Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"[Q]uestions of identity and self-fulfillment"

Reihan Salam writes about a recent study on the incomes of two-parent families. Interesting post. Here’s a sample:

Imagine that the world in 1975 was quite a bit different from the world in 2009. In this alternate reality 1975, large numbers of educated men were primarily engaged in household production, due to a combination of the strenuousness of completing essential household work, powerful social conventions, and intense discrimination in the market. Many men devoted as much time to finding a wife who could serve as a “breadwinner” as they did to building their own skills and credentials, due to blocked opportunities caused by discrimination and the fact that many women were eager to play this role.

1 comment:

E Hines said...

Among two-parent families, median earnings did rise by an inflation-adjusted 23% from 1975 to 2009. But the parents’ combined hours worked increased by 26% during the same period–accounting for most of the income gains.

This gets singled out as though it's remarkable. I have to ask why it would be. From where would anyone expect any increase in income to come? It's a Progressive and union fundamental tenet (which is not to equate Progressives and unions) that pay raises should occur solely because the worker has accrued an additional year of seniority, completely independently of the value of the work done, but it's not good economics or good business in a competitive world (another anathema for some).

...it seems odd to value this [household] work at a wage of $0 when we’re making comparisons between Period 0 and Period 1.

It's certainly not zero, but assigning a plausible value is fraught with peril, not least of which is the value of the housework being performed to the family involved (there's that pay for value thing, again). You might demand an absolutely spotless house with no dust mote within a five block radius of you, and be willing to value the work necessary to achieve that accordingly. I, on the other hand, might be completely satisfied in a house that has a clear path between me and my door, and between my bed and a nearby window. My value on housework per hour will be non-zero, but not by much.

To come, finally, to the poiont of your post, the reversal of roles in the work force makes for an interesting story, and it's even useful to guide programs of inquiry, but as a stand-alone, it's also fraught with the peril of a host of variables left externalized. The first that comes to mind is the biological differences between men and women, which can't be reversed. One immediate detail of this is who gets pregnant. If we do what my wife did (and many women have done)--the barest minimum: work until into the 9th month, and return to work one month after delivery, that's two months out of work. The father can't nurse; to the extent the mother does, that fatigue level negatively impacts her work.

Then there's the way our society socializes men and women--and the fundamentals of this socialization are fairly constant globally. Women and men behave differently toward each other and toward members of their own gender. This impacts how the work force operates. Very quickly the variations expand to the point that a simple role reversal in the narrowly defined experiment of women as the work force that men are entering is largely meaningless beyond identifying questions that need to be asked to get at a serious inquiry into family income.

Eric Hines