Now, how does all this work in with today’s economy and family structure, which Mr. Williams is so certain is crumbling around us because moms are earning money?
Here are a few statistics to start:
-Though our standard of living is infinitely better than it was a hundred years ago, in the last few decades wages have failed to keep pace with the rising cost of living. Since 2001, they have stagnated even more severely. (5)
-American workers now put in an average of 180 more work hours per year than they did twenty years ago, making the U.S. workweek the longest workweek in the industrialized world. (6)
-Our popular obsession with high-income working mothers making the “choice” to stay home does not reflect the situation of the average working mother in the average working family. “...our fixation on high-profile mothers and their employers, both real and fictional, speaks more to the problems many women wish they had than the ones they actually do have.” (7) Most families do not have one spouse who makes enough income that they can have the other decide to stay home with impunity.
Photo credit: Nina Hale
what married men make. (8) For most of these women, the bulk of their earnings can easily be eaten up in paying for daycare, leaving them to struggle with even the basic necessities. Being a single mother is the highest indicator for poverty in the U.S. (9)
-In the last few decades, the cost of housing, health care, and other basics have risen rapidly. More work has become freelance, leaving families to purchase their own insurance. Overall, wages have fallen in relation to the cost of living. (10) “As a result, even the average amount of money a typical two-parent family has for either discretionary spending or savings has dropped, a second income has become necessary to maintain most families’ lifestyles or, in some cases, to survive.” (11)
-Between the 2006-2007 school year and the 2007-2008 school year, 459 school districts in the U.S. reported an increase in homelessness among students of at least 25 percent. (13)
-”While most middle-income families could once count on financial stability and the ability to at least feed and clothe their offspring in exchange for their work,
they are increasingly vulnerable to job loss, bankruptcy, eviction, and foreclosure that used to haunt only those on the very lowest rung of our
Our economy has not suddenly changed so much that more families are now able to finance a stay-at-home parent as compared with families from decades or centuries ago. With the offshoring of most of our factory production
(remembering that there are moms working in those factories, and none of them can afford to stay home with their children), those cheap manufactured goods we first got ahold of during the Industrial Revolution have become even more abundant and even cheaper. US families spend a much smaller percentage of their income on food and clothing than they did a hundred years ago, while at the same time enjoying a much higher standard of living. (15) But it is not, as I have heard some argue, a matter of giving up a second flat screen TV and a weekly night out at the movies so that mom can stay home with the kids. The percentage of our incomes spent on health care and housing costs has risen tremendously, even as the average family has gotten smaller. (16) Things like cars, phones, and computers are actually necessary to function in today’s world. We may be captives of materialism, but that does not explain away the need for most families to bring in two incomes. Especially when you take into account the moral and health-related questions that surround our current ability to obtain our household needs at such a cheap price (LINK TO http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_Savar_building_collapse) and produce food in a way that keeps the prices so low. (LINK TO http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Factory_farming)
How can we insist that all families should be able to get by without the mother making a tangible economic contribution, when our current standard of living would not be possible at all without mothers in China and India working at twenty five cents an hour to sew our shirts and assemble our furniture?
It’s undeniable that women have been the primary caretakers pretty much
everywhere for all of written history, but they’ve done it while they were
producing income or the equivalent in goods for household use.
of gathering provides 60%-80% of the group’s calories, (17) not to mention the
most reliable supply of food (primary breadwinners in the most literal
sense of the word, with no disintegrating marriages in sight). This is
generally done while looking after the young children, just as farming and food
preservation, shopkeeping, or making household supplies would have been
done 150 years ago, and just as some people work from home while caring for
their children today. Modern society presents us with a problem; not because
mothers are suddenly wanting to help support their families when they never
did before, but because things have changed so that most can no longer do
that and watch over their young children at the same time.
We can address this issue. We can do it without imposing social restrictions for
the sake of an idealized “traditional family” that has never been a reality for
most people. Parents should be able to both earn a living and be present in
their children’s lives without facing judgment from those around them, or
facing economic hardship.
How to solve the problem? Legal requirements that all jobs pay a living wage would be a good place to start. Education is important, but we can only use so many lawyers and doctors, and we still need people to gut fish and work at WalMart.
The answer is that the fish gutters and WalMart workers must be paid enough so that they can take care of their families. Another answer: jobs at all income
levels need to incorporate policies that allow employees the flexibility to take
care of their children. Maternity and paternity leave, on-site day cares, and
more flexible work hours are only a few of the changes companies can make to
help create more stable and successful families and employees. We could ask what sorts of jobs might work well with children present. I remember time spent sick with my mom at work, secure reading and playing in her cubicle when I was too young to stay at home alone. Her productivity didn’t suffer, but her standing with her boss did. I don’t think it needs to be that way. We need more people thinking and generating ideas on how we can make work more family-friendly, and more people willing to accept that our current model for trying to manage work and family is both non-traditional and problematic.
Families are extremely important. Home is the place where we learn how to interact, how to survive in the adult world, how to be PEOPLE. We need to promote safety and stability for this essential unit. We need to make sure that our children receive the nurturing and the physical care they need. But trying to take mothers out of the work equation is not the answer. It never has been.
(6) Janet C. Gornick, “The Government’s Gone Fishin’: The Absence of Work/Family
Reconciliation Policy in the United States,” research prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families Symposium: Who Cares? Dilemmas of Work and Family in the 21st Century, Chicago, Illinois, October 20, 2006.
(7) Lerner, Sharon. The War on Moms, John Wiley and Sons, Inc, Hoboken, New Jersey, 2010, p 59.
(8) Center For American Progress, April 25, 2008.
(9) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminization_of_poverty, last edited March 27 2013, accessed on May 19 2013
(10) Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi, The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle Class Mothers and Fathers are Going Broke (New York: Basic Books,
(11) Lerner, Sharon, The War on Moms, John Wiley and Sons, Inc, Hoboken, New
Jersey, 2010, p 68.
(12) Economic Research Service, “Food Security in the United States,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, November 2008.
(13) Barbara Duffield and Phillip Lovell, “The Economic Crisis Hits Home: The Unfolding Increase in Child and Youth Homelessness,” National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, December 2008.
(14) Lerner, Sharon, The War on Moms, John Wiley and Sons, Inc, Hoboken, New
Jersey, 2010, p 72.
(15) http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/04/how-america-spends-money-100-years-in-the-life-of-the-family-budget/255475/ Accessed June 27, 2013.
These statistics are interesting, but they don’t account for some important things. For example, The article states that in 1900 half the families in the US were still farmers. But that is unaccounted for in the income breakdown. Families were spending much more of their income on food, but how many of them were growing most of their food themselves, while spending a high portion of what little they did earn on things they could not manufacture at home? It seems to me that this would interfere with the cost comparison between then and now. Also, though the article mentioned offshoring production of clothing as a factor in the price drop, there was no mention of our changes in food production as related to price. Industrial farming of crops and factory farming our meat has played a large role in the price drop shown in the article.
p 47, accessed June 8, 2013.
Heidi is determined to help other moms be realistic and open about their child-rearing goals and experiences through sharing her own on her blog, No Dead Beetles. She's close to finishing a book, and hopes to start holding seminars and firesides soon, addressing subjects such as postpartum depression, perfectionism, and how moms can find time to be themselves through re-prioritizing and delegation.