[Paleopsych] Society: Family Life: Sold on Work

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Society: Family Life: Sold on Work

[First, the summary from CHE. Sorry about the formatting, but it's an 
important article.]

[A glance at the March/April issue of "Society":
Social expectations of women and their work

[American women are spending more time at work and having fewer
children, both of which are fine, says Neil Gilbert, as long as
that is what they really want. But some women may have been sold
a bill of goods, warns the professor of social welfare at the
University of California at Berkeley.

[For many women, working outside the home is not an economic
necessity, so they may be motivated by the perception that
employment is freeing and personally fulfilling, he says.

[Paid work "is widely associated with the virtues of personal
empowerment, achievement, and self-realization, particularly by
public-opinion makers -- professors, journalists, authors,
artists, and pundits -- whose jobs tend to provide these
benefits," he writes. "But the joys of work are not evenly

[The elite few for whom paid work does impart joy and
independence, he says, perpetuate the myth that such is the case
for everyone. But "for most wage labor, the independence that
comes with a paycheck is accompanied by obedience to the daily
authority of supervisors, submission to the schedule and
discipline of the work environment, deference to the demands of
customers, and susceptibility to the vagaries of the
marketplace," he writes.

[While the expansion of employment opportunities for women is one
of the "major social accomplishments of recent times," he says,
and many women prefer a work-oriented lifestyle to a
child-oriented one, others would rather have more children and
spend more time at home with them.

[Those women should not be overly influenced, he says, by the
current social expectation that women and men will both work
full time while sharing child-rearing duties equally -- an
expectation that has been "more influential in the socialization
of women than men."

[The article, "Family Life: Sold on Work," is online for
subscribers. Information about the journal is available at
http://www.transactionpub.com/ ]

Symposium: Women and Conservative Politics
Neil Gilbert

The women's movement for equal opportunity in the 1960s spawned tremendous 
gains in education and labor force participation. Women's share of college 
enrollments increased from 37 percent in 1960 to 57 percent in 2002. Since 
the mid-1980s more bachelors and masters degrees have been awarded 
annually to women than men. And women are increasingly going on to careers 
in high status occupations, such as medicine, law, business, and higher 
education. Overall the female labor force participation rate climbed from 
37 percent in 1960 to 60 percent in 2002. These developments have been 
accompanied by the expansion of family-friendly social policies designed 
to harmonize the competing demands of family life and work. The core 
family-friendly policies include day care, parental leave benefits, 
preschool programs, and other publicly subsidized measures to reduce the 
friction between raising young children and holding a job. In the United 
States, federal and state expenditures on childcare programs for 
low-income families amounted to $14.1 billion in 1999 and another $2 
billion was distributed to the middle classes through the childcare tax 
credit. The Family Medical Leave Act provides 12 weeks of unpaid 
job-protected leave for workers in companies of 50 or more employees. 
Western European countries have a more extensive system of family-friendly 
policies with more generous parental leaves and publicly financed child 
care covering, for example, 70 percent of children from three years to 
school age in France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark and other countries. The 
problem with family-friendly policies is that for many, if not most, 
two-earner couples with regular jobs and two children under six years of 
age there are not enough hours in the day to harmonize work and family 
life. Caring for young children is relentless and labor intensive work; 
they must be washed, fed, dressed, read to, driven to day care, taken to 
doctors, dentists, barbers, and shoe stores, not to mention 
extra-curricular activities. And for most of their waking hours children 
crave attention from their caretakers. According to estimates from the 
Urban Institute 52 percent of children under five years of age with 
mothers employed full-time are in daycare for 35 hours a week or more. A 
brief period of parental leave followed by 4-to-5 years of full-time day 
care services certainly makes work possible for two-earner families. 
Whether these arrangements lubricate the tensions of combining work and 
family or anaesthetize what is left of family life is an open question. 
But childcare and other family-friendly policies are not the only approach 
to reducing the frictions of work and family life. There is another 
approach to reducing the tension between work and family life, which many 
women have decided to take. Throughout the advanced industrialized 
nations, the steep rise in female labor force participation since 1960 has 
been accompanied by a decline in fertility. In the Unites States fertility 
rates dropped by 46 percent from 3.4 in 1960 to 1.84 in 1985 as female 
labor force participation climbed by 45 percent (from 37.7 percent to 54.5 
percent). (Labor force participa-tion rates have increased slightly since 
1985 along with fertility rates.) Correlation does not necessarily 
establish causality. But one need not rely on correlations to conclude 
that the daily life of two-earner families is a lot more manageable 
without children or with one child than with two or more children. And 
indeed the data reveal that in 2002 labor force participation among 
mothers with one child was proportionately 15 percent higher than that of 
mothers with two or more children. Although it is possible that in the 
absence of family-friendly policies the decline in fertility would have 
been even greater, the negative trend remains. In Western European 
countries, with their more powerful arsenals of family-friendly policy, 
the birth rates have fallen even lower than in the U.S.-to well below 
replacement rates The decline in fertility rates has been accompanied by a 
major shift in the distribution of the number of children among women. As 
shown in Figure 1,between 1976 and 2002 the proportion of women over 40 
years of age that had either no children or one child increased by 80 
percent. There are many reasons why family life has been abondoned in 
favor of work. One explanation is that women have different 
predispositions toward childrearing, which mitigate or override the 
influences of biology and patriarchal socialization. According to 12

Figure 1 Percent Distribution of Women 40 to 
44 Years By Number of Children
  Number of Children
Year 0


3 or more
1976 10.2
21.7 58.6 1980 1985 1990 1995 1998 2000 2002 17.9
  35.4 29.3

Source of Data: Barbara Downs, "Fertility Rate of American Women: June 
2002," Current Population Reports (Oct.2003) U.S. Census Bureau, Table 2

this view, the changing rates of fertility and family size reflect the 
fact that most women have only recently gained the opportunity to exercise 
their preferences due to advances in contraceptive technology and women's 
rights. Freed from biological determinism and traditional social 
expectations the shift away from motherhood and toward a work-oriented 
lifestyle represents what Catherine Hakim argues is "the 'normal' 
distribution of women's responses to the conflict between family and 
employment." Another explanation suggests that although some women's 
choices may reflect clearly different predispositions for work and family 
life, the choices of many others are influenced by the societal 
context-what may look like a "normal" distribution varies in response to 
policy incentives and social expectations. From this perspective it is the 
pattern of female socialization that has changed in response to modern 
expectations about the good life for women, which elevate the 
satisfactions of material comfort, occupational achievements, and 
independence over childrearing and domestic accomplishments. One reason 
often given for the rise of two-earner families and the decline in family 
size is that it costs too much for a family to live on a single average 
income and raise two or more children. Economic necessity is real. 
Certainly there are some women who would prefer not to work and have more 
children but are compelled to work outside the home and have fewer 
children than they desire for reasons of physical survival. However, for 
most people in the advanced industrial nations what is often considered 
economic "necessity" is not a matter of survival but of an increasingly 
comfortable material lifestyle-home ownership, automobiles, color 
television, air conditioners, and the like. As illustrated in the 
following table, in 1994 households below the poverty line had access to 
more material conveniences than the general population had in 1971. Yet 
the U.S. fertility rate in 1971 was 2.26 compared to 2.01 in 1994.

  households*  households
Percent of households with  1994  1971
Washing machine  71.7  71.3
Clothes dryer  50.2  44.5
Dishwasher  19.6  18.8
Refrigerator  97.9  83.3
Freezer  28.6  32.2
Stove  97.7  87.0
Microwave  60.0  <1.0
Color television  92.5  43.3
VCR  59.7  0
Personal computer  7.4  0
Telephone  76.7  93.0
Air conditioner  49.6  31.8
One or more cars  71.8  79.5

W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm "By Our Own Bootstraps: Economic 
Opportunity and the Dynamics of Income Distribution" Federal Reserve Bank 
of Dallas Annual Report, 1995, p.22.

Taking another example, data on thirteen European Union countries (shown 
in Figure 2) reveal that between 1987 and 1996 their average fertility 
rates declined from 1.64 to 1.59 while the average consumption on 
entertainment, recreational and cultural activities climbed from less than 
2.5 to over 2.8 percent of their total consumption. As people had fewer 
children, discretionary spending on pleasurable activities increased.

Figure 2 Average fertility rates and average consumption of entertainment 
as % of total consumption in 13 European Union countries (1987-1996)*



Source of data: Eurostat, Eurostat Yearbook : A Statistical Eye on Europe 
(1987-1997) (Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European 
Community, 1999) Although it is difficult to draw firm conclusions from 
these examples, they do not argue that lower fertility rates are strictly 
associated with economic necessity. It appears that as far as economic 
considerations go, assuming a family is not impoverished to start with, 
the choice to have few or no children is an expression of preference for 
the tangible pleasures of material consumption over the transcendental 
satisfactions of creating and nurturing a young life. Claims about the 
economic necessity for two-earner families frequently ignore two salient 
points. First, having children and staying at home to raise them is not 
necessarily a lifetime occupation. The economic value of parental care and 
household management is substantial during the early years of childhood 
and declines as children enter school. A home-care commitment of 5 to 10 
years leaves most mothers 30 years or more to participate in the paid 
labor force. The basic choice is not between a one-earner and two-earner 
family, but how parental labor is divided over the family's life cycle. 
The real issue is whether in creating a balance between motherhood and 
employment women follow the male model of starting a lifetime pattern of 
work immediately after school, which involves the concurrent performance 
of child-rearing responsibilities and labor force participation or whether 
they initiate a sequential pattern in which they fully invest their 
efforts in childrearing and paid employment at different periods over the 
life cycle. Obviously, certain career options are foreclosed on women who 
might opt for the sequential pattern of child rearing and labor force 
participation rather than follow the male model. Starting in their 
mid-thirties, it is difficult to become a mathematician, media 
personality, physicist, doctor, fashion model, professional athlete, 
politician, and multi-national CEO. Also, there is a higher probability 
that those who start later in life will not, so to speak, win the race to 
the top of their career lines. The costs of a following a sequential 
pattern of full-time motherhood and paid employment involve lower 
probabilities of reaching the pinnacles of occupational success, at which 
few people arrive in any case. Room at the top is quite limited-the vast 
majority of people spend their lives laboring in the middle grounds of 
their occupations. The second consideration concerns the actual benefit 
derived from two-earner families with children. Although a second income 
may lift the heads of an 14 SOCIETY® * MARCH/APRIL 2005 impoverished 
family above the water line, the added value of the second income in 
working-and-middle-class two-earner families is often marginal, 
particularly for those in jobs at the bottom three-quarters of the pay 
scale. There is considerable shrinkage in the real consumption value of 
the second income once the tab for the loss of the "hidden" production of 
traditional household work is taken into account, along with the costs of 
work-related expenses, and increased taxes. According to Stein Ringen, the 
loss of family production reduces the income measure of economic growth in 
Britain by one-third to one-quarter. He notes that when the heightened 
stress of two-earner families is factored into the equation, the 
additional income does not necessarily translate into a higher quality of 
life. In the United States, Clair Vickery calculates that 34 percent of 
the wife's income in a two-earner family is consumed by work-related 
expenses and taxes. And Kristin Smith estimates that childcare costs alone 
account for 20 percent of the income of the poor working mothers who paid 
for these services. The average costs of high quality care for a young 
child are probably much higher. According to the experts, current 
standards for quality daycare include staff with at least two years of 
college, a background in early childhood development and cardiopulmonary 
resuscitation training. The recommended ratio for high quality care for 
children up to three years old is one caregiver for four children. Simple 
arithmetic suggests that it would cost $7,500-9,250 per child to fund a 
modest eight-child center in which the two staff were each paid $20-25,000 
a year including benefits and the combined costs of insurance, rent, 
utilities, equipment, and food amounted to another $20-25,000. This comes 
to 30-37 percent of the income of women earning $25,000-an amount that 
represents the earnings of more than 70 percent of all women with income 
in 1998 and 50 percent of the women who worked year-round full-time. After 
subtracting childcare, taxes, and work-related costs, what remains of a 
mother's income would not substantially enhance the lifestyles of many of 
the two-earner families in which the woman earned less than $25,000. In 
comparison, the loss of a second income for the two-earner families that 
included the 2 percent of women who earned more than $75,000 in 1998 would 
generally impose a palpable sense of lifestyle-deprivation. The normative 
expectation that women should devote their adult life to participation in 
the labor force is firmly rooted in the Nordic countries. As Lane 
Kenworthy explains, the advantage of the Nordic approach is that it 
"promotes greater gender equality because it better facilitates mothers' 
employment in terms of both joining the labor workforce and limiting the 
interruption that results from the birth of a child." Although the view of 
childbirth as an interruption in labor force participation has not yet 
gained such complete acceptance in the United States, modern socialization 
of women incorporates a mounting expectation for a lifetime of paid 
employment. This expectation involves more than the need for money to 
enhance materialistic lifestyles. The idea that two-earner families are 
required to meet the economic necessities of life is powerfully reinforced 
by the contemporary view of paid work which is widely associated with the 
virtues of personal empowerment, achievement and self-realization, 
particularly by public-opinion makers- professors, journalists, authors, 
artists, and pundits- whose jobs tend to provide these benefits. But the 
joys of work are not evenly distributed. Tolstoy may have had it right 
that happy families resemble one another, while unhappy families are all 
miserable in their own fashion. Whether they are happy or unhappy at home, 
however, there is considerably less variance in the demands of 
child-rearing and home management than in the demands of labor force 
participation. To say that there is less variance within home-centered 
work is not to say that it is less formidable or strenuous than labor 
force participation, just that the range of roles among the latter is more 
diverse-say from coal mining in the depths of the earth to flying 
airplanes at 30,000 feet or from sitting on a stool in a factory to a seat 
on the Board of Directors. The world of paid work encompasses a vast array 
of activities ranging from those that are low status, boring, physically 
demanding, poorly rewarded and dangerous to those that are high status, 
exciting, physically easy, well-re-warded, and safe-the latter being in 
relatively short supply. The privileged few with high status, stimulating, 
and well-rewarded jobs tend to experience the virtues of empowerment, 
achievement and self-realization attributed to labor force participation. 
They have the kind of jobs in which doing lunch is considered work. But 
what about the many workers for whom lunch is a one-hour break from labor 
to refuel their bodies for the next shift? Or a mid-day meal they have to 
forfeit in order to run household errands? The evidence here is telling. 
Women seeking to emulate the pleasures of work supposedly enjoyed by men, 
might ask why the average male worker scurries to enter retirement as 
quickly as possible. Voting with their feet over the last two decades an 
increasing proportion of men in the advanced industrialized nations have 
been exiting employment well before the standard age of retirement. Thus, 
the average employment /population ratio for men ages 55 FAMILY LIFE: SOLD 
ON WORK 15 to 59 in nine major OECD countries declined from 72.2 percent 
in 1987 to 69.2 percent. in 1999; for men ages 60 to 64 the ratio declined 
more steeply from 45.1 percent in 1987 to 40.6 percent in 1999. In 1999, 
on the average 50 percent of the men in these countries withdrew from the 
labour force at the age of 62.3 years or younger (the age for women was 
61.1 years) and 25 percent of the men withdrew from the labour force at 58 
years of age (57.4 for women) or less. The attitudes expressed in 
international surveys convey sober evidence about people's preferences for 
work. Findings from the International Social Survey of over 10,000 
respondents in eight OECD countries reveal that given the choice only 8.8 
percent of those in retirement "wanted to spend more time in a paid job." 
In Europe the phrase "social exclusion," although used to describe various 
disadvantages, is most commonly applied to people who are unemployed. The 
results of the International Social Survey, however, suggest that a large 
proportion of the unemployed do not feel all that left out of things. 
Remarkably, only 55.8 percent of the unemployed workers surveyed indicated 
wanting to spend more time in a paid job. Similarly for those with 
part-time jobs only 28 percent wanted to spend more time working. Finally, 
family life has been sold on work because women are expected to be 
economically independent and socially autonomous. A wife's financial 
dependence on her husband is no doubt diminished through labor force 
participation. But the personal autonomy gained through employment is in a 
larger sense paradoxical. The wife's economic independence is acquired at 
the cost of increased dependence on the market economy to meet many family 
needs previously satisfied within the privacy of the home for reasons of 
mutual obligation and personal affection. Outsourcing caring and nurturing 
functions to day care centers, fast food chains and pizza delivery 
services depletes the bonds that are forged by the daily interactions and 
interdependence of family life. More to the point, for most wage labor the 
independence that comes with a paycheck is accompanied by obedience to the 
daily authority of supervisors, submission to the schedule and discipline 
of the work environment, deference to the demands of customers, and 
susceptibility to the vagaries of the marketplace. There are exceptions to 
the heightened vulnerability to daily oppression from strangers that 
attends wage labor, which include successful artists and writers, tenured 
professors, media personalities, and those generally at the top of the 
pyramid in the business world. These are the relatively small elite group 
of people for whom work represents a felicitous convergence of joy, 
independence, and meeting the felt necessities of highly affluent 
lifestyles. The expansion of employment opportunities and equal rights for 
women must be ranked among the major social accomplishments of recent 
times. Considerable credit for these achievements rests with the feminist 
movement and its various strands of-equity, gender, libertarian, and 
religious feminists. Certainly, women's freedom of choice has been 
well-served to the extent that the rise of female labor force 
participation and the decline in fertility and full-time commitment to the 
role of motherhood are an expression of inherent predispositions that 
clearly favor work-oriented over child-oriented lifestyles. This is no 
doubt the case for some women. But as noted earlier, other developments 
may also have influenced the declining commitments to motherhood and 
family life. For some women it is indeed a matter of economic survival, 
particularly as divorce rates have increased and in-home 
govern-ment-subsidized supports for single mothers have declined. The 
work-family choices of other women may be influenced by policy incentives, 
such as day care and other benefits that subsidize a shift in labor from 
hearth to market. And others may be responding to the modern pattern of 
female socialization, which incorporates changing expectations about the 
necessary contributions of occupational achievement and individual 
independence to the good life. We do not know precisely how the weight of 
these alternative influences bears on the declining commitment to 
motherhood. In light of expanding employment opportunities and rights, 
much of the change might be attributed to the distribution of women's 
inherent predisposition toward a work-oriented lifestyle. However, 
according to a 2003 Gallup poll, the desire to have children does not seem 
to have changed much over the years. Respondents' perceptions of 2.5 
children as the average ideal family size were the same in 1980 as in 
2003. Among the childless adults over 40 years of age sampled in 2003 over 
70 percent indicated that they would have at least one child if they had 
it to do all over again. Of the entire sample only 4 percent of the 
respondents did not have or did not want to have children. When faced with 
life's many choices, the desire for children may be real and strong, but 
not as strong as other desires. One might want to have three children, a 
large house, a high status well-rewarded career and a yacht to sail around 
on when not working, minding children, or taking care of the house. Desire 
does not necessarily reflect preference. Preferences are desires ordered 
according to the degree to which they are favored at the time choices have 
to be made. Faced with the choice between work and raising two or more 
children, many women in their 20s and 30s have increasingly expressed a 
preference for work-which has 16 SOCIETY® * MARCH/APRIL 2005 profoundly 
altered the role of motherhood and the character of modern family life. It 
is difficult to distinguish the degree to which women's preferences about 
work and family life express inherent predispositions (with which they are 
born) or their socialization about what constitutes the good life. It is 
the familiar case of nature versus nurture. To the extent that the latter 
is shaping women's choices about how to combine work and family life, the 
modern pattern of female socialization bears critical examination. This 
pattern of socialization raises expectations about the necessity of paid 
employment, and extols the virtues of labor force participation, while it 
devalues childrearing and the domestic arts. It embraces the conventional 
male model of a continuous line of employment that begins by entering the 
labor force early in life-and endorses the market as the only realm in 
which serious people experience personal accomplishment and 
self-determination. As many early retirees will attest, the pleasures of 
work are greatly overrated. If for many if not most people the idea that 
labor force participation imparts joy and independence (particularly in 
contrast to family life) is a myth, how did it gain such a grip on modern 
women? This myth has been perpetuated by an elite few in the professional 
classes for whom it is a real-ity-people who make their livings writing, 
thinking, and talking. One of the things that they write, talk and think 
about is how to improve the human condition. "Gender feminists," as 
described by Christina Hoff Sommers, have been among the most influential 
opinion makers concerned with improving the condition of women. The modern 
pattern of socialization draws heavily on their doctrine, which asserts 
that all the traditional differences between behaviors of men and women in 
work and family life are socially constructed. In the absence of 
expectations cultivated by traditional patriarchal society they claim that 
the particulars of a satisfying life would be entirely the same for men 
and women. Thus, gender feminists promote expectations that women should 
participate equally with men at all levels in the labor force and that men 
should participate equally with women in every facet of domestic and 
childrearing activity. To date, their efforts have been more influential 
in the socialization of women than men. Although the social expectations 
promoted by gender feminists confirm the ambitions and inclinations of 
some women, they do not serve the interests of all women, particularly 
those in the middle-and-working-classes. Even some high-powered 
professional women have had second thoughts about modern expectations for 
the good life as noted in 2003 by the media attention directed toward 
successful female lawyers, MBAs, and the like who were leaving glamorous 
well-paid jobs to stay home with their children. Dubbed members of an 
"opt-out revolution," these women seemed to be rejecting the work-oriented 
expectations that drove them through college and into graduate educations 
in Ivy League schools. But the revolution has not yet drawn as many new 
female recruits as have graduate schools of law, business, and medicine. 
To observe that in the choice between work and motherhood, many women have 
been oversold on the gratifications of labor force participation, is not 
to argue for a return to the traditional view that women belong barefoot 
and pregnant in the kitchen. Rather it is to suggest that public discourse 
on work-family choices would benefit from an evenhanded approach, which 
gives due consideration to diverse interests and the values of family 
life. Such an approach would balance the esteem expressed for occupational 
achievement with appropriate respect and admiration for the joys of 
mothering and the accomplishments of the domestic arts-and convey equal 
regard for women engaged on the "fast track" of professional life and 
those who opt for a sequential pattern of motherhood and employment over 
the life course. Neil Gilbert is Chernin Professor of Social Welfare at 
the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent books include 
Transformation of the Welfare State: The Silent Surrender of Public 
Responsibility and two co-edited volumes Changing Patterns of Social 
Protection (with Rebecca A.Van Voorhis) and Welfare Reform: a Comparative 
Assessment of the French and U.S. Experiences (with Antoine Parent) both 
published by Transaction.

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