Laughing At Others’ Misfortunes

Leslie Bennetts writes that SAHM have dug themselves in a financial hole. They have no chance of finding work after taking off time to raise their kids, and it's especially tough during a recession. She points to one wretch of a woman who failed to attend Bennetts book party two years ago and is suffering now that her husband left her. It's almost breath-taking in its nastiness.

Guess what The New York Times has just discovered? Women who quit their
careers to stay home can face financial challenges if a recession hits
and their husbands lose their jobs! And—gasp!—when these women try to
re-enter the labor force after a timeout, it’s hard for them to find
work, and they earn far less than they did when they left!

Elizabeth had a great review of her book a couple years ago. It's nice to see that Bennetts hasn't mellowed at all.

In the Daily Beast, Bennetts argues that staying at home with kids is dangerous. It leaves you without any safety net, if your husband loses his job or if he takes off with the secretary. This is hardly a news flash. Ann Crittenden
discussed these risks with a lot more compassion and subtlety than Bennett.

Crittenden says yes this is true, but it shouldn't be. Women can protect themselves with post-nups, and the business world has to change to hire women with more gaps on their resume. In fact, there is some evidence that they are doing so. 

Interestingly, Elizabeth Warren
argued that two-income families were actually more vulnerable during recessions than one-income families. When both individuals work, they spend it all. Warren argues, they feel pressured to buy the expensive house in a good school district. If one loses their job, they are screwed. In contrast, if the primary bread earner loses his/her job in one-income family, the at-home partner can run out to get a job to cover the expenses until the higher earner gets back on his/her feet. One lesson is that if you have two incomes, try to live on one and bank the other.

The New York Times article doesn't seem to back up Bennetts' point very well. It shows that women are getting jobs after taking off many years. They are able to return back to professional jobs, maybe not making as much as they had before, but they were able to support their families. By this point, the children were teenagers and were more self-sufficient. The out-of-work husband presumably picked up the slack at home. I don't see any points scored for Bennetts here.

I'm not sure which family arrangement is the most financially secure. There are too many variables to consider. And financial security has to be balanced by other considerations.

I'm just pleased that I didn't have to scrounge for daycare today, as the kids had the day off from school for the holidays.

58 thoughts on “Laughing At Others’ Misfortunes

  1. I’m kind of baffled by the implications of Warren’s argument that dual income families should refrain from “buying the expensive house in a good school district.” Does this mean that a family with a combined should necessarily opt to buy bad homes in bad school districts?
    I agree that the NYT piece didn’t back up Bennetts’ argument about the costs of re-entering the workplace for women’s salaries. But this was part of Bennetts’ argument for the DailyBeast piece. I was surprised that the NYT coverage seemed to imply the ease with which women were re-entering the workplace and becoming breadwinners. This flies in the face of much of the coverage of the recession (with unemployment at 9% — above that in some places — and with lags in job creation).
    I’m curious — what sort of evidence exists about the changes in the approach of the business world, and any sense that this sort of change will last through today’s economic climate? I read somewhere that the flexible work programs geared toward being family friend had diminished this year. Not that that’s the same thing as new recruitment, but it could indicate murkier waters for women ahead…. (Come to think of it, NPR had some folks on marketplace noting that more women were getting hired than men, but mostly because women were cheaper to higher b/c they got paid less.)

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  2. Warren’s book is really interesting, Julie. Worth a skim at least. Well, she says that middle income families are so concerned about education (rightly or wrongly) that they buy homes in towns with good schools that they can barely afford with their two incomes. She just doesn’t want people to spend all of their incomes on their mortgage. If one person loses a job, then there’s disaster. Much less of a concern if you have tenure, of course.

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  3. One comment on the one-income vs. two-income thing; I don’t think it’s necessarily true to say that if the primary breadwinner loses his/her job, the at-home spouse can “run out to get a job to cover the expenses until the higher earner gets back on his/her feet”. In this day and age, if someone has a salary that can support an at-home parent, they are making a lot. By contrast, someone returning to the workplace after an extended break has lowered earning power, relatively speaking. We should not kid ourselves into thinking that if the corporate attorney in the family gets laid off, the stay-home spouse can get a job that will cover the mortgage. They’ll just as likely be looking at Pottery Barn, maybe 20% of the established breadwinner’s previous salary level.
    That said, I continue to not understand the reasoning behind Bennetts’ harsh tone. What’s the advantage to taking this tone? Even when she makes arguments that contain a grain of truth, it’s so nastily worded you can’t bring yourself to agree with her. Unless agreement is not the point — as in, she’s coming from the Penelope Trunk / Ann Coulter school of scream-til-you-get-some-attention media.

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  4. 🙂 Touche on the whole tenure thing.
    I heard Warren on NPR. I have been meaning to read her book. It sounds very interesting. I do wonder about the limits of that argument, though. Two income families spend more money and generate inflation. It stands to reason some of the pressures two-income families face would be faced if the world were made up of single-income families.
    The idea that all the country’s (or world’s) two-income families restrict their spending to one income relies a great deal on a collective action that would never occur. That, and two-income families have costs (like child care) that single-income families may not have.

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  5. But the women in the NYT article were getting professional jobs, not Pottery Barn. I don’t know how typical they are. A friend of mine had a husband lose his Wall Street job for nine months (something like that). They cut back on everything and lived off their savings. She never had to go back to work, but had started check out the job ads. She could have made enough to pay the mortgage and keep them from losing the house, but wouldn’t have made enough to maintain their old standard of living.

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  6. I read the Bennetts article and I’m *trying* to read her book. But it’s very hard to get past the tone. I read The Price of Motherhood when I was working part time after I’d followed my husband for the second time for his job. It really pissed me off, but I wasn’t mad at Crittenden, I was mad at a world that so devalued its children and the people who cared for them. I don’t like the fact that I will likely have a “gap” on my resume, but I do like the fact that we’re, for the moment, financially able to give me the time and space to work toward my next career step. And I have tenure to thank for that, tenure that likely wouldn’t have been achieved had I not been willing to be dragged halfway across the country twice.
    As a single income family now, we are in no way financially better off than we were as a dual income family. We did spend more then, on clothes for me for work, on eating out more, on childcare and on housecleaning. Those expenses have been mostly eliminated (except we still eat out), but we could cut more and feel slightly less squeezed, but we would never be at the comfort level we were when I had a full time gig. We were *saving* then. Now we’re using our savings on occasion. At least we chose this and didn’t have it happen to us unexpectedly.

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  7. Well, I know all sorts of very well-educated women whose spouses lost jobs or are endangered and who are looking. None of them have been able to return to their original lines of work. This includes women who were formerly journalists, attorneys, graphic artists, programmers. They’re competing with applicants who have much more recent experience. (You’ll note the NYTimes piece opened with an anecdote from an attorney who got her gig thru an old friend, not the regular hiring process. I found that telling.)
    I have experienced a couple of co-workers/acquaintances whose wives went from part-time back to full-time because they felt endangered as part-timers. I guess this qualifies as more female workforce participation.
    Anyone else seeing something different out there?

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  8. I’m hearing anecdotal stories, but nothing that could even add up to a style section piece.
    Sort of related … Steve almost hired a woman for a key position. She was apparently great. He lobbied for her to get more money than was originally advertised and went through enormous hurdles to allow her to work from home once a week (she has a kid w/special needs). HR didn’t want to give the okay, because this would set a precedence for flex work, but they did ok it in the end. She ended up taking a job w/a more laid back firm. But it did show a willingness at a very stuffy, traditional Wall Street firm to consider flex work. Baby steps, right?
    Laura/Geeky Mom let me know if there’s anything worthwhile in the book. Elizabeth gave it a bad review, so I never bothered to look at it. Does she offer anything new that I didn’t get from Crittenden?
    I’m not sure if I can handle all that hate. How does one walk around w/all that nastiness inside? It’s gotta to be an act.
    Like the other Laura, my family is better off now, because I put my career on hold. No question about it. That’s just how our unusual situation unfolded. Hopefully, both Lauras will use this time well this year.

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  9. Warren’s argument doesn’t work for me. Anybody can be unwise enough to live to the limits of their income. We’re seeing enough one-income families in my town (hit by a nasty strike lasting for months) be catastrophically affected. And the SAHM that goes out to get a job won’t make 1/5 of her husband’s former pay. The two-income families I see, unless they’re saddled with crazy childcare bills!, are usually able to put away more of a cushion than single-income families can manage.
    Living beneath your means is the new mantra, though, isn’t it? We’ve been doing that for a while as my husband is underemployed and is not in the position to be making enough to cover our family expenses should my job end (fortunately, I have tenure and record-high enrolments). I worry what would happen if I died: time to up my life insurance coverage!
    Yes, the problem is systemic. When you have a society that sees workers as individual cogs in employment machines that should be infinitely relocatable and available, you’re not going to have a good match with the reality of families (eldercare, childcare, responsibilities for spouses or siblings with illnesses).

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  10. “I’m hearing anecdotal stories, but nothing that could even add up to a style section piece.”
    No way, Laura. All you need is three anecdotes and voila, style section piece.
    “Warren’s argument doesn’t work for me. Anybody can be unwise enough to live to the limits of their income.”
    I almost posted something about that earlier today. I think there are some interesting insights in “The Two Income Trap,” but it’s probably time for a sequel that deals with the mortgage meltdown. As Janice points out, there’s no income so big that you can’t spend it all and more. Or, in DaveRamseyese, you can’t outearn your stupidity.

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  11. “Warren’s argument doesn’t work for me. Anybody can be unwise enough to live to the limits of their income.”
    I agree on this — the key is what you spend, compared to what you earn, and the security of that income stream. If you spend 500K a year, then aren’t you better off if you have 2 earners who earn 500K each than if you have one who earns 1M? If you’re spending 900K, who knows? And, if you’re spending 1.1M, then you’re in trouble no matter what.
    I’ve been reading the Bennett book. I agree that it’s tone is tough to take. I end up putting the book down every 10 pages or so. I also think the book is very repetitive. It basically has one point, it makes over and over again: taking off from paid employment is personally risky. That’s true, and perhaps she’s right that the media doesn’t fully attend to that risk (though I’m wary of people who keep harping on what the media doesn’t pay attention to). I think that risk can be mitigated but not eliminated. And, on top of that, there are clearly rewards to taking the risk, as well, in security for the family, if at some risk to yourself, and in the value of the unpaid work to both the family and one’s self (and the value that avoiding personally unsatisfying paid work might have).

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  12. ” As Janice points out, there’s no income so big that you can’t spend it all and more”
    Well, and the particular problem is expenses that you are committed to indefinitely into the future — mortgages, car loans, other debt, potentially private school tuition (if, for example, you live in an urban district where you find the schools unpalatable), things that require upkeep (like second homes), expensive collections, private planes.

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  13. “Well, and the particular problem is expenses that you are committed to indefinitely into the future — mortgages, car loans, other debt, potentially private school tuition (if, for example, you live in an urban district where you find the schools unpalatable), things that require upkeep (like second homes), expensive collections, private planes.”
    …boat payments, Harley payments, student loan payments, RV payments, second mortgage payments, etc.

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  14. Dickens, he said:
    Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.
    But boy, my kids want to spend to the limits of their allowances, and to borrow from the future at Bank of Dad…

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  15. What kind of jobs do you guys have that one salary goes to stuff like private schools, planes, and second homes? My public school professorial salary is absolutely necessary just to pay daycare, rent for my (incredibly modest) dwelling on a fast and busy street, and student loans.
    Although I admittedly live in one of the most expensive metro areas in the world (NJ life, NYC metro). The Warren book, as I understand it, looked at more than just upper-middle class folks. The majority of Americans have a family income much less than my husband and I.

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  16. I just found a chart showing the US personal savings rate from 2000 to 2009. “Personal savings rate” is a weird number because as I understand it, 401(k) contributions don’t count as savings but debt payment does, but the trend is still very interesting. Up until this year, at no point did the savings rate reach 4%. For 2005, 2006, 2007, and the first part of 2008, the savings rate oscillated between 1 and 2.5 percent. For the last date given (second quarter of 2009), the savings rate is a (relatively) stunning 5%. And this despite nearly 10% national unemployment. I think that we as Americans are doing a really good job digging ourselves out of the current unpleasantness, and I think we owe ourselves a pat on the back. I think that’s the big story of the year.
    http://www.bea.gov/BRIEFRM/SAVING.HTM

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  17. “What kind of jobs do you guys have that one salary goes to stuff like private schools, planes, and second homes”
    I picked the numbers ’cause they round nicely. I’ll admit to knowing people who own planes, but they’re little planes that people have built in their garages (and I’m in a corner of the world where people do things like that).
    The principle is still the same, w/ 100K rather than 1M. I think the key caveat raised by Julie’s question is what percent of your income you need in order to buy the necessities.
    I really do think, though, that people have gotten very confused about what the necessities are, especially in housing. Oh, and student loans, too. I think people have gotten confused about what it makes sense to take on that much debt for.

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  18. “What kind of jobs do you guys have that one salary goes to stuff like private schools, planes, and second homes?”
    Up until very recently, even the most unlikely people were getting approved for loans for second homes.
    We’re technically a one-income family (husband recently tenured professor). Income has recently run into the high five figures, but started out at about half that when we first lived in MD and DC. In the past, I did a little bit of tutoring at home and babysat another toddler in addition to my toddler. We also snagged a rent-free situation and both did cultural event organizing on campus in DC for four years. Around the time our second child was born and it became less feasible for me to make extra money, my husband started doing some recreational programming that turned into a small but lucrative second job. My dad turned me on to Dave Ramsey. We start paying off credit card debt with programming income and paid off our first car in a year. We moved to Texas where the cost of living is lower but the salary was the same or higher. First child went to private school. We became debt-free after two years of focus. Programming income started to fizzle with decline of Palm. Second child started 3-day PK at private school this summer. Monthly savings went to single digits this summer due to combination of 2nd private tuition, reduced income, and ongoing medical expenses. As of now, my husband is starting to hustle for book reviews and other small income-generating projects. Happily, daughter is about to graduate from biweekly physical therapy, so our medical expenses should be down soon.
    Starting about four years ago, we went from a $500 a month deficit to $1000 a month surplus, then two digit savings this summer, then $272 this month. We’ll be paying somewhat more tuition as of next summer when we start paying for five-day kindergarten (but then I have more time). Also, theoretically, we need $1,000 a month in savings for the next two years in order to be able to afford a house. I don’t know yet how we’re going to do that, but that’s the plan.

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  19. “I really do think, though, that people have gotten very confused about what the necessities are, especially in housing.”
    Not to mention what is a reasonable price for basic housing.
    “Oh, and student loans, too. I think people have gotten confused about what it makes sense to take on that much debt for.”
    I was listening to a Dave Ramsey rerun recently where a nice young couple had taken on $150,000 in student loans to get (between the two of them) an MA in pastoral counseling and a certificate in something similar.

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  20. There was a lot of press given to women who quit a high-profile career to be SAHMs, but I seem to know a lot more women who got a good degree, then flailed around doing admin work for a few years before figuring out what they wanted to do when they grew up. Those are the ones who quit working when they had kids, and I have no idea how they will cope if their husbands lose their pretty-good jobs (or if they lose the husbands). So far most of them have been lucky.
    Most of my women friends who had any kind of career have kept working at least part-time.
    I agree the tone of the Bennetts thing is unnecessarily nasty but I do also get frustrated that it’s so optional for women to make enough to support the entire family, and so required for men to. I do think a lot of mothers don’t plan for financial disaster at all, let alone how they could make their own earnings cover retirement and college fees.

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  21. Here’s the thing. I’m the one who thinks about financial disaster in our family. Like Laura, I’m perfectly willing to strip my Ph.D. off the resume and go work retail. I’m the one who took a corporate job so we’d have health insurance, which meant pressing the pause button on graduate school. I’m the one who set up a savings account, who insists on evaluating life insurance policies, who pays the taxes, and keeps pestering my husband about his 401(k) savings. The only reason I’m able to work without income right now is because *I* planned for it–not my husband, me. Yes, we discussed it together and yes, I needed him to agree to the plan, but it was me who made the plan and coordinated our finances to make it happen. I worry about my own retirement and college tuition and I fully expect to be earning *something* a year from now. And to me it’s not optional to not have someone here when the kids get home from school, to support them in their school work. We tried sharing that duty for a while. I got a flex-time schedule and in theory, my husband came home when I couldn’t, but about half the time, he never made it. As department chair, chair of a center, and the director of two different grants, there were too many meetings that couldn’t be rescheduled. All that happened in the last year, so it became increasingly difficult for him to juggle that. We were both worried about our kids. Plus, my job sucked. And yeah, I know, I keep repeating this story, but it’s not that unusual. And most of the mothers I know are the family accountants like me. So they aren’t sticking their heads in the sand about their financial situation.

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  22. I’m an actual full-bore SAHM — I never even finished the degree before the kids showed up, and until that degree is finished, I’ll never get more than adjunct work. Hell, even when the degree is finished, I’ll still only get adjunct work, unless we’re prepared to move our kids and have spouse take a pay-cut at another university, just so I can have a shot at tenure myself.
    So yeah, I’m screwed. Being home with infant triplets instead of being at the archives, and then being able to move with spouse when the tenured offer came through, was the best choice for our family, and even now, there are benefits to being at home — for example, when kids have been home sick now for six days out of eight.
    But yes, I do wonder if the family benefits outweigh the personal costs (we could scramble for a couple of weeks to care for sick kids, after all) and yes, now I do feel stuck professionally, and yes, it sucks. It’s Not Good to be approaching 40 and not know how I’m going to spend the next 30 years of my employment life (other than to know that I need to be employed, for a variety of personal and financial reasons).
    But I will say this: I KNEW the trade-offs. I was not living in la-la land when I chose this path. Hell, one set of grandparents is divorced, my parents and my in-laws are divorced, my paternal grandmother was widowed when her kids were 5 and 7 — I get it. Financial dependence on a spouse is A Bad Idea. I’m not an idiot.
    I know very few SAHMs who aren’t acutely aware of the costs of their choices, and who don’t feel conflicted about how those costs play out in their own lives. Very few of them would make different choices, though, facing the constraints that they do. There are a hell of a lot of constraints on families, and if women are paying the lion’s share of the costs when it comes to choosing within those parameters, maybe the problem isn’t just women’s choices.
    But it’s great that folks like Bennett and Hirschman want to tell us what we’re doing wrong. Very helpful, that.

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  23. Totally. The problem with these old wags is that they assume that women aren’t rational actors. SAHMs make a calculated risk. They are also weighed down by all sorts of constraints that limit their actual choices. (New Institionalism. Lame inside political science reference.)
    I’m at home full time for a variety of reasons – I chose a stupid career, my job ended, expensive childcare, long hours of husband. I never consciously chose this path. I know it has financial risks, but the alternatives aren’t great either. In the meantime, there are also huge benefits to my dropping out of the workforce. Stress levels have reduced around here, and my kids are much happier.
    I would like to work on my own career. I’m getting ready to go to the library. But I really chose careers badly. I wouldn’t be in this situation if I had gone to law school or something.

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  24. “We moved to Texas where the cost of living is lower but the salary was the same or higher.”
    That looks like the key aspect.
    Our situation is so odd as to be away from any reasonable curve entirely. “Move to second-world country and earn multiples of local median income” is not a solution that scales.

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  25. But that’s the thing, Laura (11D). We couldn’t *all* choose to go to law school — there is not an inexhaustible demand for lawyers. And, while I agree that it seems like economic suicide for a woman with a law degree and a high-paying job to quit and become economically dependent on a spouse (I’d be heterosexist about it, but the most prominent corporate lawyer/SAHM couple around here are lesbians), the truth is that the rest of us were in careers that didn’t offer much more financial security than being a SAHM does. Don’t get me wrong — if my marriage ends in divorce, I fully accept that I will be financially screwed but good. But if I’d stayed in the workforce, in publishing or journalism, chances are I’d be just as financially screwed, with skills tailored to match dying industries that hardly provided enough to live comfortably on even when they were thriving. Or maybe I’d have gone back to get that Ph.D., and now I’d be adjuncting and making barely enough to cover the childcare expenses. So, yeah, calculated risk for sure.
    I know what you mean, about choosing careers badly. But there just isn’t room for all of us in the “good” careers, you know? And if we let people dictate the terms of the debate such that it’s assumed that we ALL could be highly paid lawyers, then we’re allowing them to obscure a lot of very real constraints.

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  26. I can’t tell you how many lawyers I know from the parenting e-mail list I’ve been on since Soph was born who used to be lawyers and hated it or couldn’t handle the hours and dropped out. Talk about stupid careers.

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  27. The lawyer business is absolutely dreadful, if you didn’t graduate from a top-14 school. Document review for $23 an hour, and trying to make payments on $150000 of debt, is happening for a lot of recent grads, and a wills-and-divorces practice is not going to do a whole lot better most of the time.
    We both kept working after we got the kids. It’s a mixed bag: we have a lot more money, and are more secure, than we’d be otherwise. The kids have expressed resentment, and the view that their friends with stay-home and part-time moms get better service. Our #2 is a handful, but I kind of think he would have been even with one of us at home.

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  28. I do know a lot of lawyers who want to quit, have quit, or work for local goverment (at relatively low salaries) to avoid the crap with big law firms.

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  29. I also know plenty of lawyers who dropped out when the kid situation offered them a reasonable alternative. It’s a horrid life. No arguing that.
    I hate to mention her name in a positive light, but one thing Linda Hirshman talks about is women’s tendency to not take their career choices seriously enough. She talks about women very early choosing careers that could never support themselves or their family — so essentially, making plans around a phantom future spouse’s income.
    In my experience this is an accurate assessment, and is evidence of the continued impact of gender expectations. You take a young man of 18 who says he wants to become a pastoral counselor (to use Amy P’s previous example), and he’ll get an earful. You’re going to be too broke, you’ll never land a girlfriend, blah blah blah. More than an earful — it really will impact his dating prospects. But if a young woman does this, we give her a pass. She might get a speech from her mom about always being able to support herself. But there is rarely that level of discussion about being able to potentially support yourself and your kids and your retirement and BTW what are you plans for homeownership?
    I sometimes see this from the other side. My husband has been a SAHD for ten years now, although he’s currently transitioning to grad school. At dinner parties when he talks about what he’s doing, people say things like, “Your wife is very patient to support you in these choices.” When *he* treats his career the way many, many women treat their careers, he’s considered almost irresponsible.

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  30. Like more and more men, I managed to have a career and be considered irresponsible.
    Actually, I did follow my wife around for her career, which involved moving twice. It wasn’t that bad, but each move did set me back 5% of salary or so. Plus, I had to move lots of heavy stuff into rented trucks.

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  31. “I wouldn’t be in this situation if I had gone to law school or something. ”
    Glad to see that people are pointing out the futility of that particular solution.
    I do think that it has one thing to support it though — the potential benefit of “credentialed” careers over ones without credentials. Those would include, for example, law, medicine (including nursing), teaching, veternary medicine. All of these professions seem to allow a slightly higher re-entry path. Nursing and teaching really do allow people to leave and come back (and I know many who have). Law and medicine are more complicated (mostly ’cause they’re more remunerative, and dominated by men), but having the degree and the practical skill can allow entry.
    Academia is a complicated one, because of the straight track, followed by tenure. Laura has touched on this before, but the two things combined, and tenure in particular has made academia pretty unkind to re-entry. In some fields, fast-moving fields, that might be partially legit. But, mostly, it seems like it’s a social construct, and once there’s tenure, it prevents re-entry from those who haven’t managed that straight track.
    I think the personal solution has to be to look practically at whether a career allows you to ramp down and ramp up and allows re-entry when making one’s decisions. The institutional solution is to figure out ways of allowing re-entry in more situations.
    I have a lot of sympathy for Maurya’s point of view: “I agree the tone of the Bennetts thing is unnecessarily nasty but I do also get frustrated that it’s so optional for women to make enough to support the entire family, and so required for men to.” The personal choices create ripple effects for a society that then influences the personal choices. Each of the women who has made a rational decision to support her husband’s career at the expense of her own has made it a bit harder for the husband’s colleague to pursue that career without the support. And, that, in turn, influences/pushes that colleague out. I think we have to admit that, even without assigning blame.

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  32. ” Each of the women who has made a rational decision to support her husband’s career at the expense of her own has made it a bit harder for the husband’s colleague to pursue that career without the support. And, that, in turn, influences/pushes that colleague out. I think we have to admit that, even without assigning blame.”
    But that goes both ways, doesn’t it? The woman who chooses to work has an impact on others, too. It makes the job of mothering even less respected. It piles more community work on the women that stay at home. on and on.
    Everybody’s actions influence others. So why pick on the women that stay at home?

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  33. I work at a “career-oriented” university. We have no pre-law program, no pre-med program, no grad school feeder majors. We have some business programs, some tech programs, and then a lot of other stuff. I guess what I’m saying is that there are plenty of jobs out there that do not involve academia or law or high finance. We have a major in sports and events management. If I had known such a major existed when I was in HS/college, forget American Studies or English. I would have done that major in a heartbeat. To work for a sport team in some sort of management/operations/promotions? That would have been awesome to me.
    What I feel like is that whenever we discuss these issues, it reveals to me what limited perspectives you all have. That’s why I liked Mike Rowe’s “Dirty Jobs” talk so much. It reminded me that there are vibrant, interesting, even entrepreneurial careers/jobs out there that don’t involve being a professor or a lawyer or stockbroker or working as university staff.

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  34. I read the Bennetts book when I was working PT with a young toddler, and although I literally threw it against the wall and was maddened by the tone, it also did influence my decision to go back to work FT six months later when an opportunity landed.
    As luck would have it it was a very, very good choice – I made it over the wall into media before the gates closed and the beheadings started. So much for the freelance-friendly, sabbatical-happy industry. I’m lucky: ten years of experience has resulted in having a FT job (for now) unlike many of my colleagues. But even six months’ delay would have meant being shut out. And even now things are shaky.
    Sometimes I really do rue the fact that I followed my bliss when so many of my male peers were more pragmatic. I love my job, but I don’t love the instability and low pay. It’s true that before we had kids, we banked the lower salary and it’s what allowed us to get into the housing market early and do a few other things that have made us more financially secure, but after having a child for us the money just doesn’t work that way. Daycare is 150% of our mortgage payment.
    I do feel more personally secure in that I’ve been contributing to my own pension plan, managed to stay employed, etc. As a family though, we only really net about $300-400 more a month – significant, yes, but not a huge dealbreaker. However, if my husband were to be laid off (pretty close to possible) the cash flow would help, especially as we’d pull my son out of daycare reasonably quickly.

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  35. “Sometimes I really do rue the fact that I followed my bliss when so many of my male peers were more pragmatic.”
    When I was a print journalism major back in the early 90s, there were very few males in my classes. The professors were all men (largely old Jewish guys), but the students were nearly all female. Did the guys know something we didn’t?

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  36. AmyP: In my dark moments I really think they did; it might’ve been as simple as salaries, which were frozen then and have pretty much stayed there (at least in my area). It might also have been that when I was in school it was the more gadget-y broadcast programme that was favoured by the guys. Although not all of them have fared that well.
    Most of the guys I went to high school with are engineers, computer scientists, doctors, laywers, and MBAs. The women are journalists, doctors, teachers/professors, lawyers… and SAHMs.

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  37. I know some people who were just laid off from CQ. At some point, the gov’t is going to have to step in. We need journalists, like JennG. just crazy.
    I think that the best profession for parents is anything to do with medicine. Physical therapists, EKG readers, pharmacy. Salaries start at 60 to 90,000. Union benefits. And excellent on and off ramps.

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  38. “Everybody’s actions influence others. So why pick on the women that stay at home? ”
    So, I really didn’t want to pick on anyone (i.e. assign blame). But, society is now organized a particular way — for many rewarding professions (both intellectually & monetarily), jobs assume the presence of a support person. It’s a remnant of the old model, and is still alive and kicking in many professions. A woman who stays home to allow her husband to compete in that model stabilizes that model. A woman who works (and, still has kids & no support person & even just acts like a woman) destabilizes it. So, it’s not picking on anyone, just a recognition of which system the individual action ends up buttressing. And, I still don’t believe that this particular consideration should determine anyone’s personal decision.
    One point Bennett makes that I liked was when she objected to the use of the word “mother” for care-taking. A woman who works is still mothering her children. Her caretaking role is different than the mother who is also the full time caretaker of her children. But, I’d do take mild offense at the characterization that working devalues mothering.
    I’m on the same page with the idea that it devalues care-taking, though. And I think that’s a critical thing that the Bennett’s & Hirschman’s do actively devalue. Someone has to take care of the children, right? and if paid employment is always better choice, then someone else has to take care of the child, someone with less employable skills.
    I also think that mothers who leave and re-enter the workplace or who work at finding more flexible ways to work are fighting battles for a change in the status quo, too (as well as the mothers who maintain continuous employment).

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  39. A woman who stays home to allow her husband to compete in that model stabilizes that model.
    Right, but a two-income household drives-up housing prices (since those correlate with household income), making it harder for single-income families to afford a good place to live. And clog the prepared food counter at Whole Foods. All is in conflict.

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  40. I’m not picking on you, bj. I’m just enjoying this conversation.
    See, I don’t think that a woman who works necessarily destabilizes any system. She has learned to work around the old system by using daycare or nannies and by shouldering the second shift. But the old system of a 9-5 or even 10-6 work week continues. It’s actually amazing how resilient the old system was; it took in the massive influx of women into the workforce without changing one bit. Things have stayed exactly the same, just with more women’s restrooms. There is still no maternity leave, no flex time, no on ramps, no on-site daycare.
    I think that women who work, but do so on their own terms, do the most to destabilize the system. The smart and talented women who say “fuck you” to the traditional road and make real changes to the status quo – they are true radicals.

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  41. Just to amplify what bj’s said above about workplaces, I also think SAH parents become a crutch for the educational system. Certain schools run the entire library (or sports teams, or art program) with volunteer parents because they can. Other schools where all the parents need to be in the paid labor market just let those services drop, often. It’s no longer viewed as part of the required support of the school. And because not everyone is missing out on those services, there’s no collective discussion or agitation about it.
    To me what’s sad about all this is that it’s such a barometer of how the US standard of living is just falling, falling, falling. None of us can afford the stuff previous generations took for granted. We’re all scraping by to just maintain basic things like a good school for the kiddlies. Depressing.
    One other comment: if the working half of an at-home/working couple, in their workplace life makes a point of welcoming returning at-home parents and maintaining fairness to working parents — that person also destabilizes the current model. That’s the person I’m trying to be.

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  42. “See, I don’t think that a woman who works necessarily destabilizes any system. She has learned to work around the old system by using daycare or nannies and by shouldering the second shift. ”
    Yeah, true, if she does all that, and taking on the second shift, too (so that her husband can still fit the ideal worker model). But, I don’t think that’s the tenable working model (i.e. if the spouse doesn’t step up and take up some of the work, the system fails, and someone ends up at home). So I’m presuming a woman who works is first, pressuring her husband to be less of an ideal worker, since he has to take responsibilities at home, and second, being less of an ideal worker herself (since her husband isn’t taking all the responsibilities).
    And, it’s not particularly relevant to my argument that 2-earner families contributing to housing inflation (assuming they do), ’cause I’m working from the premise that destabilizing the model of an ideal worker with a support person is a good thing. Frankly, inflation driving more people to be 2-earner families would be a good thing in that model. But, I’m also working from the premise that the ideal worker model is the standard. And, I’m not sure that it is. If we work from the opposite assumption, 2-earner families are probably depressing wages, making it harder to be a 1-earner family which raises the issue of what to do about the children.
    As with many of these debates, I think that different issues face the privileged and disadvantaged: that 2-earners are becoming the norm in lower-paid professions but that the high-fliers still depend on the support model.

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  43. Taking an even larger step back, there’s a direct correlation between society prosperity and development and number of women in the workplace. Kristof (and co-author, whose name is escaping me) noted this relationship in a recent NYT magazine piece and in their book currently out.
    With women societally permitted to work, states have the ability to dramatically increase their economic growth and production. The collective best solution might be an ideal worker family (2 incomes/producers) rather than a 1 salary ideal worker family.
    It might be a kind of sad and tired observation, but it astounds me at how much is interlinked in economics. So much of this discussion seems to be trying to figure out the role of individual thrift, effort and work versus the structural frame the market provides.

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  44. For any given couple, if both of them try to change the “ideal worker” standard in their workplaces by refusing to comply with that standard, the odds are overwhelming that some other workers will step forward and meet the old standard.
    Collective influence works in both directions, and absent being a superstar in your field, it’s just as likely that refusing to meet the prevailing standard will result in a layoff as in a changing of the rules.
    When academic parents try to change the system by declining to meet the accepted standards, they’re just as likely to be attacked for dumping all their unfinished labor on unencumbered colleagues as praised for trying to set new standards for academic achievement.
    Women have been in the professional workforce en masse for thirty years now, and every five or ten years they’re told to do something different to make it better. Maybe it’s time we stopped assuming that it’s women’s choices that are the problem here.

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  45. “For any given couple, if both of them try to change the “ideal worker” standard in their workplaces by refusing to comply with that standard, the odds are overwhelming that some other workers will step forward and meet the old standard.”
    True, it’s a risk, just as one worker leaving the work force to contribute at home is a risk. But, there’s a vast area of compromise within the workplace between being an ideal worker (i.e. one who has no responsibilities other than work) and being a dilettante (a pejorative term, but I’m using it to refer to a worker who works only when it is possible without disturbing any other desired activity).
    I don’t believe that women’s choices are the only problem. But, I do believe that *people’s choices* are a contributing factor (the woman’s choice to leave the work force is also the man’s choice). And I believe that all the factors that contribute to some workers being able to replicate the “ideal worker” model will contribute to the skewing of the work force (including the choices people make).

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  46. “And, it’s not particularly relevant to my argument that 2-earner families contributing to housing inflation (assuming they do), ’cause I’m working from the premise that destabilizing the model of an ideal worker with a support person is a good thing. Frankly, inflation driving more people to be 2-earner families would be a good thing in that model.”
    I think you’re forgetting something here, namely the prevalence of single income, single parent families. They too are subject to the housing inflation produced by double income families and they have no extra earner to throw into the marketplace. There is no silver lining to housing inflation, and I look forward to its complete disappearance (probably in 2012 or 2013).

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  47. BJ, if my spouse hadn’t jumped through the hoops, he wouldn’t have gotten tenure. There was no space for compromise, and even now, in a tenured position with some ability to change the rubric, he’s still not having a lot of luck getting the people with real authority to change the rules.
    Nor, in a world where 300 people apply for a single job, does anyone in authority particular care.
    It’s not like that in every field, of course. But those are, and were, the facts of our lives.
    Any conversation about choice has to include as much dialogue about constraints. Constraints matter.

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  48. “I think you’re forgetting something here, namely the prevalence of single income, single parent families. ”
    True, I was forgetting them. And, they’re not a negligible sample. It’s also true that inflation/wage depression that makes 2-income families the standard throws them for a loop. On the other hand, they also have to function in the workplace without a support person. So, models disrupt an employer’s ability to depend on a support worker when they hire their “ideal” worker, might actually help the single parent find more workable employment, putting them on a more even playing field.

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  49. A woman who stays home to allow her husband to compete in that model stabilizes that model.
    Small children need to be taken care of 24/7 (and it really is 24 hours if the children in question are not good sleepers). That’s three full workdays per day. A woman *can* stay at home such that it’s not her husband’s problem to deal with the 24/7 workday of childcare, but I certainly didn’t. My job was to cover one of those three shifts — and both of us shared the other two shifts. You’d better believe that my husband did not have free rein to assume that he could blithely work whenever his job wanted him, not without prior negotiation with me. If anything, I’d guess he felt twice the pressure, at least while the kids were small. So I’d be careful of making the a priori assumption that men with a SAH partner feel free to be ideal workers. Whatever they’re giving for their jobs, they may be paying for in tension on the home front… unless they make enough money to allow their SAH partners to hire nannies.
    Also, unrelated: Wendy, holy cow, where do you teach? And do they let third-graders audit classes? Because did I mention that my kid has decided that he wants to be general manager of the Red Sox when he grows up?

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  50. Laura (11d), you’re not a SAHM. You’re a lifetime worker currently out of a job, but you’re also a working academic, or why would you be writing articles for publication and attending conferences?
    And sorry, I don’t think my holding a 9-5 job does a thing to devalue the “job of mothering.” As far as I can tell I am still doing that job. It doesn’t all have to happen during prescribed hours, does it?

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  51. “So I’d be careful of making the a priori assumption that men with a SAH partner feel free to be ideal workers.”
    Ditto. At least back at the time when “The Second Shift” was written, I believe the research findings were that double income husbands were only doing a smidgen more housework than single income husbands. My husband went to England for 5 or 6 days for a conference earlier this month, which is the sort of thing that “the ideal worker” enabled by a SA spouse can do, but there’s only so much of that sort of thing that can go on without seriously disturbing the domestic equilibrium (i.e. at some point the kids figure that they’ve got me outnumbered and no reinforcements are on the way). As Phantom Scribbler says, there are 24 hours in the day.

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  52. Why do I think housing inflation is doomed? Because of these charts. The Case-Shiller chart shows historic norms for housing prices and that there is still lots of room for a downward correction in prices:
    http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2008/12/classic-case-shiller-hosuing-price-chart-updated/
    The Credit Suisse chart shows that
    adjustable rate mortgages (the Alt-As and the Option ARMs) are going to be adjusting en masse well into 2012.

    I’ve also seen the argument that the current FHA 3.5% downpayment combined with the $8,000 tax credit works out to the equivalent of a zero-down mortgage, so any further price decreases will put those buyers in jeopardy.
    I don’t know how low home prices will go, but by the end of the current correction all of the price inflation of the oughts is going to be gone. It’s already happened in places like Florida and the rest of the US will follow.

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  53. PS, you’d have to e- me for that info. 🙂
    And your third grader would have to compete with my students for the job of Red Sox GM. 🙂

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  54. In the same boat as Jody. There’s no not jumping through the hoops, though I, myself, have refused to do so, having watched my husband go through it–not once, but twice. Basically, I’m refusing to be an ideal worker. It’s bad for me and bad for my family. I’m not lazy. I’m not a bad person. I’ve got one life to live and I want to live it well, thank you very much. 🙂
    And by the way, I’ve seriously considered the medical profession. The school has a special program for non-sciency people who already have a degree to get the appropriate classes to either go to med school or nursing school, etc. And it’d be free for me to do it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like a fun career to me.

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