My social security statements are an embarrassment. I've worked since I was 18, but my yearly income is poverty level. In college, I worked in the dishroom at the dining room and as a secretary in a valve company. I've had jobs in publishing, special education, academia, and journalism. I've also been an at-home mom, which is a job, FYI.
Like many women, I was attracted to creative and caretaking jobs. I could have gone into finance (720 on the Math GREs and 750 on the analytic, baby), but I didn't. I wasn't interested. A great post by Nancy Folbre in the New York Times's Economix tells me that I'm not alone.
… Nicole Fortin,
at economist at the University of British Columbia, finds that women
tend to place less importance on money and more importance on people and
family than men do…
Both biological and cultural factors can explain attitudinal
differences between women and men. In our society, caring for others has
long been considered an essential aspect of femininity (social
psychologists devote considerable effort to measuring
such things). And sometimes women don’t choose girly jobs, but end up
in them because they face discrimination or harassment in other jobs.
Caring often entails commitments to dependents such as young
children, adults with disabilities or the frail elderly who can’t afford
to pay directly for the services provided. It doesn’t fit easily into
the impersonal logic of fee for service or supply and demand.
We need caretakers in our society. Not everybody can be employed by the Bank of Evil. We really do need people who care for toddlers and old people. Educating children well has long term benefits for all of society. As Folbre says, "Good care helps create – and maintain – good people."
Instead of pushing women into lucrative jobs, caretaking work needs more respect and a bigger paycheck.