has come about from the intermarriage of the power elite.

If there are a fixed number of power slots,( say senators and Presidents) having two status holders in one household concentrates status and increases inequality.

The same goes for the much decried increase in income inquality. Look at the numbers and do the math. If high income couples were limited to one income what happens to household income – it gets more equal!

And for good measure, to play the evolutionary psychology card, let’s look at the number of legacy applicants down the road based on the mommy factor. Let’s divide the female graduates into the “feminist first” camp and “mommy is my major” camp. Does anyone really think there is not going to be differential fertility with the “feminists firsts” having fewer children?

Run that through 5 or 10 generations and wake up and and smell the fundamentalism coming to a country near you!

In a democracy, if you can’t outbreed ‘em, you can’t outvote ‘em.

156

Helma Bim 09.21.05 at 3:33 pm

Dan writes:
by that logic, makes me the enemy of all taxicab drivers for taking my own car to work,

No, if you sat on the corner in your car where taxicab drivers are waiting to take people to work and said “I’ll take you to work for free! And pay for all my own gasoline and car insurance and you don’t have to do anything! you would be.

all typists for writing my own papers,

Again, if you joined a secretarial service and offered your services for free, including buying all your own computer equipment (because you just like typing), you would be.

all personal trainers for designing (poorly) my own workouts.

I do hope you’ve gotten the point by now. You are fond of throwing around accusations about lack of comprehension.

As for the ad hominem attack on me and my pursuit of a graduate degree: my industry went through massive consolidation and I have been a freelance consultant with dimishing hours for four years and make more money in graduate school than I do elsewhere. Perhaps you could read your earlier post about how an Ivy league degree doesn’t net a job paying $75,000 a year? A graduate degree is an investment in addition to its other perks, which yes, I know are available to a small minority only (see the brilliant article I’m going to write sometime when I’m not balancing caring for my infant daughter with freelance consulting and full-time graduate school on how higher education should be free).

I didn’t attack Mrs. Coulter’s lifestyle–I pointed out that it isn’t really a “choice” when childcare options are so few and far between. What I did say is that treating childcare as if it is not real work and should be done for free
is immoral. And, thanks to you defending it as a lifestyle “choice,” federally funded childcare is a joke.

if your husband is right, why the heck are you in graduate school and not earning as much money as you can to pay a 40+ hour-a-week childcare professional $15-30 an hour, plus fringe?

I’m sorry, but you used the words “unmitigated gall” for me? You are right, you really shouldn’t. Any reading of that is an attack on me for daring to go to graduate school, as opposed to me attacking you for not being able to add.

You can flail about long-term opportunity costs all you want

Any reading of this is you saying “You are wrong.”


I wonder how many single moms will be further squeezed out of quality childcare by your decision?

What does that mean? None. As you say, the labor market is slack and the cost of childcare isn’t something I’m driving up by speculation, like, say, the housing market. If you want to attack me more please send email to helmabim@comcast.net since your tone is really not appropriate for a public webpage.

Back to the NYT. The problem with the article was that it presented what a small sample of women said without asking why they made those choices. Contrast this with the Lisa Belkin article in the magazine, where she actually interviewed the women and found out that most of them had some major crisis where their professional and family lives had come into conflict and they had chosen to care for their families over their future professional development. As Kieran and several other people have already pointed out, this isn’t something that people need to be asked to do in order for the world to keep going. Other countries have made childcare affordable and available (Sweden, Norway, France) and haven’t destroyed their industries doing it.

157

radek 09.21.05 at 3:45 pm

“No, if you sat on the corner in your car where taxicab drivers are waiting to take people to work and said “I’ll take you to work for free! And pay for all my own gasoline and car insurance and you don’t have to do anything! you would be”

…providing a valuable social service for free to others and should be commended, not called names.

158

savitri 09.21.05 at 3:45 pm

A quick question:

Why do these women want to go to professional school? Why not stop with a nice B.A. from Yale, Amherst, or the like?

I can understand that an undergrad degree teaches us to become better citizens, more informed, etc. But isn’t a professional degree supposed to help one advance in terms of a profession? Of course, not everyone who goes to law school, say, has to practice law – there are many other trajectories that can be enhanced by legal training – but, what does a JD offer to a parent-in-training?

Or is an elite grad degree the new sine qua non for a marriageable upper middle class female?

159

Helma Bim 09.21.05 at 3:55 pm

Thank you to Martin James for pointing out that my argument on Social Security was not completely correct. I should have specified that only divorced parents and not entitled to spouse’s benefits, but widows are (along with pensions and remaining property as well as the pension though I believe it is a child under 18, not 16.) This doesn’t change the main idea that parents should receive “credit” into the social security fund for time when they may have to be out of the paid labor force to care for a child (though it would be even nicer if they didn’t have to spend so much time out of the paid labor force to care for a child).

Again, thank you for pointing this out.

160

radek 09.21.05 at 3:56 pm

“I think most marriage is legalized prostitution”

Can’t speak from personal experience but from what I’ve heard and been told, on average, I don’t think there’s that much sex going on in them things, relative to other forms of binary social relationships, like, say, datin’. Which means that both parties would probably be better of switching to the prostitution of the plain ol’ illegal type. The fact that most don’t, suggests that people get hitched for other, nobler reasons, than sex and money. Raisin’ rugrats and twue wuv come to mind.

161

Dan Nexon 09.21.05 at 6:04 pm

Helma,

You can’t have it both ways. If your decision to use your husband’s wage to pay for childcare does not drive up the labor costs of childcare, thereby squeezing out less fortunate moms and dads, then Mrs. Coulter’s decision to take time off from her career does not drive down childcare workers’ wages. By conceding my argument, you vitiate your own.

In of itself, that vitiates your attacks against Mrs. Coulter. Nevertheless, you are simply incorrect to reject my analogies.

What do taxicab drivers do? They take individuals from destination A to destination B. By driving my own care, I take myself from destination A to destination B, thereby driving down demand for their services. What do childcare professionals do? They take care of other people’s children for a fee. If I take care of my own child, I do just as much to depress their wages as I would in the first scenario.

Now, your “counterargument” is that this would only be an issue of I were standing at a corner hawking free rides. Well, Mrs. Coulter isn’t standing at a corner hawking free childcare (I assume), she’s simply providing a service herself, out of her own time and labor, that she could pay others to perform. I suppose if she agreed to watch a friend’s child for nothing for an afternoon, there might be an analogy with the counter-analogy you draw, but I don’t imagine you worry about being an “antifeminist tool” whenever you have a friend’s kid over, do you?

Since you feel compelled to lecture me on proper weblog behavior, a few pointers:

1. If you want to come in and defend your husband, at least be aware of the arguments he’s been making. I’m simply pointing out that Hektor’s “suggestion” to Mrs. Coulter could equally be applied to you. I think Hektor’s wrong: you should be in graduate school and Mrs. Coulter should take time off from work.

2. It is a bit late to cry foul over “ad hominem” attacks, let alone appropriate tone, when your first post includes the following:

“women who are willing to do it for free by choice (and not by necessity) should be treated as scabs and/or antifeminist corporate stooges. Saying that child-care workers are underpaid bacause women’s work is always undervalued misses the economic reality that child-care workers are underpaid because a certain class of women are willing to do the work for free and the paid workers can’t compete.”

I’m sure Mrs. Coulter appreciates being called an “antifeminist corporate stooge.” My view: if you’re going to throw names at people for the choices they defend, you should have the guts to take a good deal more than I’m throwing your way.

If you go back over the thread, you’ll also find that neither I nor Mrs. Coulter have attacked anyone’s decisions; not so much true of you and Hektor, despite your denial in your follow up post. Indeed, Mrs. Coulter’s early interventions focused on structural problems involved in childcare and how they led her to opt for a particular strategy of providing it to her own child.

162

Mrs. Coulter 09.21.05 at 6:06 pm

Helma and Hektor,

I have you say that you are very lucky to be in a financial position where one spouse earns enough money to pay for the other to be in school *and* to pay for full-time daycare. I wish that we were in a similar position, but we are not. That is one reason why it will take me four years to finish a graduate degree that should take me only two. But you have to work with the circumstances that life deals to you, not what you wish it would be. I suppose I could have married someone with a highly paid corporate job, but instead I fell in love with a lowly Ph.D student. If you haven’t noticed, an assistant professor’s salary is rather meagre. We are both Ivy grads, so you should note that an Ivy degree is not a guarantee of a six-figure salary.

However, I don’t believe that I am depressing the wages of childcare workers by providing childcare for my own child. Nor does your example of the taxi driver offering free rides apply, if you think carefully about the argument. I do not babysit for other people’s children for free. Furthermore, if this were the case, then the same would apply to free childcare provided by a stay-at-home father or by members of the extended family, which Hektor previously recommended as a better solution to the childcare question than a parent providing childcare. In real terms, the cost of childcare to my family is equivalent to the income that I am choosing to forego by providing it for myself. Remember, that I’m not competing with you for a job (at least right now), so if it makes you feel better, I am driving up your earning potential by making the workforce that much smaller. Would you raise the same objections if my husband were planning to provide childcare rather than me? Too bad his employer turned down his paternity leave request, or that’s exactly what would have happened last year.

I also find it highly ironic that you claim that my willingness to provide childcare for “free” (clearly your graduate degree isn’t in economics, or you wouldn’t make that claim) is evidence that I devalue childcare or consider it to be “not real work”. No where in this thread have I said anything that could be construed to mean that I think childcare isn’t real work. In fact, I have said quite the opposite. The notion that well-educated, white collar women demean themselves (I believe you called me a “corporate stooge and scab”) by caring for children, I must say, seems to devalue childcare much more so that my saying that I did a cost-benefit calculation of the cost of childcare vs. the short-term income potential *of my specific situation* and that it came up a bit short.

I have never judged you or any other family who finds that childcare outside the home works better for them. There are certainly plenty of people for whom the intrinsic value of working far outweighs the costs of childcare, even when the second income is not enough to compensate. I’m not sure where you get the idea that I have characterized myself as a paragon of female sacrifice or that I have chosen to provide my own childcare primarily out of concern for exploited childcare workers (a ridiculous and rather amusing strawman, or, perhaps, straw-woman).

That said, I have seen professional, working women discuss whether it’s appropriate for their nanny to eat lunch while the child is awake (workday starts at 7:30, nanny eats at home, and afternoon nap isn’t until 2pm, meaning that nanny is expected to go for 8 hours without food) and wonder if they should pay their nanny less if they take her on vacation with them because she’s getting a free vacation. Not everyone who hires a nanny exploits her, but, I am certainly not the first person to observe that this relationship can be exploitive. The desire of upper-class women to pursue high-powered, intensive careers is often made possible by the low-income labor of other women (nannies, housecleaners, etc.). It is not bad to hire other people to perform domestic labor, but we still have to be aware of the privilege inherent in our decision (the classic formulation of this is “who cares for the nanny’s child?”). Feminists, myself included, can’t just congratulate ourselves on for having wonderful, fulfilling careers, when those wonderful, fulfilling careers are all too commonly built on the backs of women who are paid off the books, get no health benefits, and no overtime. The real problem is that childcare is a reverse pyramid scheme: it has to cost less than the median after-tax wage earned by those who want childcare, or else it isn’t affordable. Upper income women can afford it easily, but for the rest of us, childcare decisions are series of compromises, some more palatable than others. Far, far up-thread, I commented that the availability of affordable, quality childcare (i.e., publicly subsidized) might have changed my own cost-benefit analysis. I wish that our politicians would get off their collective asses and publicly subsidize childcare, but it seems to be so far off the current political agenda that I am certainly not holding my breath.

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duus 09.21.05 at 11:34 pm

hi.

i wanted to pass along this information about the survey instrument involved.

It included questions like:

“When you have children, do you plan to stay at home with them or do you plan to continue working? Why?”

Please follow the link, it’s not my information but it’s very interesting, and i think will help this conversation focus on whether the survey actually was valid at all, rendering much of this speculation moot.

Thanks.

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duus 09.21.05 at 11:49 pm

I would also like to point out that talk of children as “it’s your choice, i shouldn’t be responsible for it” is sickening. It is twisted and wrong to discuss the creation of human life merely as a consumer good, no different in principle from buying a car or pair of shoes. Those of you who implicitly advocate the position that the creation of the next generation of humanity is not a role for society as a whole are demented, disgusting, and bizarre. If there is anything, for love of God, that we should understand involves externalities, it is the direct creation and destruction of human life. Who raised you animals? Milton Friedman?

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Martin James 09.22.05 at 1:33 am

Duus asks “Who raised you animals?”

Why, the daycare, of course!

“Those of you who implicitly advocate the position that the creation of the next generation of humanity is not a role for society as a whole are demented, disgusting, and bizarre.”

Say what? I knew it took a village to raise a child, but I didn’t know it took a village as a WHOLE to raise a child.

I just love this whole topic. People are getting hackles raised, angry, sickened, disheartened, and irritated; people are calling each other animals, scabs, scum, money-grubbing, legalized prostitutes, anti-feminist stooges; issues of methodolgy are being raised, conspiracies sighted, historical practices derided and my favorite, the specter of the Death Knell for Feminism cited.

Do I hear it tolling long and hard from a tall, ivory tower…

Nah, its just the daycare down the block.

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mythago 09.22.05 at 10:52 am

Or is an elite grad degree the new sine qua non for a marriageable upper middle class female?

Got it in one. There’s far more status to having shut down a wife who had other options.

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Keith M Ellis 09.23.05 at 7:09 am

What an ugly thread. I’ll contribute to the ugliness by mentioning that I have some difficulty taking seriously assertions of what feminism is from someone who calls herself “Mrs. Coulter”.

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OTTami 09.23.05 at 10:21 am

I just wonder – how many people in this world would choose full time work over being supported? Forget the kids, who, in the deepest recesses of their minds wouldn’t love a world where they didn’t actually have to work? When you’re 18, you think that world might exist. When you’re 30, you realize that a family income of less that $200,000 won’t buy you a comfortable – and I mean “a bedroom for each family member, buy your sneakers at Target” comfortable – lifestyle in NYC. If daddy’s pulling in less than that, mommy’s probably working.

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Mrs. Coulter 09.23.05 at 10:38 pm

Keith: LOL. I’m not sure what you think “Mrs. Coulter” signifies. It’s a pseudonym, you should know, and in real life, I ain’t nobody’s Mrs. A little more info as to the significance can be had here.

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Zigi Goldberg 09.25.05 at 12:22 pm

Kieran wrote, “Perhaps more than any other bit of society, opinions about child-rearing are subject to a quite phenomenal amount of endogeneity. People who avail of daycare are likely to think that kids are sociable, robust little things who need a healthy amount of interaction with other children…”

No kidding. Here’s an example of a highly endogenous website that’s vehemently anti-daycare….
http://www.daycaresdontcare.org

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