Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Breadwinners and breadbakers

I'll be heading out this afternoon to pick up a copy of Time Magazine to see exactly what is "The Case for Staying Home." It seems more women are indeed making that choice.

However, a glance at the photo gallery indicates that it's professional women in their mid-30s, who've already paid their dues, struck some kind of career success, and more than likely feel they've missed out on something with their previous children.

Sure, it's harder to afford to stay home today than ever before, but it's still easier for some than for others. Women who are doctors, lawyers, or engineers, or even women married to men in these professions, can better afford the luxury of choosing to stay home than women who work in, say, retail or the service industry.

An accompanying opinion piece argues that "Most working moms don't go to work to "fulfill themselves," they do it out of necessity":

To be sure, there are plenty of mothers who scrimp and save and find a way to stay home (at least for a few years). But there are plenty more who decide that the cost is just too high, and the choice of whether to stay home is no choice at all.

I'm learning that this issue is loaded, and complicated, and not black and white. I remember starting out to work out of necessity — no one else was going to pay my rent — but along the way I came to like having an income, some of it disposable, and maybe by accident it so happened I was finding fulfillment too. My staying at home is similar in its varied texture.

It seems men are also a little dissatisfied with the way things have worked out, and Michael Elliott makes some interesting observations on this:

Look around your home; you will not see a significant labor-saving device invented since the 1960s. Nothing has happened since then to make feeding the kids, washing their clothes or cleaning the home easier. Think about the time you spend schlepping around; note that New Yorkers travel in the same way and at much the same speed as they did in the 1930s.

The most significant technological development of the past 30 years has been a collapse in the price of a unit of information. That, it turns out, has been disastrous for the work-life balance. Information is now ubiquitous. Home life is no easier than it was, but work has invaded the domestic space. . . The incessant demands of an always-on, 24/7 world of free information have made some middle-aged women who would like to go back to work consider whether the benefits are worth the hassle. But so long as they stay out of the labor market, their husbands are trapped in it.

We have such a long way to go...

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