Sunday, July 22, 2012

Nanny arrangements

There's quite a bit of chatter about Marissa Mayer's new job as head of Yahoo.  Good for her!  And that's all I feel qualified to say as I've never worked in the dot com world.  If you want to read something, see Wandering Scientist's very thoughtful take.

I have to say that I am impressed at the difference that throwing money at a problem can make.  I was astonished to learn that the MBA CFO wife of a former scientist coworker had three full-time people facilitating her 'having it all' life.  At the office, she had a full time secretary AND a personal assistant in addition to the finance department staff.  At home, she had a full-time nanny.

Scientists don't earn that kind of money or have that much clout in the workplace.  Her personal assistant made about as much as I made working full-time as a scientist at a nonprofit.  Anyway, that kind of backstage support is not available except to elite women.  In effect, she's at the top of a pyramid scheme.

That's the thing that is getting lost in the debate.  There is a whole lot of care and attention necessary to run a home and family--what Joan Williams calls family work.  Family work, when it is not outsourced, generates no money and doesn't add to the GDP.  However, it is still work and it is still necessary to keep the family, community, state, nation and world running.  For instance, if no one signed up for the unpaid job of growing and raising children, society would eventually stop.

Elite women can afford to outsource.  But what are we doing to support all the lower-paid women propping her up?


  • I have riffed on Joan Williams' excellent analysis multiple times, most thoroughly in Perfect Madness.  
  • Please go back and read the Joan Williams series.  
  • More than 20 years ago, sociologist Arlie Hochschild followed the lives of Silicon Valley women, the women hired to perform their family work and the women hired by those women.  She wrote a fascinating book, The Second Shift.  Follow the money trail and the pyramid scheme is evident.
  • The pyramid scheme does not stop at our borders. Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild contains an uneven (but worthwhile) compilation of pieces by researchers following the global movement of women to satisfy the "care deficit" with devastating effects in their home (and host) countries.


  1. I think you're absolutely right about the impact of having money to throw at the problems that crop up when you try to be a mother and be in the workforce. I remain puzzled as to why everyone is worried about women like Mayer, or even me, when in my view it is the women working low wage jobs who are really getting squeezed.

    Which is not to say that I think we should add this to the list of things we are judging Mayer about. For one thing, she hasn't even said what the childcare arrangements will be. Maybe her husband is going to become a stay at home dad! But also, I don't think the fact that my life wouldn't work as currently configured without the support of the childcare workers at our day care and the housecleaner we employ makes me uniquely responsible for our crappy labor system and childcare system. I wholeheartedly support reforms to make this better, vote with this in mind, and tried to choose services that at least gave their employees some benefits, but me opting out and deciding to do all that labor myself isn't going to fix the system. Same thing for Mayer, in my view- except given her astronomical wealth, I suspect she'll pay any nanny she does hire fairly well. I saw an article once about the going rates for nannies for the super rich and apparently, some of them are getting really good salaries. Of course, who knows what their work environments are like!

  2. It's pretty clear that, whatever her childcare arrangements, the childcare worker will not be able to hire a similar
    level of care for her children. Joan Williams' analysis shows that people are willing to spend about 1/3 of a worker's
    salary for childcare. So a high earner can afford to pay $70k in silicon valley (and they do) for a FT nanny 50 hrs/wk.
    But that nanny, if she has children, will be spending 1/3 that, and the workers at the daycare center where she sends
    her kids will be cared for by relatives (free) or at a low-quality daycare center/home care, etc.

    Arlie Hochschild's investigation showed the same thing. She was hired by IBM to investigate the
    glass ceiling at home. She went beyond the task she was paid to do b/c she became fascinated by
    the story. She followed the workers in the IBM employee's homes, and the families who cared for
    the nannies' children, etc. She kept going in the chains as far as people would give her references and contact info.


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