The Half Job Compromise

The elementary school bus lets the kids off right in front of my house at 3:25 every day. Even though I don’t have little ones anymore, I’ll sometimes go out to chat with my neighbors as they wait to collect their kids. It’s a mix of women there — some babysitters, some grandmas, some moms.

My favorite twin kindergartners greet me – “HI MISS LAURA!!” And I chat with their mom who is hoisting a two-year old on one hip.

She stopped working a couple of years ago, because she couldn’t manage her accounting job in Manhattan with its 3 hour commute, 60 hours weeks, along with all the parenting work, even with high levels of support from her mother and mother-in-law. Her husband’s accounting job involved lots of travel on top of the major hours. So, she quit. When the two-year is older, she might work part-time from home, but she’ll never be able to manage a major job again.

1-1/2 jobs is the norm around here. The NYT acts like this formula is totally new and radical, but this has been going on for a long time. That’s what Steve and I do.

We’ve fallen into this pattern mostly because of the school schedule. The school bus shows up at 3:25. Little kids need someone home. The big guys stay late at the school for track practice and need a ride home. There are random days off. And don’t get me started on the hassle that is summer.

It’s also because of the kind of work that people do around here. Jobs, like accounting or Steve’s work in finance, are a minimum of 60 hours per week. Workers have little time time during the day to handle emergencies or the list of chores. Because I handle all the crap, he’s been able to move up the ladder. We’re better off, because we work 1-1/2 jobs, rather than 2 jobs.

Friends that do manage 2 full jobs, often have careers in education or work very locally without any commute.

The good side of this family/work dynamic is greater income, the ability to handle family crises and day-to-day nonsense, and usually a hot meal on the table by 7 every day.

The cons are that part-time, flexible jobs in any field kinda suck. Adjunct professors and freelance writers aren’t exactly well respected. A 1/2 job doesn’t necessarily mean fewer hours, because I sometimes put in long hours at weird times, like on weekends and evening.

Is this all a tragedy? Not really. This is working for me. I suppose I’m a bad feminist, but I no longer care about that.

And because the economy does seem to want smart people, there is a way to ramp up when the kids go to college, as long as the 1/2 job is a real job and not being a substitute teacher. One friend just turned her 1/2 job as a Hebrew school teacher into a full-time gig as a Hebrew school principal. I talked with a woman who quit her job in the fashion industry to start a new company making high quality, branded sweat shirts and baseball caps for the local high schools.

Of course, some women are looking at the 1/2 job compromise and are saying “nah.” They’re just not having kids at all.

2 thoughts on “The Half Job Compromise

  1. Yes, I think it would be impossible for a couple in the suburbs to have two full-time professional jobs (or what in my family we call real jobs). When our daughter was first born, I had kind of a 3/4 job (nominally full-time, but working for the State, so pretty relaxed). But we needed more money, plus the dynamics of a marriage where the husband earns less can be difficult, so I went back to real jobs after a few years. My wife then cut down a little (like to a 7/8 job), which may have impaired her career advancement, until our daughter was about 10. Then we both worked real jobs until she retired. But all of that required (i) living in the City with (ii) full-time domestic help (at its peak, a nursemaid from 8 am to 7 pm and a housekeeper two days a week). It’s a choice.


  2. I’m not sure what “it’s a choice” means in the context of the real world. People make choices because the choice they prefer isn’t available. And, in the context in which we privilege certain choices with our government regulations, services, and taxes (in addition to the ones made by companies buffeted by market forces and tradition).

    But, one take home from the article for me was the extent to which 1 ideal worker job (ideal worker, which I learned from Joan Williams I think) can be the economically strongest choice for many families. Making the work of a 1M worker possible (by taking everything of [usually] his plate) is tough to balance economically. I’ve seen two doctors do it or two professors do it, by investing heavily in early years when children’s needs are high and incomes aren’t so high. But, their upsides are lower and also more likely to be equal, since they aren’t client based (like law, or startups, or investment banking).


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