September 20, 2005

"When we work so hard to open academics and other opportunities for women, what kind of return do we expect to get for that?"

Does a woman squander her elite education when she opts to say home with her children? Many of today's college women say that's what they plan to do.

What they actually end up doing is a different matter, but I wonder if college women are more likely to say that in the end they will stay home than they are to actually do it.

When the time comes to actually make the choice, there will be some hardcore financial realities to face. (My advice: If this is what you want to do, never let your spending reach the level of your income. Stay on a restricted budget, and always view the money you've brought into the family as extra, so you don't have to cut back to meet your aspiration to take the childraising years off. Don't get addicted to the money.)

Another consideration is whether the woman will have a husband (or other partner) who will share her goal. Will a man who marries a highly educated and accomplished woman (who has high earning power) really want her to stay home and raise the kids? Some men will. Maybe more men than women like this arrangement. The article quotes a guy saying "I think that's sexy."

I wonder whether the decision to become a one-earner family is more available to those at the highest income level. Maybe not. These people may be the most likely to get addicted to the money. And surely, they are most able to pay for nannies and other child care. The less the woman makes, the less of a financial sacrifice it is when she stays home (assuming the partner makes a decent income), and in fact, one could come out ahead. Consider all the expenses of going to work: childcare, transportation, clothing, eating out.

Anyway, the linked article makes it seem as though it has discovered a new cultural development, but I think this issue has been a live one all along. Since the early 70s there have been older women carping about younger women not sufficiently valuing all the work that had been done opening doors for them and women who want to stay home complaining that [other women are failing to recognize that] their choice is equally worthy. The one thing I don't hear so much anymore is people questioning whether to hire or educate women because they will just quit when they have children. Oh, but look at that quote in the post title again. That's from Harvard's director of undergraduate admissions.

UPDATE: Bracketed material in the last paragraph added (for clarity).

IN THE COMMENTS: This is an especially interesting forum in which many readers grapple with personal and economic issues. One commenter becomes distressed about what she interprets as sexist stereotypes.

MORE: The linked article -- a front-page NYT piece -- is based on a survey, which had some pretty obviously weak methodology, as Jack Shafer pointed out in Slate on Tuesday. Gelflog has more, including the text of the questions asked.


Laura Reynolds said...

When my wife began staying home, when our first child was born, she was an accountant and earned more than I did. It came with severe financial stress but we were able to do it for three kids and 14 years. It was a choice we made before we got married and decided to start a family.

Many of our peers with two working parents (and kids in daycare) still managed to have finacial stress. They just drove newer cars, took nicer vacations and ate out more than we did.

Hamsun56 said...

I don't think a woman staying home to raise children necessarily means that her education has been squandered. Has not an education a value in itself? Is not a highly educated primary care giver of value to the children being raised?

ATMX said...

Obviously you don't understand why Harvard's concern is here. Harvard expects to add graduates in business, government, and academia to its mafia network of alumni. When Harvard women alumni stay home, they take away from the base of contacts for networking for future graduates and alumni fundraising.

Robert said...

Employers still question whether they should hire women; they just aren't stupid enough to do it where it can be overheard.

Art said...

If you're into utility rate setting you know all about the concept of "avoided cost."
As wages stagnate and the cost of purchased services continues to increase, the "avoided cost" of a second commute, working wardrobe, child care, restaurant meals...the list goes on and on...makes one parent staying home more and more financially attractive.
Here's the really fun part: The U-S is on the verge of, if not already in, a labor shortage.
Think about how well your office would run if half of the employees with school age children walked out the door.
I know the free market types will say that will drive up salaries. Supply and demand and all that.
But we have a whole generation of managers who have been told that is simply not an option.
Shareholder value and all that.
Economics is fun, isn't it.

Troy said...

The return on my wife's education has been 2 brilliant kids who have been tught the basics and beyond by a college educated Mom. These kids will (barring unforeseen circumstances) hopefully propagate this model and be productive citizens whether my daughter stays at home with her kids, even has kids, or becomes a physicist. THAT'S the return on Miss Harvard's quote.

I guess my wife did not live up to this administrator's feminist ideal. My family's the better off for it and I strongly suspect our community is too. We do it in Southern California on a professor's salary -- adjuncting included. Besides San Fran and Manhattan perhaps it can be done.

And if something happens to me or she changes her mind, then my wife is prepared and credentialed to go into the workforce.

Along with Stever we made this choice before we got married and our income dropped 40% after Joshua was born.

Too Many Jims said...

Admittedly I am no Ivy Leaguer, but when my wife and I really confronted the fact that one of us should stay home, we looked at whose career would be harmed more by a lengthy interruption. My wife was in acedemia, about 1.5 years away from tenure. I was working at a bank. I earned more but we knew that interrupting her career for 5 years or more would most probably be the death knell to her academic aspirations. I viewed my job as, well, as a job. I could pick it up later if I so chose or pick something else up. That said, I think that outside of academia (and perhaps a few other fields) the modern day work place is really set up for women to transition into and out of it with the "punishment" for leaving and returning minimized to the extent possible.

george said...

Ihad a friend in the early 1960's who was into keeping records. He and his wife worked in Philadelphia. Considering carfare (cheaper than maintaining a car), business attire, and luncheons, he found that her job was a slight negative. He said that if she took a factory job it would be a plus.
When they had a child she quit.
In reality all it proved was that in her line of work women were paid little.

Pete said...

I'm a stay-at-home Dad, or was until quite recently. I work part-time now, while our girls are in school. We made the decision shortly after 9/11 - since my wife's career is in computers, she, and thus the family, stood to lose more if she opted out for a few years. Savings on daycare, taxes, gasoline, eating-out-less, and putting off retirement plans for a few years, helped close the gap. I've since gone back to school, earned the accounting hours necessary for a CPA, and will be back to earning what I was soon while giving our girls a small taste of a traditional upbringing. Neither my wife, nor I, feel my time, or education, has been squandered.

Kathy Herrmann said...

One of the differences in today's work force versus that of, say 30 years ago, is few folks stay in one company for a life-time. Resumes today show much more job changes and often career changes. Also, much more temporary stop-outs for "life change" reasons. All of it makes it easier for folks to stop out for a while.

That said, though, there's still a cost to stopping out, in terms of what level an individual is likely to be at when he or she drops back in.

Kathy Herrmann said...

Ann--You make a good point about being conservative in your spending if you have ambitions to drop out of the workforce at some time.

When I bought my first house, I purposely purchased much less house than I could afford. The reason? I wanted flexibility to change jobs to something that paid less if I became so inclined.

The decision also helped me from being cash poor in my first house. Overall, it was one of my smarter financial decisions.

P_J said...

"What does concern me," said Peter Salovey, the dean of Yale College, ... "is that so few students seem to be able to imagine a life for themselves that isn't constructed along traditional gender roles."

You can hear the disappointment of the superior intellect whose preferred outcome for other people's lives isn't their choice (the stupid sheep). What Dean Salovey cannot understand is that the young women interviewed seem to have thought quite clearly about their choices and decided (at this point, anyway) to say, "That's not what I want."

My wife graduated from a top national university and worked before we had kids. It was her informed choice to stay home with the kids and our kids have benefitted from her excellent education.

If moms want to work, that's their decision, but I'm glad that more young women are seriously considering the financial and relational trade-offs. You'd think that "feminists" would celebrate more choices and better education for women - but apparently what women are supposed to do is march in lockstep behind the feminist vision whether they want it or not.

Tom said...

At my 20 year high school reunion last year this was a big topic of conversation because so many of the women in my class had ditched their careers and were staying home to raise the kids. Some of them left some prominent positions, such as partner at a prestigious Dallas law firm, because they found there weren't enough hours in the day to be both a good employee and a good mother (the lawyer tried going part-time at first but realized after six months that being a part-time lawyer means continuing to work full-time hours but for part-time pay, and so she quit).

It was also noted this was not an option available to single mothers.

My wife's a stay at home mom and loves it because she's finally found a job she enjoys. Financially we go without a lot of things other people take for granted--cable or dish TV, tivo, new cars, Ipod, Playstation, dinner out every night--but we don't care.

Wade Garrett said...

Having gone to Yale, all three Yale professors quoted in this article said more or less exactly what I thought they would say.

I think that a lot women at Harvard, Yale, etc might say at age 20 that they want to take time off to raise a family, but once they become doctors or lawyers or professors, and if they like their jobs, I think they might have a harder time walking away than they expect. Consider all of the men out there working high-stress, long-hours jobs, who justify it by saying that once they make their money they will scale back their hours and live a better lifestyle. Most of them never do, because, as Ann said, they get addicted to money or, on the other hand, they get so caught up in their work that they don't want to leave.

Also, high-earning, well-educated parents are more likely to put their children into pre-school at an earlier-than-average age. If a kid is going to school from 8:30-3:30, a stay-at-home parent really only gets to spend two hours more per day with the child than they would if they worked. I guess I just don't see much utility in that, when they alternative is working a very high-paying job, especially so if there are active grandparents living in the area.

P_J said...

"When we work so hard to open academics and other opportunities for women, what kind of return do we expect to get for that?"

Satisfaction as an educator?
A better-educated citizenry?
Roughly $160,000 over four years?

I'm Full of Soup said...

The post title caught my attention. IMO, the speaker is actually saying "how do we weed out these ungrateful baby makers"? Great example of Harvard group think. Nice post, Ann.

A parent might rightly wring their hands when a child squanders a costly degree by going to live on a commune but you will rarely hear a parent complain when their child elects to stay home and raise some grandchildren.

PatCA said...

The current generation of women (and men) seem to be making their own choices, and that's what the feminist revolution was about...wasn't it? They realize that slogging through a career for 40 years is not, in and of itself, a worthy life path. My young cousin and his wife, both MD's, for instance work 20-30 hrs per week each and raise their 3 kids together.

When I worked in the courthouse, it was the upper echelon of women, strangely, who had the hardest time. The female judges were always struggling with subpar child care; the typists, mostly immigrants, had extended family and grandparents at home who took care of the kids.

Mehera said...

My husband and I raised two kids. While I do think my family benefited from our decision years ago to have me stay home instead of developing my career, it was not without a price to me.

Now that they are successfully launched into the world, I am the one who must reinvent myself. Husband has developed a successful career and financially we are in sound shape--but, you see, I am the one whose main role has come to an abrupt end. And it's not that easy to pick up in the workplace after a long absence; I am a relic now. Pathetic, huh? All I can say in my own defense is that it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I would advise any young woman considering this route to keep current through the years so that she CAN go back.

And guys, your marriage will be happier when that time comes if this issue is considered far in advance. The time goes much more quickly than you think.

Eddie said...

Great topic. My girlfriend and I have this conversation all the time. She thinks it would be a waste of her private schooling and engineering degree to stay at home with the kids. I understand, but point out that we won't really be financially better off having to pay for daycare and all the costs associated with two jobs and two incomes, such as eating out, driving, gas, clothing, etc.

True, a more frugal life would have to be had. However, it's all about priorities. She and I already live well below our means (by choice, not because we don't make diddly squat), and I think we could do it. Her fear of her education being a waste means it may never happen. Of course, we will get married first, OK, after I buy a ring and propose.

Jillene said...

Personally I am no where near making this decision about my life. However, my profession has been pondering how the great influx of women practioners will affect the vitality of the pharmacy workforce. If the admissions committee had taken into consideration if an applicant was female and likely to quit or work part-time in order to raise a family, the pharmacy school would be 1/5 the size. Hence, they did not. And really, is it such a bad thing that American children are raised by highly educated, non-working, highly motivated women and men.

Finally, what a condescending title to an article!

jult52 said...

I actually feel guilty because my wife can't quit her job. I see her natural sweetness and interest in homemaking and think the pressure and behavior required of a professional woman interferes with those traits.

Any other men feel that way?

Ann Althouse said...

Jult52: Are you sure it is impossible? Make a budget and cut everything you have to to do what you want. Many economies can be realized if one person has the time in the day to do things that save money (like learn to cook very inexpensive meals and keep a very small house liveably organized).

Ann Althouse said...

Mary: I'm assuming Jult's wife really wants to stay home and feels required to work and at odds with the professional style of behavior. Note that Jult is admitting feeling inadequate because (as he sees it) he can't support the family alone. If he was all into being a dominating male, he probably wouldn't admit that.

I strongly recommend "The Tightwad Gazette" to anyone who wants wants to realize their dream of a one-earner family on a small income. It not only makes being a tightwad seem creative and fun, it makes the argument for how expensive it is to work and how valuable not working can be.

Let's not fall into the mistake of thinking work is the one true path to fulfillment. Even without raising children as your motivation, the idea of not working can be very attractive. What if one spouse would like not to work so she (or he) could be an artist or a writer or to engage in charitable works or political activities? What if a childless woman wanted to stay out of the workplace and just read, garden, cook, and generally enjoy life? Would the man think she was not pulling her weight?

Wade Garrett said...

I agree that the class issue is pretty important here. I have to be careful how I say this, but when a woman with a high earning capacity marries a man with a similar earning capacity, and stays home to be with the children, what I've seen happen with a lot of my parents' friends is that, once the kids are in school full-time, say, by age 3 or 4, "staying home to be with the kids" often turns into: "drop the kids off at 8, starbucks at 9, workout at ten, shoe shopping at 1."

Not having had to go through this myself, it seems to me that most of the value of having a stay at home mother is realized in the first couple of years after the child is born. After that, I think a lot of women don't go back to work because they don't want to and can afford not to, not because they need the time away from work to be a better mother.

MrSpkr said...

(My advice: If this is what you want to do, never let your spending reach the level of your income. Stay on a restricted budget, and always view the money you've brought into the family as extra, so you don't have to cut back to meet your aspiration to take the childraising years off. Don't get addicted to the money.)
Sage advice, Ann.

Mehera said...


A trivialization of my entire adult life...but what the heck. You're probably my son's age and know it all.

Abc said...
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Abc said...

Yevgeny Vilensky said...
It's pretty interesting, I actually knew Louise Story, the story's author, in college. She was a couple of years behind me at Yale.

I think what's interesting is that in the early Republic, while certainly women's education in the arts and sciences was not something that was promoted in society, there was an idea floating around of republican motherhood. Namely, that while women ought not be involved in the baseness of politics, they should be educated in the values of our government and society so that they can instill republican values in children.

I think that it is not at all a waste of an education for a woman to use her great education to raise children. Presumably, one would want children educated by a parent who had a great education rather than a teacher who might not even know the subject he or she is teaching.

I am actually surprised that some admissions counselors would be skeptical of this trend. I would think that because elite schools like Yale, Harvard, and Princeton have an ethos that they want their graduates to pursue, it would be a benefit to have their alumni better able to instill this ethos in future generations, and even provide a pool of potential applicants who are already living this character ideal.

Wade Garrett said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

I think it's telling that in the title quote and virtually all of the subsequent comments, it's assumed that men will work but women have a choice of whether to work or not. (Setting aside, for a moment, that choices are *always* made within a set of constraints.) As an example, consider Troy's comment:

"The return on my wife's education has been 2 brilliant kids... who will (barring unforeseen circumstances) hopefully propagate this model and be productive citizens whether my daughter stays at home with her kids, even has kids, or becomes a physicist." [emphasis added]

What about Joshua? Doesn't he have a choice?

And why have so many commenters assumed that the woman's choice is the only one of consequence for how the kids turn out? Under this logic, if the kids don't turn out right its her fault for working (if she's in the middle or upper classes) or for not working (if she's poor). But isn't it just as much the husband's / male partner's "fault", and for the same reasons?

Wade Garrett said...

Mehera - I didn't claim to know it all; I just know what I've seen amongst my family's friends. Its not a value judgment - if you can afford to do it, go ahead! I'm just saying that I've seen a lot of married women lead leisurely lifestyles under the guise of 'staying home to raise children.'

Ann Althouse said...

Kim: I don't think people are faulting the women who work, just offering support for the ones who stay home. I'm also directing this at the men: they should figure out how to help wives who want to stay home. They could also be the ones who stay home with the children. When my kids were very young, my husband was the one who stayed home with the kids. That's even more difficult to pull off, but it can be a good choice. In our case, it made sense because he was a writer.

Mom said...

Well, maybe there are a few stay-at-home moms out there who spend their days shopping for shoes once their children reach the halcyon age of three -- but I certainly haven't met them, other than the ones with full-time nannies. In my own experience, part-time work does get easier once kids reach school age (which, by the way, Terence, is closer to age five or six than to three or four.) Full-time work for both parents, however, can continue to be genuinely challenging right through high school, even for higher-earning families. For one thing, most schools let out around three, while most workplaces stay open all day. Children don't go to school in the summer, on holidays, on teacher conference days, or when they are sick. Babysitters are fine for younger kids, but not so great as kids get older. And not all of the work of raising children goes on when the kids are at home.

I don't know what it is about choosing whether to work outside or inside the home after children arrive that brings out a need on the part of some people to belittle and criticize. In my experience, the parents who are most successful in finding workable approaches for their own families are those who remain flexible, humble about what they don't know, and open to different possibilities -- qualities Terence might want to work on before he starts a family of his own.

Eddie said...

Ann, thanks for letting people know they CAN do it if they will it. It seems to me that we all think that we can't live off of one income like many of our grandparents did becuase items are too expensive today. However, our grandparents had one car, packed every lunch, bought second hand clothing, lived in smaller houses, clipped coupons, didn't buy their children every toy at K-mart or Sears, and lived a much more modest lifestyle. Obviously, they made sacrifices to do so.


BeyonceKnowsBest said...

Clearly the best choices for hiring are childless people. Let's hear it for the vast majority of the homosexual community!!

Then again, we might want to reconsider the almighty American work ethic, and loathe as people seem to be to look toward our European counterparts, perhaps their work-life balance merits some contemplation.

Diane said...

SteveR, Eddie:

Why don’t *you* stay home and raise the children?

I mean, when a man makes less money, shouldn’t he be the one who stays home with the children?

As a person who spent a great deal of time working in day-care, I have to say that I do not think daycare is the best option in the interests of the child. Ideally a parent or grandparent should be the primary care-giver. But I don’t see why it necessarily has to be a woman. I know a lot of men who are better with the children than their wives.

Eddie said...

I'm not that great of a nurturer. Some men are cut out for it, I am not sure it is me. However, if I ever did, I would definitely run a small business on the side, E-bay or whatever, for extra income.

Unknown said...


Why don’t *you* stay home and raise the children?

Perhaps the reason is this: because mothers are, on balance, far better mothers than fathers are. And since I'm not the president of Harvard, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the reasons might even include some physiology.

I mean, when a man makes less money, shouldn’t he be the one who stays home with the children?

I sincerely hope that nobody makes their childrearing decisions with such a tunnelvisioned view of the bottom line. I don't think you meant it to be that way, but it reads that way.

But I don’t see why it necessarily has to be a woman. I know a lot of men who are better with the children than their wives.

Of course, there are going to be cases where the father proves to be an exemplary care-giver. I spend a lot of time with my daughter thanks to my flexible schedule, and I'm always heartened to watch the stay-at-home dads care for their kids, as I am with the stay-at-home mom I know whose female partner works full-time. Of course these alternative arrangements can work.

But it reflects measures of selfishness and/or materialism not to give reasonable weight to biology. So while there are certainly going to be instances where those alternatives prove superior, they should not begin with equal standing before other factors are taken into account.

My wife is fully convinced that she was flat out deceived by the mantra that a sucessful woman is a career woman. Now that she cares for our precious 2-year old, and almost certainly unable to have more due to our advanced age, she genuinely considers the time she spent focused on career to the exclusion of marriage and family a waste in comparison.

amy said...

Interesting article. One I've discussed with my husband and friend many times. I'd love to work from home, but we can't make it work financially right now. We are hoping to move in the spring, and maybe with some re-structuring of our bills and such we'll be able to make it work. Especially given that the cost of 2 children in daycare will be over half of my income!

Unknown said...
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vnjagvet said...

Diane of course has a point. As Ann points out, for the last generations, at least since the sixties, the stay at home dad has been at least an acceptable life style for the upper, upper middle, university educated classes.

But whether the stay at home parent is male of female, it sure helps a child's sense of stability and being well cared for. Also, if the stay at home parent is well educated, it generally gives the children a great head start in their education and promotes a healthy respect for education itself.

This is not a new phenomenon. I was born in 1940. My mom was born in 1914 and my dad in 1912. Both had college educations during the heart of the depression, mom a BS in Chemistry and dad a BS and MS in engineering. Only one of their parents had a college degree, and he died young. None of their siblings had college degrees.

My mom worked before marriage, but stopped after three years to raise a family. Twenty years later my dad died (at age 48) and my mom taught elementary special education for the remaining 25 years of her life.

The result: three children with advanced degrees (all of whom married strong willed, college educated spouses), and many grandchildren with advanced degrees all of whom were raised by one stay at home spouse. In other words a tradition which helped keep higher educational institutions in business across three generations.

Interestingly, both of my parents were strong financial supporters of their colleges, as were each of their children, and now their grandchildren.

Based on our family history at least, (realizing this is but one family) I believe the quote which introduced this post is both uninformed and short sighted.

Jim Rhoads

jult52 said...

Ann asks me: Jult52: Are you sure it is impossible?

Ann: right now it is but we are working towards it. The obstacle is the mortgage, actually -- our spending is restrained generally. NY metro area house prices are expensive.

Mary - I don't even know who Torvald Hemmer is. Care to explain?

I think the point is that women have reached a post-post-feminist stage. Most of my male friends would quit their jobs if they suddenly experienced a financial windfall and didn't need the income. Now that issues of gender equality have receded in importance, women can also admit that they'd rather just not work.

jult52 said...

Kim writes: I think it's telling that in the title quote and virtually all of the subsequent comments, it's assumed that men will work but women have a choice of whether to work or not.

Telling of what? You should specify what you mean when you write that.

jult52 said...

Mary writes: "I think the generational differences are most striking on gender questions like these. The kids I was raised (70s and 80s) with never were educated to believe that women were gentler, kinder, or more deserving of someone to care for them than men."

And this is progress? It sounds like cultural degradation to me.

Laura Reynolds said...


My wife did not make that much more than me, either way it was going to be tough financially, my point was that she was educated and career minded, but prioritized motherhood and I supported her. Gee its not a freakin PC test, we are two intelligent people who reached a decision based on our values and careful thought. Besides I would have been really lousy at breast feeding and just so you'll know, I do most of the cooking, plenty of dishes and other chores, except for laundry which I'm banned from for improper color sorting and water temperature selection.

jult52 said...

Steve: "I'm banned from for improper color sorting and water temperature selection."

My wife spent a year training me on this and now I have it DOWN!

Ann Althouse said...

Mary: "--Writers and artists aren't "working" ?" You know I mean working for pay here, but fair enough. Many artists and writers make little, no, or less than zero money. Believe me. I've been there. But to have all your time to yourself is important. Try coming home after a day at a job and doing art. It is not the same as owning all your own time. When a spouse make it possible for you to have that time, it is very valuable.

And by the way, I wasn't raised to think someone would take care of me either. I had an art teacher who told me I needed "a sugar daddy" and offered to make introductions with people in NYC for me. I thought the teacher was a ridiculous creep, who did not understand modern times (in about 1972).

There were times later on when I thought I would have been better off if I had looked for a rich man to support me in my creative pursuits, but the option never realistically crossed my mind when I was young.

Anyway, Mary, you are quite off with your generational analysis. I went to college at the HEIGHT of the women's movement. And if you interpret my post as anti-feminist, you are not reading very well!

Laura Reynolds said...


With three daughters (15, 12 and 9) its just a place I've decided not to go, but I'm glad you've done it. In a pinch, I'll do my own stuff, like the bachelor days.

leeontheroad said...

The pulled quote, as well as many comments, focus on the gendering of child-rearing. What concernes me most, however, is the too easy link between "the value of education" and direct income production.

I'll just toss into the ring that an educated care taker of any gender is a great benefit to the child(ren) he or she is raising.

I'm not dissing those without formal higher education. I'll more happily diss those educated parents who could but do not read to their children, or encourage their iamginations.

It just is the case that the numbers overwhelmignly suggest that parents with some higher education are more likely to read to their children and bring them to the library, etc.

(Yes, I know, this is sometimes because a parent workign two jobs to keep a roof over children's heads can be focused on a different hierarchy of need.)

My point is that valuing education for income production but not for child-rearing purposes is just wrong-- for men or women.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

It seems one of the main points of the article has not been adressed in the comments: many of the students plan on having their children while still in their 20's. I believe that this is as significant as the stay-at-home-or-not question.

This might not seem like much to the Boomers here, but for my generation it's a big thing. Most people I know thought getting married before 30 was rushing things, let alone having children before 30.

We were brought up to fear pregnancy and parenthood as the end of all that is good in life. I'm not kidding; the contraception education we received all through our adolesences scared the hell out of us. I think that this is an unexplored impetus behind the delayed adulthood of Generation X.

Thus I believe that the real issue here isn't who will care for the children of college-educated middle-class women, but whether they will manage to have children at all. I'm 35 years old and live in NYC; most of the women I know my age in the city are childless. In contrast, my sister (34) has a cohort of more conservative, suburban friends who are just now having their first or second child.

I know so many single, beautiful career women in their mid-late 30's who are beginning to doubt that they can have it all. Many of them would drop their careers willingly for the chance of having a family to care for. I rather doubt they they would turn into the Stepford Wives; in fact more than one envisions some combination of home-schooling and part-time work from home.

Finally, I remember when Reese Witherspoon chose to start her family when she was in her early 20’s. An article at the time was full of much of the same chin-pulling as this one but it focused on the child-bearing aspect. The pundits seemed apalled that a mere child of 24 or whatever was having a baby! What kind of example was she?!? One of the non-Hollywood young mothers they interviewed said she wanted to have her children while she had a full tank of gas and wasn’t running on fumes!

PS- I notice that the article doesn't mention if any of the Boomer academics quoted has children themselves. Hmmm....

alikarimbey said...

Prof., Me thinks if you are a faculty person at top univ. such as UW-Madison, you do not have to worry about child-care. Your univ. will cover for it. And, me thinks that if you are a worker in a library in a small town, you cannot get child care. You are stuck with limited opportunies to grow. So, there is elitism. Today there are many opportunities for support at colleges but not in ordinary worksplaces such as pizza joints where I work.

Nature editorial on this post


Jeff with one 'f' said...
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Jeff with one 'f' said...

Jame Taranto, in todays Best of the Web:

The vast majority of today's young women are the daughters of women who decided to have children. Women who abjured motherhood for full-time careers can't very well pass their values on to the daughters they never had.

Also, see this:

Best age for childbearing remains 20-35 - Delaying risks heartbreak, say experts

Eli Blake said...

Maybe I have a different persective, working at a community college.

The class I just taught, there was one male student and twelve female students.

Last year at our graduation, we had 139 female graduates and 45 male graduates.

Our student body is consistently 70% or more percent female.

It's not that the young men in our area (a very rural, poor area) are going to college elsewhere either. Most of the young men go to work, go to the military, go to jail-- but not to college. This is especially true among our native American students-- probably 90% of them are female.

I've heard a lot of explanations for this. Two that stand out in my mind are: 1) It is now expected that the young men should go to work in the native American communities directly out of high school, and a lot of families can only pay to send one or two children to school, so they send daughters; and 2) Among a growing segment of young Navajos, going to college is considered effeminate and young men who consider it are looked down on by their peers.

Gauss said...

Please bear with a small story (whose relevance will be made clear shortly):

This summer, I went home (I am an international student studying in the US), and I was watching a movie with my 10-year old sister. Our conversation was in Chinese, but it went like this:

Me: Who do you think the bad guy is?
Sis: I think it is him (Character A)?
Me: Really, why not the other guy (Character B)?
Sis: Because he (Character B) is black.
Me: So?
Sis: Black people are always the good guys.

The point is, perceptions change, and can change drastically within the space of a generation. In the university where I did my undergrad (Stanford) and where I am doing my graduate work (MIT), the clearly prevalent view is that my female counterparts should work. That is the normal thing to do - why pay tuition of you're not going to "waste it."

So this NYT article is truly a revelation to me. By choosing more traditional lifestyles, they are, in my opinion, being counter-cultural, as far as our generation is concerned.

Ann Althouse said...

Mary, I would ask you to look carefully at how I have responded to people. I am not trading in stereotypes but I am also not inhibiting expression and demanding orthodoxy. I'm trying to foster a working forum.

Ann Althouse said...

Mary, I didn't say you were messing up the forum. I'm just trying to explain why I am making the kind of contributions that I am. I think people are very sincerely trying to express how they are trying to grapple with difficult real world problems. No one is being blatantly sexist, and I think it is good for people to be able to talk about it. If that makes you feel that you're not being supported, then I'm in an impossible position.

ShadyCharacter said...

Mary said: "I'll just quietly cultivate my own garden until things get more civil out there."

It seems to me that you are cultivating sour grapes in that garden of yours. I'll go out on a limb here and shamelessly make an assumption about you - you "abjured" (still an interesting word choice? why?) having children and a family yourself and you deeply regret it. How else to explain your misreading of each and every comment you responded to as an attack on women with careers. It doesn't take a Sigmund Freud to diagnose - IMAX-sized projection.

If you have stuck around, please point to something uncivil that was directed at you (aside, perhaps, from this post). Someone writing "my wife gave up her law practice to be a mother and she LOVES it!" is not an attack on you or your life path, and if you think that it is, well, that must just suck...

Unknown said...

A waste? So you're not planning to send your daughter to college then? Articles and comments like these somehow always lead to belittling the choices that are unlike your own -- a backlash against mother who work, if you will.

It is unreasonable to suggest that just because someone considers a life choice a "waste" that it belittles those who think it is not. It is entirely possible to waste one's time on a pursuit that others do not consider a waste at all. For a woman who has made an informed choice not to have children, then a career is far from a waste.

The issue is one of informed choice. Certainly my wife does not believe, nor should I have suggested, that she had preferred that she never went to college nor started a career. Rather, she feels that she had an improper view of the value of motherhood and therefore unable to make a fair judgement about the direction her life should take. Had she obtained a proper view of motherhood, something that frankly many in the feminist movement actively seek to prevent, she might have stepped off the career train a little early.

Still, to be fair, my wife really doesn't consider her past choices a complete "waste" because, after all, they led her to her current station, in which she is quite happy.

Now, if you need evidence that "many in the feminist movement actively seek to prevent" [obtaining a proper view of motherhood], you need look no further than the article in question:

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."

I mean, is this kind of thinking not the least bit shocking?

Unknown said...

Just to be clear, here is what I find shocking about that quote: "They are still thinking of this as a private issue."

It's not a private issue? It seems to me as if she is suggesting that women who decide to forego extended careers to have children are somehow failing their gender, not just themselves.

Am I reading this wrong or is this just completely daft? Should not a true feminist be striving towards an expansion of options for women, so that they are free to make an informed choice between (external) career, family, or some mixture thereof? Or does Dr. Wexler believe that making an informed choice to stay home and raise a family is oxymoronic?

Unknown said...

"Telling of what? You should specify what you mean when you write that."

Telling of implicit gender biases among Althouse commenters, a majority of whom would self-identify as conservative.

Kim: I don't think people are faulting the women who work, just offering support for the ones who stay home.

The problem is that the latter goal so often devolves into the former. Remember Dan Quayle's infamous comment about Murphy Brown? Now read the comment in the NYT article from the mother who was criticizing women who put their kids in day care. Plus ca change.

Just to clarify, I'm not against women choosing to stay home (even if they have Yale degrees). It just bothers me that there is so little attention paid to men's choices, or the lack thereof.

Unknown said...

Until this movie becomes common reality, then I think that a certain degree of gender bias regarding parenthood is not just unavoidable but justified.

Ann, in my opinion, is right on target by acknowledging gender differences and focusing her words towards men in the area of finding ways to support women's unique decisions.

Unknown said...

Oh, and if I may: if that movie does become reality, I hope we men will be forgiven for unanimously rejecting Lamaze :)

justagal said...

I guess I hold the post-feminist view held by many of the younger students I encounter at our campus. They believe in equality of opportunity, but they are realists about biological necessities.

They also don't like to be dictated or condescended to by either males or females. They are more open to choosing the role they would most like to fill, not fufilling others' expectations of their proper role.

This sometimes grates on the more feminist professors. Food for thought..what is so liberating about "having" to live up to some feminist, p.c. ideal of a hard driven career woman (and receiving active and passive critcism for choosing a different path)? Isn't that in its own way as confining as being shut out of a career?

lindsey said...

For some reason, this conversation really reminds me of Kill Bill. At the time that movie came out, a lot of people seemed to praise it as a feminist movie because the main character is violent and kills people, but the plot of the film is that once she learns she's pregnant, she ditches her career to run off and find a safe suburban husband. When the perfect family is taken away from her by her co-workers, she goes on a killing rampage. I'm not sure what to make of it. Feminist? Anti-feminist? She's pretty clearly depicted as being in control of her own choices, but it's her career that takes away her family against her will.

Henry said...

My mother-in-law loves the Tightwad Gazette. I'm really very happy it went out of print. It's not that I'm into consumption, it's that I would rather not spend my time rewashing used plastic bags and driving to discount stores.

Getting outside of the gender issues, what struck me about the article (as it struck leeontheroad) was the equating of education with income and power. What the article doesn't even mention is the idea of happiness. In my experience, gain of income has always been linked to loss of time and freedom. One very concrete example for where I live is the decision to commute or not. The choice to work locally or commute to Boston is hugely important to how much money one makes. Friends who have chosen (or been forced into) the commute option give up enormous amounts of time they could spend their own nonwork life. Those who have kids simply don't see them except on weekends.

Of course having kids is a terrific time sink as well, just one with different rewards.

But I'm not convinced that 60-hour weeks to move up the corporate (or NGO) ladder are really all that fun either. That goes for moms and dads and singles as well. I'm all for type B personalities and lack of ambition.

lindsey said...

Also, I wonder whether this might cause places like Harvard to pursue affirmative action for boys if they feel they cannot depend on all the girls they're admitting to make full use of their education (aka work full-time for the next 40+ years TO BRING GLORY TO THE IVY LEAGUE!).

lindsey said...

From the Amazon link for the Tightwad Gazette:

"Other, stranger offerings include tips for turning margarine-tub lids into playing-card holders, old credit cards into guitar picks, and six-pack rings into a hammock or volleyball net."

Some of those things listed really depress me. The volleyball net and the margaring-tub lids thing makes me want to cry.

Mary Gee said...

I am a 50 something woman who stayed home with my kids until they started school. I went to college in my 40s and had a masters degree by my 50th birthday. Now I am amazed by the experience of working with younger women who want it all.

I am glad I stayed home and I concur with Ann about learning how to live without tons of money. I became a great baker of bread and knitter and canner. Not for everyone, I know, but I loved it.

I just don't understand how you can possibly have everything all at the same time. I am old enough to remember when no one wanted to hire a woman because they would quit when they got married or had children. They also didn't want women on the payroll because they would call in sick if their children were sick. Women of my age and older set out to prove them wrong "back in the day."

I marvel at women now who are legally entitled to take time off for their children and families. I don't even think they know what it was like a few short years ago. And they would probably be bored to tears by an oldster like me telling them...

QitAll said...
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Ann Althouse said...

Lindsey: Yes, I find stuff like that depressing. I used to have a job that required me to read Family Circle and Woman's Day, back in the 1970s -- actually, it was my day job when I was trying to be an artist! -- and some of the tips just made me feel really sad. I remember one recommendation that women save the string that comes wrapped around bakery boxes and to knit it into dishcloths! You have to use common sense about what the usable tips are and when they are just toying with you. I think a better tip would be, don't spend money at the bakery. Learn how to make cookies or a simple cake from scratch! You kids might help you make the cake and in any event will think it's nice that you baked something for them, whereas if they see you knitting string into dishcloths, they will think you're bizarre -- or trying to guilt trip them.

QitAll said...

Why not get educated young when it is fun and easier to get through school. Go get your first or second job. Then stay home for a few years if you want to. We live nice long lives now. We can have multiple careers, including one of them being mother (frankly being a mother is great training for dealing with partners in law firms!). No need to worry about it. Imagine dropping out of the work force at 30 and staying home for the kids early years, let's say 10 to 15 years. Resume working at 40 to 45. You will still be expected to work 27 to 32 years before retirement. Long enough to have multiple careers if you want them! The great thing is that this is all about choices -- what is best for each particular family. It is not about what society dictates. I have several high earning lawyer friends who happen to be women. Some have quit to become full time stay-at-home mothers, others have worked it out with their husbands so each works a little less and both make comparable contributions to child care, and several have found that my friends' salaries were substantially higher and would go up more exponentially so their husbands have become stay-at-home dads. Each particular family is happy, but not feeling superior, with their choices.

lindsey said...

"I think a better tip would be, don't spend money at the bakery."
More like don't spend money at Starbucks! I wish they had some competition because it would force them to lower their prices! Coffee war!

"...whereas if they see you knitting string into dishcloths, they will think you're bizarre -- or trying to guilt trip them."

Probably both. That is pretty horrible. This reminds me about how when I was little my mom would lecture me on opening Christmas presents slowly so that she could reuse the wrapping paper. It used to make me so upset. I thought that if we couldn't afford wrapping paper, how could we afford Christmas?

This topic and the issue of expenses has oddly coincided with this article I just found detailing why so many middle class Americans are going bankrupt. It's not that they're overly wasteful. Certain costs seem to be out of control: higher mortgages, higher cost of cars (they don't mean gas), health care increases and taxes, taxes, taxes.

"A generation ago, the one-income family committed about 54 percent of its pay to the basics—housing, health insurance, transportation, and taxes. That is, the one-income family spent about half its income to make the “nut”—the basic expenses that must be paid even if someone gets sick or loses a job. Today, these basic expenses, including child care so that both parents can work, consume 75 percent of the family’s combined income. With 75 percent of income earmarked for fixed expenses, today’s family has no margin for error."

Also, does anyone else sometimes have trouble reading the word verification letters? I feel so retarded.

Troy said...

Jult -- Torvald is Mary's cute little Ibsen allusion. You see -- you are a brute just like Torvald in A Doll's House and your poor wife is put upon Nora -- but watch out because Mary's instant karma's gonna getcha! Boo!

Ann -- Interesting comments.

Mary -- Come back! Yes my little Joshua has a choice. Now listen carefully.... When he's 18/19 and out of my house -- he can do whatever the hell he wants to do with his life.

At this point he will either be a warrior/poet because he writes some great poetry at age 5 and he loves light sabres in which case he can stay home and raise little Jedis or he will be a guitar god/astronomer in which case he can watch the kids during the day so because his gigs and stargazing will be at night.

As long as he stays out of Pelican Bay...

btw -- I have the most awesome kids (and I failed to mention 5 week old Zachary!) -- perhaps I'll re-name him "Stanley" for you Ann.

Wade Garrett said...

What interests me about this article is that so many of the women who expressed interest in staying home with their children wanted to be lawyers and doctors, two occupations notorious for the stress and number of hours they demand of their practicioners. I find it odd, and interesting, that these women seem to want to work 60 hours per week, including night shifts if they want to be a doctor, and then give it up entirely when they become pregnant. Some say they want to go back to work part-time when their children are out of the home. I know some part time of-counsel lawyers, but I haven't heard of any part-time doctors.

It seems to me that there are a number of rewarding careers women can pursue that do not make such demands. My mother was a high school teacher, and she never stayed home with us. However, she liked the fact that so much of her job - preparing lessons and grading papers - could be done at home, while she kept an eye on my brother and I. Also, the semester schedule gave her the summers and holidays off, corresponding to the times at which my brother and I were off from school. It seems to me that there are a number of other careers - teaching, academia, writing, real estate, etc - which afford women the opportunity to do a significant amount of their work at home, and thus not have to stop working entirely when they have children, or at least once their children have started school. I'm somewhat surprised that these women want to go through years of post-graduate training, and work crazy hours, to have careers and then walk away entirely.

The reason I referred to school beginning at age 3 or so is just that I began going to pre-school at age 3. I would imagine that most people who went to the elite Universities mentioned in this article, and who went on to become lawyers and doctors and so forth, would value education enough, and would have sufficient monetary resources, to put their children into school at as early of an age as possible. That's just my assumption, I don't really know if its true.

Bruce Hayden said...

Interesting discussion. I think that to some extent the pendulum is swinging back towards center - so that women (and ultimately men, hopefully) can pick the heavy duty career or parenting, or maybe some of both.

Going back to the 20s and 30s, all four of my grandparents had degrees, and three of them worked full time professionally. And arguably the fourth did through the 40s - as the wife of the commander of several army bases. Back then, the social life of the base revolved around her, and that took work.

My mother was Phi Beta Kappa and the outstanding science student at U. Ill. in 1944. She worked until I was born in 1950, but was, like almost all of the women of her generation, pushed out of the workforce.

The one time I ever saw my parents fight in their 57 years together was when I suggested that she had quit working because my father wanted her to. I don't think that it had ever come up before - they just did what society expected them to (reinforced by the MSM of the time). His retort was that his mother worked (as a college professor) all the while he was growing up.

In the end, after all five boys were at least in high school, she got involved in volunteer work - including being a registered lobbyist and legislative chair for the League of Women Voters for CO. My father was proud that they were rich enough that she didn't have to work for money.

I never wanted a wife to quit work for me (reflecting some of that hidden tension with my parents). The women of my generation (including Ann) were really the first (since my grandparents' generation) where it was acceptable for women to have careers (Those graduating in the 60's were still mostly falling into traditional roles).

Since then, what I saw (thoughout the Baby Boom) for awhile is that the push was for a lot of women to sacrifice families for careers - or to kill themselves trying to do both. And as a result, a lot of the glass ceilings have started to fall.

But I would argue that this is not fulfilling for a lot of women. So, I think the pendulum is moving back towards the center where women have more choices - that they can have either a career or family, or both. (hopefully, we are on a trend that gives men the same choices).

The women today don't seem as driven as those of my generation to prove themselves - to prove that they are every bit as good as the men in the workforce.

somross said...

The women discussed in the NYTimes article are interesting because they sound as though they are going against type (and they are precisely the women who appear in the Sunday Styles engagement and marriage announcements, otherwise known as women's sports pages) - high achievers lucky enough to go to Ivy League schools, and likely to marry other Ivy Leaguers. I'm old enough to remember women being discouraged from all kinds of professions in very direct ways, not to mention the difficulty of finding child care for any child under two, and know that my earning power is much less than it would have been if I hadn't moved in and out of the job market, something that became frightening when my husband was downsized several years ago. As much as I enjoyed more time with my children than I might have had otherwise, I would never suggest dropping out of the job market to my daughter or sons as a sound economic decision. I would not do it again.

Unknown said...

I find it odd, and interesting, that these women seem to want to work 60 hours per week, including night shifts if they want to be a doctor, and then give it up entirely when they become pregnant.

Yeah, but all that grueling work is good practice for being a homemaker and mother :)

Though it's not conducive to finding a husband, perhaps.

lindsey said...

"It seems to me that there are a number of rewarding careers women can pursue that do not make such demands. My mother was a high school teacher, and she never stayed home with us."

That's what my mother did except she taught special ed for elementary school kids. When I was little, I went to her school, so she could watch me do my homework for the last hour she had to be there. I never rode the bus, so when I got to middle school, it was a terrible shock.

I think they needed to ask them more questions. If they'd asked them whether they intend to quit their careers for 17 years out of their life. Or if they thought they'd be a quality doctor after not working for several years? How much would they remember, etc. Wouldn't their skills get dull sort of thing? I just don't think when talking to the young women they addressed the practical issues enough. If they had, it might have pushed the % saying they'd quit down.

Here's another article from the WSJ dealing with feminism-related hangovers: "Not Liberating, After All
How did feminists end up in bed with Hugh Hefner?

It may be that, like Ms. Levy, a lot of feminists now regret getting in bed with Mr. Hefner. Yet if you mention the word "modesty" within 20 feet of them their heads spin around like Linda Blair in "The Exorcist." This is where they get stuck. Only if feminism can embrace the more traditional ways that men and women have courted throughout the ages can it have anything practical to offer young women. To the extent that feminists dismiss as worthless anything that is perceived as "backtracking," they only help to perpetuate the "raunch culture"--even as they deplore its effects.

Take a beach scene that Ms. Levy recounts, when the male "friends" of two girls pressure them to take off their suits. Soon surrounded by a circle of 40 screaming men, the girls say "no way!" but eventually give in and spank each other to appease the crowd."

XWL said...

I have a feeling that as with most things their is a huge gap between thought and expression.

This article doesn't show any statistics about the actual choices recent graduates have been making in the real world.

Gather any group of undergrads, ask any question about their future and I am fairly certain that you will get answers that don't reflect the choices they will be making.

The nature of this survey too was self-selecting, and a tiny sample, therefore should be looked at with strong skepticism.

If they mean what they say though the money they are spending now could be better spent later. 4 years of Ivy League can easily run to $200,000, put that in a college fund for your hypothetical children and for yourself as well, that money could easily pay for yourself and 2 or 3 children 20 years from now.

Why not start college when you are 40 instead of 18 then any training and contacts you receive will be current and readily applicable.

My instincts tell me that this is just a new form of conspicuous consumption and saying you plan on being a stay-at-home parent is a way to attract the best of the potential mates amongst the males at the Ivy Leagues, or alternately it's a way to tweak the noses of their feminist Professors (yesterday's traditionalist is today's counterculturalist)

ziemer said...


i'm not sure if you are trying to make a point, or taking issue with a point that someone else made.

but no one can reasonably dispute that we all have enormously more discretionary spending than people did just 30 years ago.

back then, a far higher percentage of income went for basics -- food, clothes, shelter.

that can't be disputed by any reasonable person.

way, way, back in this blog, i remember someone mentioning their 20th high school reunion, and mentioning how many women were full-time homemakers, who were on a high-powered career path at the tenth.

i also recently attended my 20th high school reunion, and the vast majority of women who took calculus in high school with me were now full-time homemakers.

the women who never took calculus by-and-large were still working.

just making observations, here, you know; not condemning any choices, mary.

ziemer said...

young women are very sensible, these days.

they want an education, they want a career, they want a family.

and they realize that being a mother is not especcially compatible with the ceo track (not saying its incompatible, just that's it's alot harder to do both than for a father).

like i said, they still get (better) educated (than their male peers), they work extremely hard in pursuing careers.

They just don't seem to have any problem letting someone else become ceo, so that they can devote more time to their children (and we all know, very few men are qualifed to be ceos, of even the smallest corporations, either).

i think its awful that the feminists and people at harvard have a problem with this.

these are bright young women doing what they want.

i wish them all the best that life has to offer.

lindsey said...

Do we really have more discretionary spending? We certainly have more credit card debt. It doesn't matter if the cost of food and clothing decreases a great deal if other costs increase radically. I linked the article because at issue in the thread was the topic of finances and how or whether it was possible to "make it" on one income today. Around the time I was reading this blog, I found that particular article which addressed how expenses have changed for the average middle class family and discussed in particular the recent credit card bill that was passed.

"The question of whether back then, a far higher percentage of income went for basics -- food, clothes, shelter. that can't be disputed by any reasonable person."

Well, it seems the article writers are contesting this. They concede that food and clothing expenses have decreased but everything else seems to have skyrocketed. If the article's right and ""A generation ago, the one-income family committed about 54 percent of its pay to the basics—housing, health insurance, transportation, and taxes. That is, the one-income family spent about half its income to make the “nut”—the basic expenses that must be paid even if someone gets sick or loses a job. Today, these basic expenses, including child care so that both parents can work, consume 75 percent of the family’s combined income. With 75 percent of income earmarked for fixed expenses, today’s family has no margin for error."

If they're right, then fixed expenses have gotten so much worse that they've offset the decreases in the cost of food and clothing. Back then people had significantly more children and yet housing has skyrocketed even though we're having smaller families.

ziemer said...

i will acknowlege that we spend WAY WAY more for transportation than people did 30 years ago.

but, if you were around then, you know that the cars made then were CRAP compared to new cars today.

and we certainly spend more on health care today. but back then, people with alot of illnesses that are treated today were just told to go home and die.

in short, the reason that helath care consumes a greater portion of income is that we now heal people who 30 years ago would have died, in short order.

that costs money, and the choice to spend money to keep old people alive, rather than spend it on more productive endevors is exactly, that -- a choice.

we can spend money to keep old people alive, whether they care to live or not -- or we can spend it on something else. it's a choice.

women can pursue careers -- or they can spend time raising children. it's a choice.

only radical feminists object to choice.

ziemer said...

actually, i was wrong.

communists object to choice, too.

sorry for singling out the radical feminists.

aidan maconachy said...

Interesting thread with some great comments.

I take a rather pragmatic view of this. The more pressing concern these days, over and above the needs of academia ... is the welfare of our children.

I am frankly becoming increasingly dismayed by stories of kids who are on medication at a tender age; kids who have become the recipients of psychiatric labels; kids who seem to spend inordinate amounts of time fixated on computer games in which the objective is to annihilate as many other "humans" as possible; kids who are overweight and anti-social; kids who are the object of custody battles and who end up paying the price for the selfishness of their parents.

I'm sick to death of this, and hate it though you may (all you progressives out there) ... the lessons and goals of feminism helped pave the way for a dispensation that sees children as items to be managed, rather than tender lives that require careful and consistent nurturing.

No amount of psycho babble and good intention with respect to "child strategies" can replace the love and proximity of an attentive parent.

Am I advocating stay-at-home moms/dads as a mandatory solution. Of course not, we have gone too far down this road to make a U-turn. However, I personally admire any woman who has acquired top rank academic credentials and opts to place the welfare of her child above her personal ambitions. There is a critical period of time when a child benefits most from parental care, so one can assume that a woman (or man) who takes time out from their career, will have the option at some point to pick it up again.

There are no simple, tailored solutions. We have engineered a very complex reality for ourselves in which arrangements can no longer reflect any status quo, but have to best suit the needs of the people involved.

Anna said...

Regardless of whether a parent (mother or father) decides home or career, there is one thing the parents should not do. Do not take each other for granted. Keeping a strong relationship with your spouse is just as important as the decision of whether or not to stay home.

Both parents will be very busy no matter the decision and the husband/wife relationship can suffer incredibly. "Date night" may seem silly, but it keeps you communicating. It also shows your children what a strong relationship is like and gives them a sense of security. (And date night doesn't have to be anything more than waiting until the kids are in bed to have dinner and a movie together.)

It doesn't matter if you have a PhD. or no college at all, if you lose your relationship with your spouse, you run the risk of being a single parent and not having the choice of whether or not to stay home.

This was the best advice my mother ever gave me.

Slocum said...

I actually feel guilty because my wife can't quit her job. I see her natural sweetness and interest in homemaking and think the pressure and behavior required of a professional woman interferes with those traits.

Any other men feel that way?

Not at all, actually. We could have afforded for my wife to quit, but that was never part of the deal. I was never interested in being the sole wage earner nor a 'secondary' parent.

Work, for my wife, is rewarding (she's very good at what she does) but also frustrating at times (the organization does not run as well as it should, some colleagues are difficult, etc). There have been times for her (as there are for most of us adults who work) when she felt fed up and would have liked to chuck it. But real adults deal with and work though that kind of thing, and I want to be married to an adult partner, not an sweet, infantilized, victorian 'angel of the house'.

Ann Althouse said...

I wouldn't assume a woman who stays home is putting her children above herself. Working is a lot of work. It can be much more rewarding not to work. If you're not also enjoying taking care of the children all the time, you won't be all that good at it. Staying home from work is a personal choice that involves a lot of factors, only one of which is that it will benefit the children. I'm sure some children are better off in day care than with their mothers and that with many women, they will do better by their children spending less time with them, because their temperament does not suit them to spending the entire day with children.

KCFleming said...

I am rather surprised to see that, despite all the great comments, no one has yet questioned the unspoken premise that paid employment is so desirable.

Face it, only a small minority of people ever make it to the higher echelons of power. For the remianing 98% of folks, work is , well, work. Most of us work because we get paid. The corporate, academic, and government work worlds are marked by petty tyrannies, political fiefdoms, and mind-numbing meetings. Stupidity abounds, gossip is rampant, and backstabbing is often rewarded. And the moment you leave, you are forgotten (quick, who was the boss two bosses ago?).

Home life is assuredly hard, but no one at work can make your heart melt like a five year old daughter glad to see you came home at six o'clock again, shouting " It's daddeeee!". Home life leaves a legacy. Work is no great shakes for most.

jult52 said...

ziemer & lindsey: I wouldn't rule out the possibility that both of you are right concerning that break-down of spending and income.

Great discussion, all around.

Mary: I don't know why you have to flee from argument. If you think that my desire to nurture qualities such as compassion, kindness and certain domestic-oriented hobbies in one's wife -- tendencies which are already strongly present -- constitutes some kind of oppressive hegemony, I am afraid you are totally at sea ethically. The reference to “content of their reproductive organs?” obviously ignores secondary sexual characteristics.

jult52 said...

Pogo: I was thinking of writing that a "job is a job is a job" earlier but decided to focus on another dimension of the issue,

John Harvard said...

Here's an outside-the-box thought:

Why don't people get married and have children IN college?

Think about it: This is perhaps the only time in your life when you will have a very flexible schedule, with (at least in the case of most people at Ivy League schools) parental financial support. Many/most universities already provide some type of married-student housing, as well as operating day care and 'laboratory' schools from pre-K through high school.

Two parents contribute time, four (or more) grandparents contribute money, everyone wins. By the time you graduate, the kid is old enough for pre-kindergarten. If you continue on to grad school, the kid will be in elementary school (the point at which many stay-home moms plan to go back to work) by the time you have 'real' jobs.

The elite schools would, however, have to permit a deviation from their Oxbridge-style, everyone-lives-in-coed-residential-colleges template. On the other hand, the chance to shape two generations at once must be tempting.

And of course, a huge paradigm shift would be necessary: from college-as-extended-adolescence to college-as-assisted-adulthood.

Just a thought.

Diane said...

Yes. Here comes the defensiveness.

I just knew a couple of cases where the woman and the man both want children, and even though the man is a history professor, and the woman is an engineer (look at those professions and tell me who is more empathetic and nurturing), they arrange to have the wife stay at home. It never occurs to them that the other way is an option. As soon as I pointed it out, something went “click” in their little heads. People with high-powered careers tend to be less empathetic and good at child-rearing. If the woman makes more money, odds are (generally) that she is the less empathetic one. CEO vs. Artist. Who is more empathetic? Teacher Vs. Accountant. Who is more empathetic?

And yes, I *do* heap judgment on a man or a woman who views their “personal growth” as being more important than the welfare of their children.

Shame on *ANYONE* who convinces themselves that a child dumped at daycare for nine hours a day, five days a week, is better cared for than a child who is cared for by someone who has a direct genetic incentive.

My husband and I both had stay at home moms. My mom funded staying at home by running a daycare in our house. I saw the difference between the way my mother cared for those daycare children (and she *loved* them and did her best by them), and the way she cared for us. She took classes, she poured her heart and soul into these daycare children. It was *nothing* compared to the care she lavished on us, though. My husband’s youngest brother was in daycare. Guess who has the most emotional problems?

Yes. It’s bad for the woman or man in the long run to stay home with children. Who cares?! They wanted them. They should stop whining and make the gosh-darned sacrifices! If you aren’t willing to stay at home with them, then don’t have them.

Children are not something *owed* to you. They are future adults! If you bring them into the world, you have the duty to do your best by them. They come first until they turn eighteen.

Simon Kenton said...

Pogo wrote:

"For the remianing 98% of folks, work is , well, work."

And this is why the budget advice fails. Knitting dishcloths? I was trying to counsel a single woman with one son who was the best I ever encountered at that budget crap - supermarket coupons, economical cars, re-using squares of aluminum foil, all that stuff. She could squeeze a quarter until the copper filling jetted out. She had reached 40 with a good salary, and had nothing. She was pretty much impervious to financial counseling, so unless she has landed a replacement husband (it became clear that was her financial strategy) it is likely she will reach 70 with nothing.

No matter how little you make, you have to invest some of it or you end up with a drawerful of folded aluminum squares. It's the only way out of jobs.

Eddie said...

I agree with the investing comment.

105 comments, is this a record? I am guessing it isn't.

Ann Althouse said...

Eddie: I think 186 is the record.

Jennifer said...

It's always interesting how much people have to say and how strong their opinions are about this subject. I can think of few other life choices that inspire so much debate.

That said, many here are quite condescending (even while approving of) a woman's choice to stay at home with their children. I went to an elite, private college prep school, went to college and worked on the stock market for years making significantly more than my husband. Now, I personally find raising my child (and the one on the way) to be a challenging and rewarding pursuit.

And Slocum, I want to be married to an adult partner, not an sweet, infantilized, victorian 'angel of the house'. Grow up.

And Mary, sure, at some point my kids will grow up and I will no longer be devoted to raising them full time. At some point, you will retire and then what will you have? Hopefully none of us are so focused on our careers that we are nothing without them.

Headmistress, zookeeper said...

On the affordability of staying at home I have only my own experiences to go by. My husband spent 20 years in the military as an enlisted man. He retired two years ago as a Master Sgt. (E-7) I never worked outside the home (our oldest child is 22, our youngest is 7, and we homeschool).

When we had our fifth child we were able to supplement our income by about four hundred dollars a month- it didn't even put us in a higher tax bracket.

We took vacations. They were called PCSing, or transferring, or moving to civilians. We watched videos at home and made our own popcorn. We played board games, card games, and read aloud together in the evenings. We went outside and kicked a soccer ball around. We bought clothes at thrift shops. We've never owned a new car. We do not do credit card debt. If we can't pay for it, we don't own it.
We managed to donate ten percent of our income to charity ever single year.
I cooked from scratch, we didn't do the dry cleaners, we never had television, let alone cable, and we believed in home-made fun.

Still do. Hubby's been retired for two years, he' the manager of a discount retail business and we make about hte same as we did when he was in- and it's never topped fifty thousand a year.

Our kids are very happy children who wonder why other families aren't as fun as ours, not why they can't be like everybody else.

While there are always exceptions, to those two parent families where it really matters that a parent stay home with the kids, it's generally possible to make it happen.

Jennifer said...

Headmistress - Good to hear! You are way ahead of us on the same journey. My husband has only been in for 2 1/2 years. But, we're looking forward to our upcoming PCS to North Carolina with a bonus TDY enroute in Georgia. Two vacations! :)

Slocum said...

And Slocum, I want to be married to an adult partner, not an sweet, infantilized, victorian 'angel of the house'. Grow up.

First of all, I was responding a commenter who felt guilty because heis wife couldn't work and felt the work world was making his wife less 'sweet and nurturing' than she might be if she stayed home. Well, duh. Life as adult, out in the world, requires some adult toughness.

But I'm serious, too. My parents had a traditional marriage. My mother never worked after college. It was straight from Phi Beta Kappa to diaper changes. As 22-year-old students, they had a lot in common. But after one had been out in the world for 15 or 20 years and the other had been home cooking, cleaning, and looking after kids, they no longer did. No, they never divorced, but they came damn close. My mother, I think would have been much better off if she'd worked and so, too, would we have been, I think. She did all kinds of things for us that we were perfectly capable of doing ourselves just because she was there. My own kids on the other hand...well, you know a 13-year-old who can do Algebra can also do laundry.

Jennifer said...

Slocum, it's possible that had your mom worked, your parents would never have had issues. Or, they may have just had different issues.

My parents were both like-minded professionals with much in common who divorced while I was fairly young. My mom is now on her third husband in my lifetime.

You know what they say about anecdotal evidence...

PDN said...

Hmmmm....Terrence I am pretty sure you do not understand the 24hr work cycle of a stay at home parent. After the two hours of getting your child up, ready for school, lunches made, driving etc. the stay at home parent has until about 2:30 to do laundry, shop for groceries, plan dinner, clean the house, garden, be a handyman for anything that needs fixing, help at each child's school,etc. If, during that time the individual goes shopping (maybe for clothes/items for the family) and stops for starbucks coffee, this might just be their break before the next marathon of work. The stay at home parent from approx. 2:30 - 9:30 works 7hrs staight, without a break, driving kids to and from activities, helping with homework, cooking dinner, getting everyone ready for bed, making sure the piano is practiced, doing three last minute details your spouse or child forgot to tell you about, cleaning the kitchen, etc. etc. etc. If you add a toddler, then your work is from 6:30am - 9:30pm with hopefully one break when the toddler takes a nap. In addition there is rarely an uninterrupted night.

When the parent who works at the office has to work from 6:30am - 9:30pm (granting a flexible morning), with a non-negotiable 7hr stretch well into the evening every day, I will start considering a stay at home parent as having a leisurely job. In addition, my guess is the stay at home parent doesn't end their day at 9:30pm when the kids are finally in bed --- instead that is when correspondence/bills/travel plans/schedules/etc.etc. are finally worked out.

Sure.... a starbucks stop and a little shopping in-between non-negotiable work hours (2-3 hrs after dropping the kids off if you are lucky, and certainly not every day) is very,very,very different from a starbucks in the morning on your way to work (or during a break), then listening to the radio as you drive home alone (no kids asking questions, demanding things, whining, etc.), arriving home to have dinner, and finally watching t.v. or going online for 2-3hrs.

So a leisurely lifestyle determined by "the time of day" that an individual takes a break, or the hours put into the job?

Just wondering....

magemom said...

John Harvard said...
Why don't people get married and have children IN college?

I do! I do! And I'm ecstatic and profoundly blessed with how supportive my top-tier law school has been, students and administration alike. It really is the ideal balance of work and home. My newborn baby attended class with me last winter, and my 9 year old daughter attends law school functions, study groups, and occasionally, class. Lest you think we're economically privileged to be able to do this, we too Tightwad Gazette (who's making fun of washing baggies?), live in a tiny apartment, and clothe ourselves courtesy of garage sales and thrift stores. Such things are not depressing when they are helping you achieve your goals! Compromising your principles, dreams unchased, and generally living a life out of whack with one's priorities are far more depressing.

Raising productive, conscientious, and socially responsible kids is good public policy. I'm all for finding creative solutions that help families (i.e. not just women) do this. Combining college and parenting is one such solution, and I wish the rest of the working world was as kid-friendly a place! Alas, one day I will actually have to take my place in the Real Legal Profession. It may not be in what would traditionally be considered a "leadership" role, but bloom where you're planted, I always say.

That said, hasn't there always been this tension in feminism b/t women who seek to eschew "traditional" women's roles, and those who exalt the special-ness of woman-ness? It is not easily resolved, and it is an issue in all identity politics.

jult52 said...

Slocum writes: "Life as adult, out in the world, requires some adult toughness."

Life in prison requires even more toughness. Does that mean a prisoner has no basis for complaining about their life? What is the point you're making? That we're not allowed to wish we could make things easier for our spouses?

Speaking of complaining, why is Blogger requiring me to sign in each time I post on Althouse? This hasn't happened in the past.

William said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
L.T. said...

Future stay at home mothers at Ivy League undergrads aren't much of a problem. With graduate school becoming more important, it matters less where you went to undergrad. It is more likely to be a terminal degree from a SAHM and unlikely to be one for a career woman, so why not give her the chance to get that kind of experience? Plus, a high school senior is unlikely to really know whether she wants to be a stay at home mom.

On the other hand, it is very important where one goes to graduate school. Ivy League professional schools have to turn down hundreds of fully qualified candidates each year. To take up a spot because you want a hobby, or a three-year career, or just the fun of the experience is to take a spot away from a woman who will use her education for a lifetime.

If one fully knows that they are going to be a stay at home mom, it would be better overall if she went to an ordinary school; it would make much less difference in her life than in the life of a woman who wants a full career. (which, in most professions is significantly impacted by going to a top school)

Of course, no single individual can be expected to think wholistically about the applicant pool and make such a choice, it is more of a fleeting thought. However, I wouldn't blame a school for using it as an admission criteria, if such a thing were discoverable.

According to the study After the JD which shows significantly more female law grads having no kids at all, (76 as compared to 36 in general pop) such selection may be already underway, or alternatively, unnecessary.