Women Realize Work Doesn't Pay

Women are dropping out of the workforce and staying home.

Our current global downturn goes by many names - the Great Recession and the Obama Depression, for example - but one of the more interesting labels that lasted for a while was "mancession."  This reflected the fact that, for the first few years of trouble, twice as many men lost their jobs as women.

Had women finally risen to equality over men?  For a brief moment, you could see the smiles of triumph through the crocodile tears of feminists pretending to regret all those lost masculine jobs.  Then the other shoe dropped, as CNS News reports:

324,000 women dropped out of the nation’s civilian labor force in March and April as the number of women not in the labor force hit an all-time historical high of 53,321,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics...

BLS says the decline of female participation in the workforce over the past year has been statistically significant—dropping from 58.3 percent in April 2011 to 57.6 percent this April.

For both males and females combined, the rate of participation in the labor force dropped to 63.6 percent in April—the lowest rate since December 1981.

Recently, however, women have been leaving the labor force in larger numbers than men.

Does this mean that women are finally getting laid off too?  That might seem rational - after all, women disproportionately work in fields paid for by government, like nurses and teachers, so you'd expect their layoffs to come later after the economy runs out of money and tax revenues fall.

That's not what the BLS is saying.  This report says nothing about unemployment rates; it's talking about labor force participation.  In other words, women are quitting work and not wanting to start work again - unlike their male counterparts who may not have worked for a year, but still want to and are available to take a job should they happen upon one.

You know, it wasn't really so bad...

Soldiers in Petticoats

To try to explain this phenomenon, it helps to briefly review the history of gender economics over the past fifty years or so.

Prior to the women's-lib era of the 60s and 70s, the vast majority of women did not work outside the home and never had.  Women certainly worked in home-based efforts like family farms and Tupperware parties; young single women often had "proper" jobs like schoolteacher, secretary, or stewardess.

There were, of course, some women who worked their entire lives; for the majority of American women, though, the expectation was that they'd get married, have kids, and stay home to take care of them.  Mostly, on average, that's what they did.

The flip side of this cultural expectation was that wives could stay home without working.  We see this in the famous Flintstones cartoons - Fred Flintstone has about as unskilled and uneducated a blue-collar job as one can imagine, but not only does wife Wilma not need to work, the Flintstones enjoy a recognizably comfortable middle-class life complete with (small) suburban home, (one) automobile, and reasonable non-luxurious outside activities.  Sure, Wilma takes on an occasional moneymaking pursuit for extra cash, but a regular job for wives is not part of normal life in 1950s-era Bedrock.

Of course, this meant that most women were financially dependent on their husbands, which leads to dependency in other ways.  Feminist writers such as Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem bemoaned the financial catastrophe that divorce inflicted upon ex-wives.  They set out to change this by, as they put it, smashing the glass ceiling.  Feminists used government power to force companies to employ women in jobs previously reserved for men.

They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.  Today, more women earn college degrees than men, and young urban women earn more money than their male counterparts.  It is unthinkable that any boss would refuse to hire a woman because of her gender, and today's girls are taught that they have every ability and right to go out and do what they want to do in life, with or without a man.

Adam Smith, Male Chauvinist Pig

How's that working out for American families?  Not well at all.

When the feminists smashed their way into the workforce, they forgot Adam Smith's law of supply and demand: For any commodity, when supply increases and demand stays the same, the price goes down.

Prior to the sexual revolution, America had a given number of jobs, a given number of consumers, and an economy of a given size.  All three variables were increasing gradually due to population growth and productivity improvements as they had been ever since the Depression.

After women entered the workforce, America still had basically the same number of consumers, allowing for natural increase and immigration.  The economy was similarly bigger but not by that much.

Jobs?  Well, a working woman is going to create a few more fractional jobs merely by her presence in the workforce.  She needs a second reliable car, where one would probably have been enough for a single-earner family.  She'll need better work clothes, of course, and more of them, plus more dry-cleaning.  If there are children, she'll certainly need day care; stay-at-home mothers provide day care for their own kids but they don't show up in the economic statistics.

Will those extra needs double the family's consumption?  No.  Yet the family has doubled its contribution to the labor force: instead of one worker, there are now two.

The obvious and predictable thing happened to wages: they stopped increasing, or even dropped a bit, over the decades following.

Now, that doesn't mean what the Left would have you think it does.  "Real wages" and inflation adjustments usually compare the price of a common basket of goods between the two eras.  But is it really fair to compare a TV from 1970 with one in 2010?  How would you even allow for things like computers and cellphones which didn't exist back then?  By every measure, the average American is better off materially today than in 1970; as we've seen before, the poorest American is vastly rich by world standards an by historical standards as well.

Still and all, it doesn't feel like it.  For the past twenty years, it's become accepted that most middle-class families must have both the husband and wife working, or else they won't stay in the middle class for long.  Those determined few who make the sacrifice of keeping Mom at home with the kids soon find themselves dropping several economic classes below their educational and professional peers.

And yet, where Gloria Steinem argued that women should be allowed to work if they wanted to, today's feminists make the "mommy wars" argument that women should work even if they'd rather not.

Get Back to Work, You Lazy Mom!

The original argument for feminism was freedom: why should women with brains be "imprisoned" at home?  Shouldn't they have the same right to self-determination and earned success in the workplace that men enjoy?  Framed this way, freedom to choose between home and office seems only fair and right.

How interesting, then, that recent research reveals that only 12% of mothers want to work full-time.  The other 88% would rather stay at home with their children.  We know that the numbers on what they really do are pretty much reversed; clearly, a whole lot of women are not doing what they want.  They'd rather be stay-at-home moms, but they can't afford to be; hence the dream of modern young women to marry a rich man who can fund that goal.

Even the New York Times has acknowledged that feminism pressures women to work against their will:

...The present feminist climate pressures women to work. We should question why so many of us are working — single and married women alike. Is it because we bought the feminist lie that we don't need a husband? Is it because we want to prove to the world that we are worth something? Or is it to live in a ritzy neighborhood and drive an Audi Q7?

This view even made it into the recent presidential campaign multiple times.  Rick Santorum cited his wife's negative experiences:

He said that when Ms. Santorum, a nurse and a lawyer, had quit her job to raise the couple’s children, she felt that many people “looked down their nose at that decision.”

“Sadly the propaganda campaign launched in the 1960s has taken root,” Mr. Santorum, or his wife, wrote in the book. “The radical feminists succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness.”

More famously, Democrat operative Hilary Rosen ridiculed stay-at-home mom Ann Romney as having "never worked a day in her life" - despite the indisputable fact that, as every mother knows, raising five boys is nothing like a vacation on the beach.  By comparison to Ann Romney's efforts, Hilary Rosen has never worked a day in her life!  The mainstream media don't dare report it, but we shouldn't be surprised that Mitt Romney is now leading Obama in polls of women voters.

So where feminists said that they wished to help those women who really wanted to work be able to work, all they've done is force a far larger number of women who didn't want to work, to have to work when they'd rather stay home - and then demeaned those lucky few who still could.

Un-Spilling the Milk

Which brings us to today's surprisingly large number of women who're dropping out of the workforce.

As noted, young educated urban women earn more than men, but that's not true for most women, particularly not "mommy-track" working mothers who don't get the "Sex and the City" sorts of jobs.  Most likely their husbands earn more than they do and always will.

Meanwhile, the costs of having a job are going up.  Gas prices have more than doubled over Obama's administration; food and clothing prices are on the rise, and daycare is as hard to find and costly as ever.  Wages have stayed stagnant or falling.

There comes a point where a hard-pressed working mother tots up the bill for clothes, her car, her commute, daycare, her personal exhaustion and frustration, and of course the higher taxes levied on a larger combined income, subtracts out social security taxes, medicare taxes, and all other taxes, and realizes that, you know, it would be cheaper as well as more pleasant just to stay home.  According to the BLS, that's what an increasing number of women are choosing to do.

It will take a whole lot of individual choices to fight back against forty years of feminist indoctrination and propaganda.  Adam Smith's laws, though, work in both directions.  Where once the earning power of men was destroyed by an avalanche of new women workers, that same earning power can be increased by the departure of women and their return home.

Prices increase when supply increases and demand stays the same - and the opposite is also true.  If women start leaving the workforce but not the stores, the same amount of work will need to be done, but there will be fewer bodies to do it.  Over the long term, that can't help raising wages for the workers who remain - in this scenario, predominantly men, who will then be better able to provide for their wives and children at home just as their grandfathers did.

Maybe the days of Fred Flintstone aren't entirely dead and gone after all!  It isn't right to force women to stay at home when they'd rather work, but it's every bit as wrong - and far more harmful to the children - to do as we've been doing in forcing the opposite.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

I guess I'll have to go back to my position on buys and girls, they are different. Girls, for the most part, would prefer to stay at home and raise the kids. Guys prefer to be the hunters and gatherers. It's been this way for a long time and probably won't change. It always amused me that the girls wanted equal status but on their terms. A girl would replace a man in the workplace and all of a sudden the workplace had to clean up its act to accommodate her. I'm not saying that is bad but I waited for some guy to sue the company when he had to change when a girl showed up. If the girls go back home I think that everybody will be happier. After all, family is where the real treasure lies and no one can make a home a home like a woman.

May 16, 2012 3:29 PM
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