Monday, August 20, 2018

Perplexed by Motherhood

You have to wonder where they got these ideas, but today’s young women have been entertaining unrealistic expectations. To put it more succinctly, they have been lied to.

Claire Cain Miller explains it in an excellent New York Times article. She does not explain who was doing all the lying, but, effectively, she does not have to. The story tells itself.

Generations of girls have been told they can achieve anything they aspire to, including having both a career and children — and many women have done so. But at the same time, both work and parenting have become more demanding. The result is that women’s expectations seem to be outpacing the realities of public policy, workplace culture and family life.

Apparently, no one told these  young women that bringing up children is difficult, demanding and time consuming. One might imagine that their mothers could have told them this, but, alas, such seems not to be the case.

Miller seems to be suggesting that it can be solved by new public policies and a more friendly workplace culture, but this assumes that young mothers want to drop their children in daycare so that they can go out to market widgets. As we shall see, in other parts of her article, she suggests that women who have just given birth or who are caring for young children value their time with their children over their time on the job.

Speaking of lies, everyone told these women that they would be granted perfectly egalitarian marriages, where their husbands would share the childcare and housekeeping duties.

Miller writes:

As women do more paid work, men have not increased their child care and housekeeping tasks to the same extent — another surprise for young women who, research has shown, expected more egalitarian partnerships.

Reporting on a study of female workforce participation, Miller explains that more and more mothers are spending less and less time at work… and more and more time with their children. She attributes it to social pressure, but perhaps we do not need to insult these women. We can just as easily say that they are making a rational choice about how best to spend their time.

The researchers documented a sharp decline in employment for women after their first children were born, in both the United States and Britain, even though about 90 percent of women worked before having children. They used data from the Labor Department’s National Longitudinal Surveys, the University of Michigan’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics and the British Household Panel Survey. Each covers several decades, but the study focused mostly on women born between 1965 and 1975, who were in their 30s in the 2000s.

For many women, the researchers show, stopping work was unplanned. Since about 1985, no more than 2 percent of female high school seniors said they planned to be “homemakers” at age 30, even though most planned to be mothers. The surveys also found no decline in overall job satisfaction post-baby. Yet consistently, between 15 percent and 18 percent of women have stayed home.

In a better world we would want to know how many women have the option of staying home to bring up their children. If we eliminate those women who are forced to return to work, the percentages would probably be higher.

What accounts for these shocking results? Miller responds that young mothers tend to discover traditional gender roles. In other words, gazing on their infants tells them that all the blather about gender being a social construct is just that… blather. When they see the way their husbands interact with their infants they decide that said husbands should spend more time on the job… thus, allowing them to take charge of childcare.

She writes:

One key to understanding why women have diverged from their plans, the economists found, is that their beliefs about gender roles change after their first baby. The surveys ask questions like whether work inhibits a woman’s ability to be a good mother and whether both parents should contribute financially to a family. Women tend to give more traditional answers after becoming mothers.

Worse yet, these new mothers, mostly college educated, have discover another inconvenient truth: that a man who spends more time at work will probably earn more, thus affording his wife the freedom to choose to stay home:

More women with degrees and these kinds of demanding jobs are having children, and they’re likely to be married to men with similar jobs, as Marianne Bertrand, an economist at the University of Chicago, has described. A result is that dual-earning couples may feel the best choice is for one member, usually the mother, to step back from work so the other parent can maximize the family’s earnings.

By my calculations, this suggests that a man who is working more will earn enough to compensate for the loss of his wife’s salary. And then some. This might also be factoring in the cost of child care. If that cost is subtracted from a working mother’s take home, the numbers will probably favor a more traditional division of labor.

The story does not consider that men are not very skilled at childcare… because they lack sufficient empathy. And it does not consider that said male beings are more likely to be happier themselves if they are working harder and doing better in the marketplace.


Anonymous said...

One really has to pay attention to the costs of women going back to work. I have seen a number of studies that state that for many, if not most, the costs far exceed not working.


ASM826 said...

It isn't just day care costs. To include a 2nd vehicle, with insurance, maintenance, and fuel costs. A work wardrobe. Increased use of sick time because a sick child (even a 2 degree fever) cannot go to daycare. Increase in household food costs to offset the meal prep time that is lost if no one is home. Both partners spending the weekends doing laundry and housework that goes unmanaged during the work week. Getting up an hour earlier to dress, prep, and transport children to daycare before commuting to work. Leaving work on a tight schedule to pick up children, then home to feed, bathe, and bed children so you can sleep before getting up to do it again tomorrow.

It gets real easy to figure out a budget that lets a family live on one income and free up a parent to stay home.

Sam L. said...

I noticed immediately that I was unable to breast-feed my first child... So I KNEW that when the second one came.

Dan Patterson said...

Modern life nicely summarized by all. And Sam L. supplies interesting insight into the next move by (whomever it is that is lying to women about men): Men not only lack the biological equipment to nurture newborns we lack the necessary mental formulation to respond regularly and appropriately to emergent needs. Notice the responses of men to crying babies, male lions to their young, male apes, and so on and compare those to the responses of both mothers of those young and any of surrounding women. So the likely reaction from guilt peddlers could be "If men only TRIED harder. Don't you see? All this stress is ALL YOUR fault". And the death-spiral begins.
ASM826 answered a question I've often asked. How did dad support three kids on his working-man's wage? He did HIS job and mom did HERS.