Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mommy Blogging

Today's NY Times ran two complementary articles about motherhood. Both are worth reading. The Op-Ed page printed Linda Hirshman's Off to Work She Should Go. The Books section reveals Mommy Books: More Buzz Than Buyers.

Reading Linda Hirshman's piece made my heart sink because she is so right. If you actually read LH (rather than read her detractors), you will know that she is careful to back up her assertions with data. In this case, she quotes the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics' “Trends in Labor Force Participation of Married Mothers of Infants.” (Despite my gripes about the common misapplication of statistics, I have always admired the careful handling of statistics at BLS.)
The authors also speculate that the pressure of working and running a household is great. They do not say, however, that working hours have increased as participation has declined. Educated women, they report, work 42.2 hours a week on average and those with professional degrees, 45 — hardly the “80-hour week” of legend.
Yeah, I work "part-time", but my total market and family work day is longer than that for most men who work "full-time". Joan Williams' research showed that I am far from alone in this finding. Husbands actually do less housework when their spouses move to part-time work. In fact, they decrease their family work hours by more than the the number of hours their spouses decrease their market work.
What has changed in the last decade is that the job of motherhood has ramped up. Mothers today spend more time on child care than women did in 1965, a time when mothers were much less likely to have paying jobs, family scholars report.
How did mothers do less childcare in 1965 than today, and do it without childcare centers? Social networks are one answer. Highly trained professionals are expected to move anywhere for their jobs. Not many bring their mothers or other female relatives with them to help with childcare. So, at a time when work demands more hours, the mothers are often displaced from their family support network. Even when family lives nearby, they are often unable to help. Grandmothers are often older and frailer due to delayed childbearing. Younger relatives often perform market work and are, thus, not available for family work.

Additionally, professional neighborhoods used to be full of SAHMs who looked after one another's children. Children also used to run around the neighborhoods, playing unsupervised. Mark and I both walked to school without parental supervision at Iris' current age. However, our school district specifically prohibits children under a certain age from walking to school without an adult. Older siblings or older neighborhood children used to accompany younger children to school.
That the most educated have opted out the most should raise questions about how our society allocates scarce educational resources. The next generation of girls will have a greatly reduced pool of role models.
This is LH's scariest point. I have blogged about this before. My education was costly, for both society and myself. If I don't use it, then society will be justified in denying this type of educational opportunity to future girls on the grounds that the education would be wasted upon them. Should we go back to the days in which universities either banned women, or put a cap on women's admission to reserve the vast majority of seats for "men who would actually use the educations"? The Taliban carries this argument to its logical extreme and bans the education of girls altogether.

The mommy books article makes the point that, despite the media buzz, very few people actually buy the latest crop of mommy books. Even today, Betty Friedan's classic, The Feminine Mystique, outsells all the newer books. (They imply that book buying is a valid proxy for book reading, which is not proven. No matter.)

Perhaps the article was right. Women don't want to read about such a personally painful subject. It takes a certain kind of denial to become a mother.

I, for one, am not at all surprised that those motherhood books are not selling well or being read. If you read "The Feminine Mystique", you would know that mothers do not have time to read books. We get, at most 15 minute blocks of uninterrupted reading time--just enough to read a magazine article!

Aside: In Britain, women who marry high-earning men have a huge incentive to quit their jobs right after the wedding. Read the International Herald Tribune story about divorce laws in different countries.


  1. Have you read Judith Warner's book Perfect Madness? (link).

    I've just finished it and it's exactly related to what you're talking about in this post - I'm trying to work out what could be done to address this issue of the most educated "opting out", and women doing *more* childcare because children are no longer allowed to play unsupervised from a public policy perspective.

    Any thoughts?

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Comments are open for recent posts, but require moderation for posts older than 14 days.