Why Does It Matter?
Anne Applebaum has the weirdest take yet on the topic du jour:
A British sociologist, Catherine Hakim, recently concluded for example that out of 3,700 working-age women she surveyed, about a third were fully focused on their jobs, about a third were fully focused on their families, and about a third wanted a mix -- meaning, invariably, that they took the sort of job that doesn't lead to fast-track promotion. If these numbers hold there never will be a 50-50 split between men and women at the highest professional or managerial levels of anything: The ratio will always hover around 2 to 1.Of course it matters! As Amber Taylor writes:
Is this nature or nurture? I don't see that it matters.
Why are women the ones making the choice to stay home? Why are fathers not similarly motivated to demand a mix of work and family? Dismissing the inquiry into whether lower levels of female participation in prestigious careers are the result of social conditioning is to accept the status quo and leave an overwhelming burden on women. Why is this not worth challenging?That's why these questions always matter, the issue is whether or not a given situation is remediable. Note that all the work in Applebaum's argument is being done by the antecedent "If these numbers hold..." -- the issue at stake here is whether those numbers will hold, or whether it wouldn't be better to try to move to a different social structure where there was more equal distribution of these concerns and responsibilities.
February 23, 2005 | Permalink
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If women taking on a disproportionate burden of childrearing is largely a social norm, than it can (and, in my view, should) be altered by intelligent public policy. If it is derived from innate characteristics, than public policies designed to chang... [Read More]
Tracked on Feb 23, 2005 4:27:04 PM
My husband is counting the minutes until I make enough dinero that we can live comfortably on it, and he can stay home! We know several families where the woman has the money-generating career and the man takes the kids to school, run the household and occasionally hangs out at Starbucks. And we know many folks where both husband and wife work mainly FROM home. And none of these are new developments.
So your question seems quaint and dated to me. But you know us in California....we may have rain, but we also have lots of the great ideas first. :)
So, Matt, why don't you marry and then give up writing for TAP and stay home and raise the kids?
Posted by: Agamemnon | Feb 23, 2005 3:53:12 PM
I don't see social conditioning as a form of coercion. If women tend to want to stay home with children more than men do, I don't really care why they have that preference. As long as there are no external constraints on what a woman can do (which is distinct from what she chooses to do), I don't think the social structure is something that can or should be consciously changed. Family structures are for individual families to decide for themselves.
Posted by: Xavier | Feb 23, 2005 3:54:06 PM
There will always be a certain amount of sexual inequality in childrearing until artifical wombs are perfected. Pregnancy is a lot of work in itself, and because of human biology, it'll always be more convenient for women to raise very young children.
I can see the value in working towards a society where women and men have more options than they do right now, but don't we have slightly more pressing issues?
Posted by: Matt G. | Feb 23, 2005 3:57:05 PM
"...and because of human biology, it'll always be more convenient for women to raise very young children."
Once that baby is out of the womb, how does the woman have any more obligation to raise 'very young children' than a man?
Much of this habit we have of men working, and women having to choose between work and child-rearing, or a fine balance of the two, is societal conditioning. It can be broken, or refined somewhat, but then that would require some work.
And work is four-letter word, isn't it?
Matt G. was referring to breast feeding, of course. Yes, women use pumps and you can always buy the less healthy formulas, but women definitely have an advantage in the breast feeding department.
My wife and I used to tag-team parent when my child was very young, she worked half time and I worked 3/4 time, with the remaining four hours handled by a friend. The fact is it is much easier for one person to stay at home. In our case, I was a programmer and she was a secretary so I both earned twice as much per hour and had higher growth potential, so she got to stay home.
So here I am, with no desire for a traditional family structure but working every day with a stay-at-home wife. Funny how life works sometimes. That says nothing about nature versus nurture, but that's how it worked out for us. Sucks, really.
I assume the biological factor that gives women an edge raising very young children is breast milk.
Unless you can claim that women are forced to stay with children more than their husbands, you are really arguing that women are being are oppressed by their own personal preferences (whether genetic or socially determined). If ever there were an example of over-reaching liberal technocracy, this is it. Telling women that you know how they should structure their family lives better than they do is not going to have broad public appeal, nor should it. Trying to consciously engineer a social structure to satisfy your own policy preferences is wrong.
Posted by: Xavier | Feb 23, 2005 4:15:02 PM
Breastfeeding. Very good for the little critters you know, according to plenty of people maybe even a good thing up to age 2-3, and a pain in the neck for a working mother.
The pumps, the bottles, the freezer bags, I have seen the works, that a working mom has to deal with.
Posted by: luisalegria | Feb 23, 2005 4:15:22 PM
Matt, if you haven't been around nursing babies, it is understandable as to why you don't understand why it is more convienient for mothers to be the primary caregivers of the very young. Can men do it? Absolutely, but if one places value in natural nursing, and there is much scientific evidence to suggest that one should, the possession of mammary glands which produce milk inevitably makes it more convienient for mothers to raise the the very young.
Posted by: Will Allen | Feb 23, 2005 4:15:34 PM
"Once that baby is out of the womb, how does the woman have any more obligation to raise 'very young children' than a man?"
Well, duh: Those things women have hanging on their chests? They're related to the nutritional needs of extremely young children, in case you slept through biology.
And he didn't say, "obligation". He said, "convenient".
The point is simply, why is it some kind of problem if women chose to stay home and take care of children? Something that needs to be changed? Maybe you should just try accepting the fact that we're not hermorphodites or asexual, there's actually some biologically based role differences?
Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Feb 23, 2005 4:17:26 PM
Although it might be theoretically possible with hormone shots, men usually have greater difficulty with feeding infants, Matt (not MY). Pumping takes time, added to the other non-nutritional issues of bottle care, and frankly I can understand why a woman might be turned off by the very mechanics involved. It can be done, and I think it should be done more and supported better by society at large. But the sexual asymmetry with respect to early child care isn't likely to disappear.
Posted by: modus potus | Feb 23, 2005 4:17:57 PM
I think some people won't be happy until we genetically engineer ourselves into a parthogenic all female species. Ideally all the same color, shape, height, weight, and so on, too.
Damn people for not being interchangable!
Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Feb 23, 2005 4:22:10 PM
"or whether it wouldn't be better to try to move to a different social structure where there was more equal distribution of these concerns and responsibilities."
And whether a majority of women want that. Maybe men are missing out. Let's scope out all the assumptions here.
Posted by: John Isbell | Feb 23, 2005 4:25:33 PM
Xavier seems not to understand that individual preferences are conditioned by available options. I don't think anyone here is arguing for a government forced 50/50 work/parenting split between men and women. Cultural changes, institutional support, and flexible workplaces can help to make it easier for women to have children without having their careers derailed. There may be things that government can do to help on the margins to help this transformation. We already make it illegal to fire pregnant women or women who may get pregnant in the future (despite the objections of folks like Robert Bork). The fact is that women pay a higher price than men in loss of income, career possibilities, etc. for the decision to have children.
As long as women tend to earn less than men for the same jobs and have fewer opportunities for advancement it will continue to make more economic sense for men to be the supporting partners. For Mark and his wife it was a question of earning potential that determined who stayed at home, and I'm sure they're not the only ones.
Posted by: curly | Feb 23, 2005 4:41:14 PM
Seeing the words “weird” and “Anne Applebaum” in the same sentence made my antennae quiver. She’s a fabulous writer and sensible woman. So, apparently unlike MY, I read her linked column. In that column, she said that “the agonizing trade-offs between work and family, and how they can be better managed in the interests of women, children and co-workers” is the subject “that matters to most people” and should but “never quite becomes the center of debate.” How that jibes with MY’s criticism is beyond me.
The lesson: never interpret a paragraph out of context.
Posted by: ostap | Feb 23, 2005 4:46:55 PM
"I don't think anyone here is arguing for a government forced 50/50 work/parenting split between men and women."
I think there are, regrettably, plenty of people who'd take anything short of 50/50 work parenting split as a "situation" that needs to be "remediated". And to hell with whether people chose their roles, there's always some way to rationalize people's individual choices away, when they don't happen to conform to your conception of what soiciety ought to look like.
Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Feb 23, 2005 4:48:05 PM
My wife breastfed our daughter for the first year of her life while we shared the stay-at-home child care arrangements. The logistics of breast feeding are only slightly more difficult than formula feeding (itself a pain the keister) - the only real limiting factor is whether the working mother has a workplace accomodating to pumping on her lunch break.
about a third were fully focused on their jobs, about a third were fully focused on their families, and about a third wanted a mix -- meaning, invariably, that they took the sort of job that doesn't lead to fast-track promotion. If these numbers hold there never will be a 50-50 split between men and women at the highest professional or managerial levels of anything: The ratio will always hover around 2 to 1.
Can anyone explain how Applebaum gets this 2 to 1 ratio?
Let's assume that there are 12 people: 6 men and 6 women. So, of the 6 women, 2 are focused on their jobs, 2 are focused on their families, and 2 want a mix, right? So, where does Applebaum get that, of the 6 men, there will "always" be 4 that will be focused on their jobs (hence 4 men and 2 women "at the highest professional or managerial levels", giving a 2-1 ratio)? Why can't all 6 men be focused on their jobs (a 3-1 ratio)? Or 2 focused on jobs, 2 focused on families, and 2 with a mix (the 50/50 mix)? Or 3 focused on jobs and 3 with a mix?
In fact, I don't see how the 1/3 - 1/3 - 1/3 mix among women has ANYTHING to do with what the same mix is among men.
Posted by: Al | Feb 23, 2005 4:57:52 PM
Brett Bellmore and Al:
There are biologically based differences between men and women. But until less than a century ago, conservative were arguing those differences meant that, in the words of Thomas Jefferson the tender breasts of ladies were not formed for political convulsions and thus should not vote.
Now explain to me how tender breasts, or those things women have hanging on their chests as Brett Bellmore so delicately puts it, have anything to do with the ability to vote.
Conservatives seem to think the day a centuries' old injustice is wiped from the book (say, by women's suffrage or the abolition of slavery) that the playing field is level and everyone is on board with the new equality. Blacks and women are still discriminated against in this country. Using the same old tired arguments.
Women are still fighting for equality in the business world. I am not blaming you, but it is a fact. They are understandably unimpressed when arguments are used that further that inequality. Even when, as in the case of child rearing, there may be some biological basis for it. Why not compensate them for it? We compensate milk farmers with price supports because we think it is a social good. What about human milk? If men lactated, breast feeding would merit at least a tax deduction.
I keep trying to tell my wife that it's a biological fact that I am taller, so, since she is closer to the ground, she should scrub the floors. So far, no success.
And with Brett Bellmore's sensitivity I don't wonder that those things women have hanging on their chests when applied to his ex-wife actually refers to the pearls she bought with his alimony check.
Posted by: epistemology | Feb 23, 2005 4:58:56 PM
AA: Is this nature or nurture? I don't see that it matters.
MY: Of course it matters! . . . [T]he issue is whether or not a given situation is remediable.
Whether something is nature or nurture is *not* the same thing as whether it is remediable! For example, I take it violent behavior is to some extent genetic, but we certainly aim to prevent it and do so pretty successfully. Nature/nurture questions are hopelessly complicated and simplistic; the answer is always "both". Much more manageable and useful questions are whether we should remedy something, whether we can, and how.
By the way, that's why Summers' comment was obnoxious--not because he was wrong, but because he was asking the wrong question.
Posted by: AF | Feb 23, 2005 5:01:20 PM
I think the issue is whether any of this really amounts to an issue. To the extent that there's a problem it's that people make a leap from "for various reasons, it's reasonable when a woman wants to take more time at home raising kids" into "all women should want to stay home once they have kids and we should make it difficult for the women who don't." When companies start making decisions that female employees shouldn't get promotions or challenging assignmeents because of their potential for childrearing, that strikes me as a problem. The fact that many women do, for whatever reason, make the decisions that lead to stay-at-home or secondary career choices, shouldn't tell us that's what all women want. And perhaps we should be mindful that while many women do want to be home with their kids, some would appreciate it if the burden were easier, and they could continue their professional lives. I think sometimes women get caught having to argue this discussion the way men do - this or that, either/or with no in-between. We probably just need to make some adjustments on the in-between. But this stuff really touches an interesting nerve - in men and in women.
Posted by: weboy | Feb 23, 2005 5:02:44 PM
If I read Applebaum right, she's saying so long as it's free choice, staying home with the kids and working fewer hours to pay is okay, even if more women do it than man.
If I read Yglesias right, he's saying so long as more women do it than men, the split will be unequal, men will have more social power and distinction than women, and that's unjust.
Well, what if women really do value satisfying their maternal desires more highly than they do achieving social power and distinction, and men's paternal desires are satisfied by less time with the kids, more at work? Whether that difference is the work of nature or a social construct (of course it's both), would it be the sort of difference that screams "social injustice, change me"? Few women would think it wise or worthy of them to bring their standards of care down to men's level. Fewer still will have much hope male levels will ever come up to female levels--and like the desperate housewife the other night, they likely rather want their husband, their children's father, to get ahead at work.
Posted by: otherworries | Feb 23, 2005 5:08:24 PM
I didn't mean to be delcate. I was mocking Matt(Not Y)'s obtuse approach to the subject.
BTW, she got no alimony check; Rather, she simply left the marriage debt free after 14 months, having entered it very deeply in debt. I got to keep the house I'd already owned, along with the mortgage that paid off her credit cards.
Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Feb 23, 2005 5:12:55 PM
How is it the wrong question? I'd like to know the truth of the matter, even if (as I suspect) that truth has no practical applications whatsoever.
Posted by: Matt G. | Feb 23, 2005 5:17:33 PM
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