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What revolution? Why haven't women pushed harder for caring work to be valued?

When I first got involved in blogging in the Spring of 2008 (coming up on 3 years), I started looking for other attachment parenting and feminist mothering blogs. The first feminist mothering blog that I came across and one that still holds a prominent place in my RSS reader today is blue milk. When I first discovered her blog, I found a post from 2007 called "What does a feminist mother look like" that included 10 questions for feminist mothers to think about and hopefully blog their answers to. I wrote my answers on feminist mothering here (way back in the day when no one commented on my blog). Since then, I've been reading and commenting on one intelligent and entertaining post after another. And now...I bring you the author of blue milk in this thought provoking guest post.


Here is the feminist economist, Nancy Folbre delivering a memorial lecture on Women’s Work And The Limits of Capitalism. It’s fantastic. You should watch it. We should all be talking about it.

It’s also long (though the questions she is asked at the end by the audience aren’t brilliant so you can skip those and also, the introductions at the beginning of the clip go on a bit, so, Folbre doesn't actually commence her lecture until the 8 minute mark of the video so you can skip the first bit of the clip, too).

All in all, don’t read any further below if you want to listen to her lecture yourself because I am summarising, quoting and paraphrasing her lecture down there and it is so much better to see Folbre deliver these arguments herself. However, if you're going to skip the video entirely or you've watched it and now want to see what I am saying about it then keep right on reading.

Let's start with where we are today. Which factor is most to blame for the modern predicament of mothers - over-worked, exhausted, stretched to capacity, idolised yet invisible, and financially vulnerable - the patriarchy or capitalism?

Folbre says she used to think that 'patriarchy' was the noun and 'capitalism' the adjective but she now thinks it is the other way around. Capitalism is to blame. She goes on to deliver a brief history of the evolution of patriarchal systems, explaining that these systems suited certain labour-intensive stages of economic development, like warfare and agricultural societies, because patriarchal systems tend to result in higher population growth than do egalitarian systems. Folbre notes that "women are often held hostage by their concern for their children". Children have tended to weaken women's bargaining power and historically women have often gained more reproductive advantage from marriage than men. Therefore, women have tended to also pay a higher price for it, which resulted in unequal terms in the arrangement. The patriarchal household, she explains, forced women to over-specialise in care. She then goes on to talk about how economic theories of the firm can also be used to describe what occurs in the patriarchal household. I won't go into too much technical detail here about this, unless someone is desperate for me to do so and indicates as much in the comments on this post, but suffice to say that basically, these theories explain why the optimum outcome won't necessarily happen through negotiation and goodwill. The reason behind this is because of the different bargaining powers of the various parties involved and the various incentives they face according to the ways in which they're each rewarded. For instance, the owners of the firm are paid 'the residual' (ie. whatever is left over after all the factors of production have been paid for including labour costs) so they have an incentive to drive their labour hard and keep the residual as high as possible. At the expense of superior outcomes for the entire household, there is an incentive for men to force women to over-specialise in unpaid caring work because of women's inferior bargaining position and access to the household's 'residual'.

However, capitalism has eroded elements of the patriarchy, too - although, even with their tensions the two have brought about more mutual reinforcement than significant dismantling of one another. Or as Folbre jokes, it sometimes looks like the patriarchy and capitalism are getting ready to fight each other when what we are probably seeing is the two getting ready to mate. Capitalism, which emerged with the development of wage employment has undermined some aspects of the patriarchal family. If you can imagine life just before and after capitalism: families transitioned from living and working together in their homes and generally bartering, to the beginnings of industrialisation where men left the home to earn wages working in factories, and women and children (initially) stayed behind to perform the unpaid work of managing the family home - growing food, making clothes, tending to the sick and elderly, raising children, repairing the home, collecting fuel etc. This was when caring work became truly invisible. If you weren't paid a wage for the work in the new economy then the work no longer existed.

But capitalism, with its introduction of an 'individual wage' rather than the 'family wage' made a significant dent in the patriarchal wall - the 'individual wage' helped encourage women to seek self-ownership and also to engage in collective action. Now that individual efforts could be so readily identified and rewarded, women wanted to own themselves and the fruits of their own production (see here for a beautifully captured example of this). The only problem with all this revolution is that capitalism is dreadfully dependent upon the unpaid caring work of women. The breadwinner's wage (like, the Harvester Man concept in Australia) assumed the support of unpaid work from a wife in the breadwinner's home. It is the neo-liberal dilemma, as Folbre says, capitalism needs families but would prefer not to pay for them. However, we know that eventually women entered the workplace and became contributors to the household income, and finally that they even also challenged the notion of a breadwinner by fighting for equal pay.

As Folbre explains though, self-ownership hasn't been enough to guarantee gender equality. This is because, among other things, women continue to specialise in producing very worthwhile things (ie. human capital, or child-rearing as us mothers like to call it) that we cannot own. Capitalism does not provide payment for services and products that are not bought and sold in markets, and who, might we ask, does most of the work that happens outside of the marketplace? Women, of course. Folbre, also briefly at this point, touches on the introduction of the welfare state, a development which saw the socialising of some of the costs of caring for dependents and which greatly enhanced the lives of women. She highlights the ways in which the welfare state has been viewed as the feminised side of the economy; how it is referred to as 'the nanny state', for example; and more pointedly, how it is seen as something weak, spoiling, expensive, and needing to be controlled and disciplined.

“The position of women improves but the position of mothers deteriorates – pauperization of motherhood or “motherization of poverty,” Folbre explains as the next step which occurred in the evolution of the patriarchy. Why is it that women have gained in status in comparison to men, but mothers have remained so vulnerable?  In other words, why hasn't the feminism of the last fifty years been enough? Why aren't mothers sticking together to force change? (The economic answer would be this: capitalist competition creates incentives to exploit resources that are unpriced, especially where competitors are doing the same thing; but you may be relieved to know that we can also explain the answer with less economic terms).

Here is where Folbre's analysis is at its most useful.

We don't assign any value to unpaid caring work. We convince ourselves that mothering is so sacred it can't be valued, that counting it would diminish its worth - cheapen it somehow. Folbre explains that while economists and others do in fact acknowledge that unpaid work in the home exists and isn't counted, they also tend to assume that the consequences of this are not all that serious. This is wrong, Folbre argues. If we're interested in material living standards, and we very much are, then we should count caring work. Why? Because it is work, because someone is providing it, and because providing this work has costs. The magnitudes of unpaid labour are really high, using the American Time Use Survey for instance, Folbre is able to show that half of all the hours of work performed in the United States are unpaid. (However, she doesn’t provide a full clarification of these hours in her lecture so I wasn't able to determine their exact structure - do they include unpaid overtime by wage-earners as well, general work in the house, caring for the elderly, caring for people with disabilities in the home?) This means that half of the work done in the economy does not happen in the capitalist system. Folbre rightly notes that this unexamined work has really important implications for living standards.

Then Folbre throws the following puzzle to the audience.

Say there are two families, both with two parents and two pre-school aged children, and both with a household income of $50,000.

Family A – is comprised of one wage earner working full-time earning $50,000 and one full-time home-maker.

Family B – is comprised of two parents working full-time, both earning $25,000 each.

Which family is better off?

Current measures of inequality treat both families exactly the same – but Family B is in fact worse off because they are obviously having to also purchase services which are otherwise being performed for free by a full-time homemaker in the other family. Namely, childcare. It is important, Folbre points out, to put some value on that unpaid work if you want to understand the relative living standards of different households.

When we look at women’s equality we are mostly concerned with our market income. With women entering paid employment, household incomes have risen. And market income has become more equally distributed across the sexes. But this is because we are comparing a time when women earned zero value in market income to a time in the present where they have been increasingly earning a market income for paid employment. What happens, Folbre asks, if you assign a value for non-market work and you ask not what happened when women started working but what happened when they changed the type of work they did from unpaid to paid work?

In general, women’s unpaid work has been pretty much of a similar value across women. (There were some big shifts when the world began to understand how human capital, and thus economic growth, could be increased by the education of children - mothers were consequently encouraged to be more specialised in their mothering. Mothering capabilities have been tied to education levels, too, but generally, a mother is a mother regardless of class, education and income).

While all of women's unpaid work has been of a similar value, women's paid work has not been. Some women are highly paid and highly educated (thanks to feminism) and others are not, and what we've seen in economies like America, is that overall living standards have become much more unequal now that more women are in paid work. In a way, the patriarchy was equalising. Every married man used to get an unpaid house-keeper and child-carer – and the services provided to him were roughly of the same value regardless of the income of the man. Why is there more race and class inequality among women now? In part, it is the success of feminism in a capitalist system. Women overall have gained more education, but a lot among us have not had access to these opportunities. Poor women have been trapped in disadvantage.

Now, back to the question of this post, which is why haven't women pushed harder for caring work to be valued? If we know that unpaid caring work - child-rearing, elder care, care of family members with disabilities - is stretching most mothers/carers to their limits why aren't we changing things? Why can't we get political change happening for mothers/carers? Folbre makes the rather devastating case, and I think she is right, that it is income inequality which has undermined efforts to seek change. “Higher paid women benefit from their ability to hire low-wage women to provide child care and elder care in the market". Even if we don't benefit directly we can still afford to ignore the plight of others. It is one of the reasons why the campaign for paid maternity leave was so slow to get going in Australia. A lot of women like myself, with education and good pay had already secured some form of paid maternity leave from our employers long before a national scheme was in place. It was women with lower incomes and less secure jobs who were least likely to have beem able to negotiate paid maternity leave in their jobs. (By the way, we finally got a Labor government who did in fact introduce a paid maternity leave scheme here).

Not only are there inequalities in financial capital but there have also been inequalities in human capital - that is, the educational opportunities of our children are not spread evenly. Increased fear and anxiety about the welfare of our children, and the competitiveness that goes with this discourages the co-operation between mothers that is needed to agitate on a political level for change. Or as Folbre explains, it is difficult to unify women around a systematic political agenda when countries like the United States of America are so fractured along lines of race and class and family structure. Increased inequality among women has contributed to a fear of collective action - in fact, the very idea of being associated with caring work is seen as unpalatable in the modern political economy. A lot has been invested in the myth of self-reliance. Caring for someone makes them dependent and being dependent undermines their self-reliance, a state of being seen as entirely repulsive in our economy and which we would prefer was privately and quietly dealt with by families in their homes on their own.

Inequality matters for political change – it affects decisions about pooling risk, redistributing income, and banding together - all parts of the solution to the problem of unpaid caring work. And inequality hurts the bottom of the income distribution the most, where it has huge legacy effects lasting generation after generation. Inequality breeds more inequality. Folbre contends that it is increased inequality among women which has led to the success of conservative movements like The Tea Party, where the political visibility of women has been striking. It is also interesting to note that this movement has been very much targeted at the welfare state - it is anti-state and individualistic. Take care of your own family first and don't worry about how other families are managing.

So, how do we begin to change all this? Well, as Folbre argues, nothing will change until we can rally a larger coalition and to do this we need to first document and explain inequality better, and to do that? - we need to start counting unpaid caring work!

“We need a more sustainable organisation of production and social reproduction” - Nancy Folbre, want more? Try her posts on The New York Times. And of course, you can buy her books.

This writer is an economist who writes about motherhood from a feminist perspective, she is the author of the blog, blue milk. She has presented at conferences on motherhood, work and family, feminism, and social media; has written for magazines and newspapers, and has had her work quoted on television. She is a contributing author to the soon-to-be-released book,The 21st Century Motherhood Movement: Activist Mothers Speak Out On Why We Need To Change the World And How To Do It. She is also the mother of two children.  She might sound like she has it together, but she so very much doesnt. You can follow her on twitter @bluemilk.

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Reader Comments (84)

Wow, a very interesting discussion. I didn't listen yet, but I wanted to start off with a couple of questions from the text:

First off, what is the problem with unpaid work in the home? We already, more-or-less, could determine the value by calculating the cost of the equivalent work in the marketplace. So we get a value. Now what? I have no doubt that, in case of the family with a wage-earner and a non-wage-earner, there would be a difference in negotiating power. However, I think that nowadays, families do try to optimize. Many of my friends have both parents return to the workplace. This is because they calculate the wages that both can earn and if the surplus after childcare is worthwhile then the parents return, otherwise they save childcare costs by giving that work to one of the parents, usually the lower income one nowadays (which used to be mom, but is often dad now). I think this decision making process is fairly common.

Second, one suggested problem is is inefficiency. The proposal is that if market forces were put in play to optimize the unpaid work then ... what would happen? At some point, we get to the concept of living. People play golf for fun, but pro golfers get paid for it. Does that mean that the amateur pleasure golfer is performing unpaid, inefficient work? Many people pay to lift weights in the gym, but movers are paid to lift things as a job.

I would say that the same is true for families. Families organize themselves and their time in a way that is optimal for them. If that means engaging in so-called work because they enjoy it on the whole, then I don't see the inefficiency.

As mentioned, interesting, if complex, article.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPerfect Dad

Thanks for kicking off the discussion and you asked some great questions Perfect Dad. Just a quick note here for everyone commenting to say that I live in a different time zone to Canadians and Americans so I will be participating on this thread but that it might not match up exactly when you're on.. rest assured I am not ignoring the discussion/questions, I will be responding to it. Right now, school drop-offs and work call me.


March 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterblue milk

I've just skimmed the article and will have to come back and give it a fuller reading as well as take the time to watch the lecture, but I just wanted to make a quick comment about Family A vs. Family B.

Yes, Family B has to pay for services that are provided for free by one parent in Family A, and therefore Family B has more demands on their income. But Family B also benefits from an income tax system that doesn't take in account how many people an income is supporting. Family A will lose more income to taxes than Family B, and, in my experience, will in fact have less income available than Family B.

That was certainly the case when I was growing up, and I can also attest that it the case now that I am raising my own family.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterfofo

I'd be interested to see a Family C where (presuming heterosexual relationships) the man of the household makes more than the woman of the household. That's our situation, which makes a "who would stay home if one of us had to" a VERY easy question - I make about half of what my husband does.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmily WK

"What revolution? Why haven’t women pushed harder for caring work to be valued?"

Because we're too tired from all of the unpaid work we do get done? ;)

Fantastic article. I've had discussions with libertarian friends of mine who just *adore* the free market, and reading this made me slap my forehead: of course! That's how I should have responded! I'm going to have to take a step back and participate in the discussion after I cool my head; otherwise I'll not be able to ask rational questions.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCassandra

Ann Crittenden, the author of "The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued," did much research on this very topic and I think everyone in all types of backgrounds regardless of whether or not they are full time stay at home parents should read it. Human capital is not valued in the United States and can't really be "assessed" like a bushel of corn or in $$$; unfortunately, a lot of parenting small children gets placed on women primarily for biological reasons and at that point becomes supposedly "easier" for the wife to stay home (in heterosexual relationships). It's also suggested why put a monetary value on a mother's (or parent's) work when it is out of "love" and "care," people believe that parents should be sacrificial and are making a choice, what often they don't see is how unfair that choice is in terms of what sort of benefit human capital is to our society. It's unfortunate that both conservatives and liberals have been ignoring this very issue--the inequalities of parenting. It's always "well you'll do what's best for your family even if it means losing respect, money, etc" from both sides. I disagree with the assessment that educated, well off women don't pay a price. They in fact do through having to negotiate their home and parental responsibilities while "keeping up with men" in the workplace. Often times they have to sacrifice career advancement and are often overlooked because they seem less dedicated to their careers once they have children. Part of Crittenden's solution is to set up a series of social and government nets, I'm not certain I agree 100% with this solution but unfortunately, capitalism hasn't provided much respect for parenting children. I agree, nothing will change unless more people make a fuss and respect all avenues of parenting.

Also, not much thought goes into which parent would be better suited to stay at home full time or take the brunt of the parental responsibility b/c 1)wages are often looked at over happiness or 2)women are expected to keep up a household even if they hold down a full time job. It's the expectation rather than what's best for my family unit. It's easy for a husband to say "well I'll make more than you will so you're going to be staying at home." It's not to say that husbands come out and say it that way, but it's the implication. There's also a lot of disdain from even mothers to other mothers for their parenting choices, you can't win if you stay at home full time or you work outside the home full time.
This is so sad: "Caring for someone makes them dependent and being dependent undermines their self-reliance, a state of being seen as entirely repulsive in our economy and which we would prefer was privately and quietly dealt with by families in their homes on their own." I wish instead of one parent being labeled a dependent, they should be labeled as a "co-head of household" on tax returns or when cheques/direct deposit is issued it's issued to the two parents, not one person so that we realize that the lesser paid parent or the unpaid parent (like stay at homes) would be considered part of that labor.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRachael

It kinda boggles my mind that this is even a question: "Why haven't women pushed harder for caring work to be valued?" Maybe I'm missing something in all the economics talk but isn't it kind of obvious?

Yes to this: “Higher paid women benefit from their ability to hire low-wage women to provide child care and elder care in the market”. Isn't that obvious? Why does it take paragraphs and paragraphs to get there?

Sure, the post talks right off the top about patriarchy (sexism) and capitalism (classism to a degree, if we're talking about who has access to capital, though of course there's more to class than economic capital). But then it takes about 15 or 20 paragraphs to so much as mention race. And the word white doesn't even appear in the post. Our society isn't just patriarchal, in the narrowest sense, and capitalistic. It is classist and it is a white supremacy. It does not serve Whiteness to have the caring work of people of colour, women of colour, valued. It does not serve the middle and upper classes to have the caring work of the lower classes valued.

Why is caring work undervalued: Yet another example of white feminism failing to include women of colour. Yet another example of the exercise in white privilege.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren L

Karen L - the fault lies with me, I don't think I did enough scene-setting for this post on Folbre's lecture.

Racism and classism go a long way towards explaining why we as mothers haven't mobilised better and engaged in collective action but they do not provide the entire explanation for why caring work isn't valued.

For instance, I am Australian - no argument here that it is a white supremecist country but the employment demographics are different to the US. Yes, women of colour would be over-represented in low-paid work, but there isn't the pool of cheap/exploitable immigrant labour here that there is in the US doing domestic work. We also have higher minimum wages and more safety net protections for those on the lower income levels. Consequently the out-sourcing of domestic work isn't nearly as colour-based here. In my own case, my nanny is white, my cleaners have been white men, my daycare workers were white women and men.

But even so, caring work is still incredibly under-valued here. Why is returning to paid work called 'returning to work', why isn't there universal disability insurance, why are people who must give up a paid job to stay home and provide round-the-clock care to a child or husband with significant disabilities given such a pitiful allowance to survive on, why isn't there disability insurance, why is it grandmothers and not grandfathers who do the bulk of childcare in support of their daughters in the workforce, why did it take so long to get a paid parental leave scheme here in Australia, why are mothers the poorest women in our countries, why do women refer to themselves as "just a housewife", why do mothers but not fathers do so badly financially after divorce, why can't you put mothering on your resume, why don't these hours and hours and hours of work show up on a country's production accounting, why are single mothers seen as lazy, why are stay-at-home fathers seen as soft, and on it goes.

I don't wish to diminish the role of racism and classism in the exploitation of carers and it is absolutely fair to say that feminism doesn't have a great record on this one but the systematic way in which caring work is ignored and diminished is about more than race and class. All mothers are suffering, even the university-educated highly paid ones.. though they're also more able to buy their way out of the problems.

I think Folbre's point is that income inequality stops mothers from identifying with one another sufficiently to bring together the numbers to exercise real political power.

There are lots of other good points in the comments people have left on this thread and I promise to return shortly to respond to them.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterblue milk

Fofo, I don't think that's true. When I have been a dependent nonworking parent, it lowered our tax bill considerably - there's an extra dependent deduction right off the bad, but also the free services don't incur sales tax or other fees.

At a higher tax bracket - the one that hits the social security ceiling - the family with the stay at home parent has even more of a lifetime advantage, because the wage earner's social security tax is a lower percentage of income while the non wage earner gets a benefit based on the wage earner's earnigns. Family A and family B are paying equal payroll taxes, but if the total was $150k instead of $50k, Family A would hit the ceiling and Family B's workers wouldn't.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRosa

I always feel out of my depth wading into these discussions that rely heavily on scholarship in the social sciences. I was a physical science major, and while I went to a college that required that I took some humanities, social science, and history, I'm not up on the vocabulary and the controversies, etc.

Still, it is always interesting to read these sorts of things and try to match up the scholarship with my own experience, so I enjoyed this post. I think one additional reason that the revolution is slow in coming is that our society treats having children as a lifestyle choice, and therefore any difficulties faced by those of us who have chosen to become mothers is our problem, and not something that deserves intervention at the public policy level. The idea that any accommodation made to parents is somehow necessarily unfair to non-parents seems to have really taken hold in some quarters, which makes a discussion about how to solve some of these problems even more difficult.

@Perfect Dad, I have to say that I don't know ANYONE who enjoys housework. I know people who get a sense of satisfaction from a clean house, but they would all rather read a good book than clean. There is definitely honest to god work to be done in families, and sure each family tries to optimize how that gets down, but in my experience, it is truly a negotiation. My optimum and my husband's optimum aren't always the same thing- not by a long shot.

Also, even if you're making the decision to have a stay at home parent purely on economic considerations, it is not as simple as just comparing the proposed stay at home parent's current wages to the cost of day care. You'd have to factor in the overall decrease in earnings over a career, at the very least. If you take a chunk of time out to be a stay at home parent, you lose out on several years' worth of raises, and probably also take a step back upon re-entering the paid workforce.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCloud

I know that housework is work. But it's kinda the price of life. Dressing ourselves, brushing our teeth, it's all work in some sense but I don't see the point. People do housework because they bought a house and now they have to clean it. They enjoy owning the house, but it comes with some upkeep, which is both outsourceable and can have variable levels of quality that would be more or less acceptable (eg, some people can handle spending 1 hour washing the floor once per month, but others need it cleaner and spend the hour every week: Did the second person make the foolish choice to do four-times the work so they could be four-times as unhappy?).

I think you're 100% right that it is, or should be, a negotiation or an optimization as to how the work gets done. People should have the choice to outsource or not. I had a neighbor, a stay at home "mom" who outsourced everything, cleaning and childcare -- she sent the kid to daycare. She made the choice to have neither a career, nor raise her child, nor keep the home. I think that's not very typical, but it's one configuration that worked for that family. Everyone seemed happy.

And finally, agreed that the total cost of a decision should be considered. Of course nowadays mom-bloggers can make a mint, so perhaps the decision should be whether the mom-blogger can make more staying at home than the man can :)

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPerfect Dad

@ Cloud (oh, and this is Erin-from-over-at-Moxie!), I think the issues are linked in an essential way. That is to say, the development of the trope of "children as lifestyle choice" was developed (at least in its USAian manifestation) by conservatives and libertarians as a way of silencing working mothers/feminists and rendering the work of caring invisible. I don't think it's a coincidence that it uses the same phrasing as referrences to homosexuality as a "lifestyle choice" which was the preferred path chosen by conservatives to spin homosexuality in order to deny gay folks their basic human rights. (That is, if something it is "choice" then it you have to live with the consequences via the "personal responsibility" model that the right has been touting for decades.) This is how conservatives respond to the question of pay inequality between the sexes - women "choose" to have children; thus they make "choices" that lead to lower pay. It's their own fault! Since we "choose" to have children, we should just suck it up if that means we have to stay at home, or are paid less, or watch our careers get stuck in neutral, etc. So, yeah, the language of lifestyle choice is part of the insidious eating-away at feminism that the right has been so successful at for the past several decades. And it makes me so angry when I see these same ideas parroted by the contingent of childfree folks you mention, some of whom are feminists, to try to dismantle public policy efforts on behalf of mothers & children.

And to Karen L.: Yes absolutely, we need to be more honest and explicit about the role that race and class play in this scenario, and the ways in which (white) women even feminists leverage their interests and privilege against poor or disenfranchised women.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Beyond the political and economic aspect there has always been the belief that the work itself doesn't hold as much status. First Wave feminism was about getting women equal rights, wages, and opportunities, but no one said, "Oh, by the way, the work these women are leaving is still also worthwhile and utterly necessary and has status." It's the missing piece to our feminist movement, I believe.

Like this post mentioned already, the unpaid work is necessary for a capitalistic society, but no one readily admits to that; it's still "lowly," "easy," and "invisible." Conversations like this, videos like this, scholars like these, this is what we need to even get the topic in front of new eyes. A concept we, as mothers, are intimately aware of can be brought to the masses. I doubt very many people (non-mothers and men) ever think about the role unpaid work has in their world.

I just had a conversation about all this with a friend yesterday. This is awesome.

I'd be interested to find out about how some of your statements are supported, since they aren't my experience here in Canada, where women get a year of government paid maternity leave, legislated job security while they're on leave, subsidized childcare in some provinces, mothers usually get half in a divorce (as far as I've heard, not divorced),. You say that grandmothers care for grandkids, women think they are "just housewives", mothers are the poorest, mothers do badly after divorce, single mothers are lazy, and that they suffer. I'd really be interested to know all that, because it's shocking if that is happening today. I hope it's not happening in my country! I would believe that it was happening in the past, but hopefully we've become a more equal society. Seems that you're from Australia, perhaps they are more conservative than Canada. I know the US is far more conservative. The US liberal choices are more conservative than our most conservative political choices :)

Valuation: A daycare worker (I want to start a daycare, so I've done a bit of research) here makes between $9 and $24 per hour to care for between 6 and 10 kids, depending on age. So that's about $4/child hour max to $0.90/child hour at the low. Doesn't seem like the market places much value on childcare. My wife is a teacher, and she posted blog posts on her site that http://www.nucleuslearning.com/frontpage" rel="nofollow">document how teachers are underpaid and how she thinks that more money gives more quality. She has probably 250 comments, polarized but many saying that teachers have it TOO EASY and are paid TOO MUCH. Anyway, a teacher who monitors and teaches 30 students makes about a maximum of $45/hr, often much less. Again, we're down to a low valuation, under $2/student hour -- and that's with the added "professional" service of formal education.

I know that parents value their own families almost infinitely, but other families don't value anonymous other people nearly as highly. I value my wife and would give her anything, but I would not start paying you merely because you exist or because your child exists.

I think we, society, believes that individuals should be raise their own children. People who choose not to have kids don't want to pay for someone else's kids. It makes some sense, but it also makes sense for society to take an interest in raising all citizens, say by providing education and ensuring that stay-at-home parents are protected, as you said with insurance. I sense that you just want stay at home parents to get a value assigned to them, but I don't know the end goal. What will be made better by this, and why can't the market-value of parenting be low, if the market value for commercial daycare and teaching are also low?

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPerfect Dad

@Perfect Dad. All of that stuff IS going on in Canada. Perhaps not to the extent that it is going on in the US, but still to a great extent. Yes. Women are judged for interrupting careers, or not interrupting careers. Single mothers are stereotyped. "Just a stay-at-home mom" is a stock phrase. Women do end up worse after divorce. For example, the "half" is only on wealth accrued during the marriage. But who comes in with more and who has more earning power after? Who has diminished earning power because of time out of the paid job-market? Support does not make up the difference.

An important technicality: The "paid" maternity is better than unpaid, but it's EI (employment insurance), not salary. So, you have to qualify for EI and it is a fraction of your regular pay. If you're barely getting by on your regular pay, you cannot get by on EI and take advantage of the 12 months job-security. So really, those parental benefits are only of use to those with average-to-better incomes. Furthermore, 35/50 weeks are parental, not maternity (for birth-mothers). The 35 weeks can be split between parents. Rarely happens though because few women earn more than their partners (in hetero relationships). Yes, even Canada.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren L

@bluemilk: I think we understand each other. I had definitely caught your meaning that the root of the problem is : "... income inequality stops mothers from identifying with one another sufficiently to bring together the numbers to exercise real political power. " or the similar quote of the high-income benefiting from the availability of low-income carers.

I'm not ignoring that many of those low-income carers are white. I just think that, as Leslie comments later, we need to be more explicit about the role of race and class.
Thanks, though, for responding to my criticism of the post. (Yeah, it was a criticism that race was down-played and Whiteness virtually ignored.)

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren L

@Erin, I wish I could "like comments." very astute in identifying the "lifestyle" approach from the right in order to minimise collective responsibilities.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren L

Well I disagree, at least in my workplace. We can sling anecdotes, but my experience is absolutely different than yours. The company I worked for bent over backwards to accommodate mothers returning to their old jobs, or wanting flexibility. There was an unwritten scorn of paternal (fatherhood) leave, but that is mostly gone too. I took paternity leave for both by last two kids. By the way, I was in the finance department of the company so I know that women going on year long maternity leave was an immense planning and financial burden on the company. The company spent a lot to support that and I guarantee you that women took great advantage of the system. Like clockwork, many women of childbearing age timed their children to maximize the parental benefits. If it's so terrible, then were women giddy to be leaving for a paid year off knowing that, no matter what happened to their skills, the economy, the company, etc, they were guaranteed their position should they wish to return.

As for paid parental leave, are you complaining about it? So what would you like to be paid and by whom? It is indexed to salary, so if earning power was low then it is low, and if it was high then it's higher. It's about half your salary up to around $2000 per month. Women are favoured in the scheme too, there is a year of benefits available to the woman, but only half a year to the men.

And tell me what is the problem with saying "just a stay at home mom"? They also say "just a teacher" to my wife, "just a janitor". I worked at McDonald's, people say to me "You worked a McDonalds! Hahahaha" You're not alone. As for me, I look down upon lawyers, realtors, accountants, and engineers, while I think that good teachers and good parents are the most important occupations.

Let me tell you about a woman who divorced an aged man. He is currently 64. When he was about 55 and she was an intern at his workplace they somehow fell in love, got married and had a kid. The man paid for her education, an MBA degree, since she had no money just starting out her career. Once she was done with that, she realized that the man was too old and tired for her, his habit too old fashioned. So they split at her request. She took half. She has much more earning power -- she's earning more than him and she's about 20 years his junior, and she also collects payments. She came out of the relationship with a paid-for degree, a new downtown condo to live in, a fantastic job, and the rest of her working life ahead. He came out of the relationship with only a house, and a small pension (which he has to share), only a couple of working years left, and nobody to assist him in his imminent retirement. That relationship left her practically rich, and left him practically destitute. It was a massive transfer of wealth from him to her. What do you think about that?

Here's what I think: Who cares? The guy married her, it's his own fault for marrying someone like that at that time in his life. Nowadays women have access and full choice and full equality -- if they want it. Men too. That's what it's like in Canada, might be different elsewhere.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPerfect Dad

Hi Erin! We Moxie readers get around, eh?

I agree with you 100%. It has been personally very frustrating to me to see this "it was your choice" argument start to divide mothers vs. non-mothers in the women in science forums, to the extent that I've heard women scientists who don't have kids agree whole-heartedly with men who argue that a career in science is incompatible with motherhood. (It isn't. There are three recent Nobel laureates who I think rather conclusively demonstrate that being a mother and being a productive, effective scientist are not mutually exclusive. Which of course isn't to say that the system couldn't be improved to make being a mother and a scientist a little easier. It could, and it should be improved.)

Leaving all that aside, I think that the whole "kids are a choice" thing is an overly individualistic way to look at it. Yes, having children is a choice for an individual. But it isn't really a choice for a society. If no one has kids, the society declines and disappears.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCloud

I've been murmuring "patriarchal capitalism ... patriarchal capitalism ..." in my mind like a mantra through the past half hour or more. For me, that turn of phrase sheds new light on the crap deal that families — new mothers, especially — get in this nation of so-called family values ("this nation" = the U.S., of course). That, plus the "children as lifestyle choice" rhetoric that Cloud and Erin discuss so eloquently above — rhetoric that serves as a cover for what's really going on.

Thanks for this post. As a new mother, I took out Folbre's book The Invisible Heart from the library, but of course I didn't read it then. (How could I have?) I hope to get to it this year.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRachael

Also, your example makes an assumption that is not always correct. Family B could be splitting their time such that they work full-time hours, but not simultaneously! In fact, that's what my husband and I do.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary @ Parenthood

...wow. I would like to point out that

(1) your workplace's attitude is FAR from universal, and although the infrastructure is (thank god) much better in Canada than the US, the actual culture in an office is very dependent on management - this is even true in the federal public service, where I work, which is about the most family-friendly environment you can possibly get in this country in terms of benefits;
(2) it's hard to appreciate before you actually have kids what a kick in the ass you are in for in terms of work-life balance;
(3) it's not just the year you take off that comes off your resume but the time you have to take because your kids are sick or the daycare had to close, the overtime you're not available to do, the times you're late because of unavoidable screwups in the daily logistics of getting kids where they need to go, the times you're in a zombie fog of exhaustion because your kids were up five times last night for god knows what reason. The vast majority of those responsibilities still falls squarely on women's shoulders, and you'd better believe it can affect managers' opinions, to say nothing of the energy you have available to go gunning for promotion.


Women are favoured in the scheme too, there is a year of benefits available to the woman, but only half a year to the men.

This would be because mothers have a specific need for time to physically recover from birth and to establish breastfeeding. This is why those 17 weeks of "maternity" leave (as opposed to "parental", which is the label for the other 35 weeks) are not available to adoptive mothers, either.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmiB

I have kids, 3. My wife and I share the burden of taking time away from work, even though she has the more part-time schedule, when her part-time schedule is inconvenient then I take the time off. For example, each Monday I have to pick up the kids from school at 3 because my wife has a late course at McGill. Yes, it is very likely that others will work 12 hours per day, 6 days per week, whereas I work 8 hours most days, take off early every Monday and some days when the kids are sick. Some of those people will get promotions, although remarkably, some people work those hours for no promotion. I am seen as a bit slack at work but I accept that -- I prefer to do other things than work that hard, and so does my wife. My wife and I still manage our lives such that we will retire by the age of 40, with four kids (we are expecting one), and we are happy! We're very lucky and I'm thankful, but at the same time I think that people should take things into their own hands rather than believe that the world is against them. Everyone runs into unfairness of one sort or another -- I can give you countless stories of nepotism, favoritism, and luck in my workplace. Yet at the same time, I have several side businesses and investments (equally with my wife), and I've offered the opportunities to many work colleagues, both men and women, all of whom declined. They had the chance to define their own destiny, but they refuse, simply complaining that they were not getting ahead and wishing they had guts to take a risk.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPerfect Dad

"First off, what is the problem with unpaid work in the home? .. However, I think that nowadays, families do try to optimize. Many of my friends have both parents return to the workplace. This is because they calculate the wages that both can earn and if the surplus after childcare is worthwhile then the parents return, otherwise they save childcare costs by giving that work to one of the parents, usually the lower income one nowadays (which used to be mom, but is often dad now)."

The problem with unpaid work is that it is work, it costs someone to perform it, and it is invisible so it penalises the person performing it, many times over - ie. the problem of economic externalities. A case in point is the way in which you have described the decision making process that happens between hetero couples about working and childcare. Goes something like this - happy couple makes gorgeous baby together, woman and man both delighted, woman takes time off to have the baby, finds that penalises her in the workplace, finds career progression is slower, finds workplace is inflexible about her dual work as mother and employee and it is near impossible to do both adequately, finds that there is a lasting impact on arrangements with her partner so that she tends to take the time off when the baby is sick/arrive late at work because the daycare director wants to talk to her about some issues and not him, gets seen in the workplace as not taking it seriously etc. Surprise - couple finds that man is earning more than the woman and that this gap only widens over the child-bearing years. Couple assess costs of paid childcare versus woman's slow-growing *current* wage and decide that she is the one better off being a SAHM or down-sizing her career by taking short-term contracts or whatever to be at home as primary carer with the children. All very 'logical' except the woman then loses attachment to the workforce and/or career skills investment and the effects are long-term, with the potential damage far exceeding the child-bearing years to her financial future. May pan out ok in the end for the household unless the couple gets divorced, in which case her investment in the family's way of life suddenly becomes a serious hole in her own future.

"Second, one suggested problem is is inefficiency... At some point, we get to the concept of living. People play golf for fun, but pro golfers get paid for it. Does that mean that the amateur pleasure golfer is performing unpaid, inefficient work?"

No, the pleasure golfer is not performing work, paid or otherwise. Raising children, taking care of elderly parents, supporting a disabled brother is work: doesn't mean it is not also emotionally rewarding, doesn't mean it is not done with love, doesn't mean it isn't often also entertaining/fun, but it is work. It is a serious and valuable service that benefits the entire community not just the family involved. Being an economist is very often also fun and emotionally rewarding, doesn't stop me being paid for it though.

Also, efficiency solutions include the concept of fun/utility/leisure time.

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterblue milk

Thanks Cassandra, and you're right, mothers have difficulty mobilising because there aren't a lot of spare resources for revolution when you are on the run trying to keep everything going in your own life. (And I should clarify, that it is in the interests of both men and women that this revolution happen, so it isn't all about blaming women).

I think this is why Folbre's point about the impact of income inequality is so horrifying - those of us with the most resources (well-paid, highly educated, well connected, good foot-holds in the system) aren't always taking up the cause because we're also buying our way out of some of the problems. And those hurt most by patriarchal capitalism don't recognise the cause because they're too busy choking down all that individualism they're being conveniently fed (ie. you'll be rewarded according to effort, if you are struggling then you mustn't be working as hard or as cleverly as those above you etc). As long as income inequality is not measured properly we don't even realise that we're all fighting, as mothers, against a common problem.

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterblue milk

Yes, The Price of Motherhood is fantastic reading and anyone interested in knowing more about this topic, or who is struggling to get their head around these ideas should definitely read that book.

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterblue milk

Once again, your experience (and efforts) in this regard are not universal. It's not a matter of women simply "believ[ing] that the world is against them" and refusing to step up when the wage gap is so alive and well as a matter of statistics. Personally, I managed to get my career to exactly the field and level I wanted before having kids; I landed myself in an office where I am a young mother working almost entirely for older mothers who understand what's involved in that juggling act; and my husband takes on his fair share of the work at home. But I've done enough time in the service industry and the "pink collar ghetto" of low-level private-sector admin to know that this is thanks to extraordinary good fortune as much as anything else: my good luck does not mean that Canada is a utopia of gender equality, and "better than the US" is not much of a standard. There are ways to do better...a meaningful national daycare plan would be a good start, for instance.

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmi

Perfect Dad - I see that you and your partner work hard at negotiating an equitable arrangement in your relationship in terms of work and family roles, responsibilities and opportunities. Retirement at 40 with 4 kids sounds terrific and I imagine it has taken a lot of planning and commitment and hard work to make that happen and good for you, but your experience is not the norm.

And this is not the story of some people being cowardly or lazy or pig-ignorant, this is the story of women (ie. mothers/carers) doing a whole lot of work for no financial benefit and penalising their paid work opportunities in the process and an entire economy enjoying and exploiting that work while at the same time denigrating it.

Yes, care work is different to other work because people are motivated to do it with or without pay. And women have historically provided it at little cost. But the individualism you are fond of virtually ignores this important work, and yet if this caring work was no longer provided the marketplace would be brought to a grinding halt.

By failing to better recognise and value caring work we fail to see the extent of limitations in place with women's so-called choices. If we ensure a greater supply of quality care and if we assume it is a collective responsibility rather than a private one, then we may change the way the responsibility for this care is distributed and we might find that it doesn't fall so disproportionately on women.

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterblue milk

"First Wave feminism was about getting women equal rights, wages, and opportunities, but no one said, “Oh, by the way, the work these women are leaving is still also worthwhile and utterly necessary and has status.” It’s the missing piece to our feminist movement, I believe".

I completely agree.

And there is some very interesting stuff written about the history of that decision to let go of fighting for the rights of mothers and instead concentrate on the fight for women's entry into the marketplace in the feminist movement.

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterblue milk

"As a new mother, I took out Folbre’s book The Invisible Heart from the library, but of course I didn’t read it then".

You took out a book about economics from a library when you were a new mother? I am already full of admiration, I was barey functional to leave the house at that time, much less find my way to the adults' section of the library.

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterblue milk

"I know that housework is work. But it’s kinda the price of life. Dressing ourselves, brushing our teeth, it’s all work in some sense but I don’t see the point. People do housework because they bought a house and now they have to clean it".

Not people, women do the bulk of housework. Check the surveys in your country - and there has been very little change over the years in spite of women's increased hours in paid employment, and the stats are even more dire if you look at couples with children. And of the housework performed by men, more of that work is outdoors than indoors (and so is more irregular in its demands: lawn-mowing versus mopping the floors, which needs doing more often?) and less of it is bound by rigid time constraints (eg. preparing dinner is more often done by women versus replacing the blown light bulb which is more often done by men - the first must be done by the end of today whereas the second task can be scheduled by the person performing it around other desires and needs).

"I think you’re 100% right that it is, or should be, a negotiation or an optimization as to how the work gets done. People should have the choice to outsource or not".

Who gets the choice about oursourcing this work and who does not earn enough money to have the choice, and who gets the job of performing this work that we don't want to do as their source of income says a lot about income inequality.

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterblue milk

I'm hoping to jump into this conversation in earnest this evening, but wanted to start by addressing this question from the post:

"In other words, why hasn’t the feminism of the last fifty years been enough? Why aren’t mothers sticking together to force change?"

I think there are a great many reasons for this, some that were raised in your post and some in the comments, but beyond that, I think the big question for me is: Where do we start? How do approach assigning value to unpaid work?

Do we need to do so in pure financial terms (i.e. assigning a dollar value to it) or is it more of a cultural shift, in terms of ensuring that society recognizes the value of that unpaid work instead of diminishing it? I think we definitely need the latter and we perhaps need part of the former to be built into an appropriate structure of taxation and social programs, but how far do we need to/should we take the financial side of it? Do we need to push the financial side of it in order to mobilize people around the cultural side of it?

I have more questions than I have answers at the moment, but I'll ponder some more and jump in on more specific points later.

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I have to say: I agree with Perfect Dad. There's a theory that paying kids to do household chores is a bad idea because it gives the idea that doing chores isn't something you just do, it's something that you only do if sufficiently compensated.

I think it comes back to attitudes about money. Many people seem to think that if their husband earns all the money then the money is "his". In our house, the attitude is that all money that comes in is "ours". It so happens that at the moment we approximately earn the same amount (and do the same amount of household stuff), but in the past when one of us did more household stuff so that the other could earn more, it was understood that we were both contributing to the same team in different ways.

We never got into the scorekeeping aspect and frankly I find that pretty unappealing. As far as I'm concerned, one of the best parts of marriage is that suddenly there are two of you working towards the same goals. Double the staffing, so to speak. It's counterproductive and stressful to be worrying about who is being compensated for what instead of just doing what needs to be done. If one of you is getting shafted, then either your marriage or your communication skills needs work. It's not a zero sum game!

It would be nice too if we could focus on getting to a place where marriages are more successful, instead of wringing our hands about how to make sure everyone is "equal" in the event that the marriage fails. Yech!

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary @ Parenthood

Well, I can't argue with what you say. In your world men and society enslave helpless women. I hope I'm not one of them and my wife is not helpless. We don't see ourselves very special. My parents immigrated without much. My mom and dad both worked in a factory. My wife immigrated when she was 8 years old without much. Her dad went back to the motherland and stayed while her mom returned to Canada and started a school from money earned delivering pizza. Both my wife and I paid our own way through university, won no lotteries, got no inheritance, simply making deliberate choices. I'm not an executive: Middle management, neither is my wife: Teacher. My wife is knocking off her goals one by one, and in fact my goals are taking the sideline so that she can pursue her Masters degree.

I'm not sure how our story is so much different from what anyone else has the option to do, but fails to take it. You describe women who get forced into things by I don't know who, men and companies and society I guess. I truly do feel sorry for those women and they should certainly be advised of their options and get assertiveness training. What I don't know is how women are going to make different choices if they know that their care work is worth $15/hr or whatever it turns out to be.

Again, it might be a different country. I actually asked a friend of mine, a professional accountant making a lot of money who took 11 months off after her child but returned to work. She did not feel like she was penalized for taking time off. In fact, she quipped that she got a promotion for going on mat leave (she really did get a promotion almost immediately upon coming back). We brainstormed who the oppressed women were and could only come up with maybe lower income women whose skills are not in demand and highly interchangeable. But then, anyone in that position is going to be vulnerable. Maybe when both woman and man work, and the woman is the one who is always absent when the kid needs care.

Anyway, I can't contribute anymore since it's not part of my experience. I do recommend that women marry guys who will work with them such that each can have fulfilled lives. Also, learn valuable skills to get the better jobs, those companies probably are more progressive. Finally, save and invest your money so that over time you can become more independent.

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPerfect Dad

Like you, Annie, I suspect that a cultural shift is needed just as much, if not more, than a purely financial solution. (And it does seem like some sort of chicken and egg quandary when one considers which one will provoke the other, doesn't it?)

I would highly recommend the work of Eva Feder Kittay, a feminist philosopher who has done a lot of great work on dependency, social justice, and politics. Particularly in her essay "Human Dependency and Rawlsian Equality" (from the collection Feminist Rethink the Self), she makes a compelling argument for larger social structures and institutions to *care for* what she calls "dependency workers"--i.e. those whose work is devoted to caring for others, especially those whose ability to care for themselves is limited.

Here's a brief excerpt:

"But for a society to attend to the need for care and do so justly, it is not sufficient for the dependency worker alone to be caring. Indeed, this objective requires the establishment of a social principle that provides the basis for social institutions that aid and support dependency workers in their caring responsibilities...Such a principle would be instantiated when the value of receiving care and giving care is publicly acknowledged; when the burdens and cost incurred by doing the work of caring for dependent do not fall to the dependency worker alone...and when the commitment to preserving caring relations is assumed by society."

Okay, so it's not a solution--more of a theory to explain "our" values and the motivations for these values. But I think it's a good place to start when, like Kittay, one acknowledges that in virtue of being born human--and being born as an infant--everyone has benefited to some extent from the work of a dependency worker. What's more, I think it's a good place to start when one can replace "care-taker" with a term (like "dependency worker," though it need not be this term) that includes the word work.

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristen

I just wanted to add to this comment that the way you described the decision making process between the husband and wife in this scenario is the way it usually happens in our patriarchal society. However, it isn't always the way it happens.

I would say that in our home, the exact opposite is true. In fact, after 5 years of being a stay-at-home dad/student, we are now discussing whether my partner should seek full-time employment or whether it would be better for him to look for contract work and/or part-time work so that (a) we can continue to enjoy the flexibility that we do at the moment because of my career as self-employed entrepreneur (2 months vacation per year minimum but also periods where I work 80 hours per week) and (b) so that we can be sure that he will be able to take care of most of the "unpaid work" that has to happen in our home, so that I can continue to earn the money that we depend on to uphold our lifestyle.

In any case, I mention this because I think that for us the unpaid caring work that he does and that I do hold a great deal of value. However, they do not hold a lot of value for society, which does make his re-entry into the workforce in a configuration that will work for us, quite difficult.

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I think that the tax treatment of Family A versus Family B will differ somewhat on a country-by-country basis, depending on the extent to which they allow income splitting, have subsidized daycare, have spousal support tax credits, and so on.

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Perfect Dad:

I think that Canada's maternity and parental leave system is better than nothing. But I also think that it serves middle class families where the father makes more money than the mother quite well, but doesn't serve other families as well.

The current system doesn't pay people 100% of their wages when they are on maternity/parental leave. It pays them around 55% of their wages, if they are earning less than a certain amount (around $60,000, I think). So for a family where the dad makes a lot more money than the mom and the mom can save money by staying at home because she isn't paying for parking, work clothes, lunches out, and so on, it makes sense financially for her to stay home for a year and she may not be financially penalized for it.

However, for a low income family that is living paycheque to paycheque, 55% isn't going to cut it. If they rely on the salaries of both parents to make ends meet, then the mother is likely to go back to work quite early and to have the grandmother, aunt, or some other relative take care of the baby. Having one family member take on the "caring" role for several family units is what allows them to survive.

For higher income families that have a mortgage, car payments, student loans and other financial obligations that are commensurate with the high salaries of both parents, the mother (or father) may not be able to take significant time off at 55% of $60,000. If that individual was making $120,000 and needed much of that money to cover payments, then $33,000 isn't going to cut it.

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

"If we ensure a greater supply of quality care and if we assume it is a collective responsibility rather than a private one, then we may change the way the responsibility for this care is distributed and we might find that it doesn’t fall so disproportionately on women."

We are lucky to have this, to some extent, in Quebec. There is subsidized $7 per day daycare. It is even better in many parts of Germany (where we lived last year) that even have completely free daycare. I think that investing tax revenues in the creation of paid and valued caring jobs is an excellent investment and a good step towards valuing those jobs.

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I think that white women could learn a lot from women of colour in terms of valuing their own caring work. I see a lot more women of colour who intrinsically value the work they are doing when they are raising their children or caring for extended family, whereas white women are more likely to look at it as a burden. It is no wonder if they see it as a burden on themselves, that they would also then look down on or undervalue the work that is done by carers, be they white or not.

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Mary @ Parenthood:

I am familiar with that argument re: household chores and kids. However, I do think it is possible to demonstrate to your children (or your spouse) that you value the unpaid work that they are doing in the home and I think that too often this doesn't happen. It is just assumed that someone (usually the woman) will do that work and it is not always appreciated.

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I love this comment too Erin. :)

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Great comment Jessica.

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

This annual survey doesn't use exactly the same criteria we've been discussing here - has more of a healthcare focus, but it covers much of the same territory and it is interesting to see the rankings.

Australia shot up to the number two spot this year - perhaps our new maternity leave scheme had something to do with that, not sure?

Canada is in the 20th position and the US is at 28 (no mat leave scheme, low levels of pre-school education, relatively high maternal mortality rate, under-5 mortality rate for children, poor political representation rates for women have all contributed to poor performance on the rankings).


Good visual representation here, too:

April 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterblue milk

Also, I think wherever we are talking about individualism and choice and such we should be really thinking about disability and the assumptions that we make: that we are all able-bodied, that we will always be able-bodied and that people with disabilities are all dependents and not carers etc.

This is an excellent post from lauredhel:

April 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterblue milk

Perfect Dad:

I think it is important to realize that what is happening in your family and among your friends isn't necessarily representative. You can certainly tell your story, but you shouldn't hold it up as the reality and use it to deny the fact that women are still oppressed in many ways. That would be like saying that racism doesn't exist because you are not a racist and your friends are not racists.

April 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

(2) it’s hard to appreciate before you actually have kids what a kick in the ass you are in for in terms of work-life balance;

So, so true...
I can't wait to come back and comb through this whole post more thoroughly. As the mother, homemaker and breadwinner in my family, I am struggling terribly with these questions right now. I thought I had it all figured out before I had my son, but now the decisions to be made are stacking up fast and furiously, and I feel like precious time with him is being wasted as I weigh things out.

This sure is not an easy topic.

WOW! Thanks for this post and the ensuing discussion! As Rachael mentioned, Ann Crittenden's The Price of Motherhood is an excellent read about this topic. In Norwegian countries, childcare and healthcare is socialized as family life & motherhood are not unseen but are valued. I was a corporate AVP before I had my child. Then, it hit me full force how UNvalued women & motherhood, family values are discounted in the US. although the loudest party claims to stand behind family values. Even as I write this, bills are being written to destroy what tenuous assistance that is is place for working moms and women;s reproductive rights, such as birth control. *I am going to watch the video when I have more time tomorrow. But I am SOOO glad you posted this....it is one of my pet peeves and of course it is capitalism and paternalism that has created the economy and meanspitiedness that exists today. May I pay this forward on my own blog?

April 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathy Morelli

I do recommend that women marry guys who will work with them such that each can have fulfilled lives.

Because guys *never* do a total 180-degree flip-flop on this after getting married or having children. Nope, never seen that happen...

April 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmiB

Thanks for the very enlightening article and comments. They made me realize a few embarrassing things about my own take on housework.

I do not value the housework I do. Period. I see it as a burden. I do not value my partner’s contribution to that work either (and he does most of it). To me, it could be outsourced (after all it is fairly cheap). And I do not value the work of the people – and yes blue milk, it is women – who would do it if we outsourced it (they would be life savers but it’s still unspecialised, lowly valued work).
It’s a bit different with parenting tasks, which I do value. But reconciling them with my ‘real’ job is a nightmare, even with the help of my very supportive partner and cheap daycare. Because I see both as the full time jobs that they are (welcome to the internal mommy war!), I feel stuck being suboptimal at both. Besides, as has been mentioned, parenting is a work of love, so instead of valuing the parenting I do I devalue myself for not doing it enough/right.

This, from a feminist. The problem starts here.
How could I convince society to change its views when I adhere to them too?

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