June 21 2012
Wurtzel Doesn't Understand Stay-at-Home Moms
Carrie L. Lukas
Claire Mahoney already wrote about how Elizabeth Wurtzel’s screed against stay-at-home moms overlooks the growing number of men who are opting out of the workforce to raise children. I’m more struck by how Wurtzel’s piece reflects a bizarre view of the lives of most stay-at-home moms. She writes:
To be a stay-at-home mom is a privilege, and most of the housewives I have ever met — none of whom do anything around the house — live in New York City and Los Angeles, far from Peoria. Only in these major metropolises are there the kinds of jobs in finance and entertainment that allow for a family to live luxe on a single income.
Perhaps Wurtzel intends simply to describe her personal experience: She has a cloister existence and has only met upper-class stay-at-home moms living in major metropolitan areas.
She seems, however, to be suggesting that these are the only places where stay-at-home moms exist at all; that only women with power-broker husbands pulling in six-figure salaries opt to forgo paid work when they have children, and then all those women promptly hire a staff to do the actual icky business of keeping house and caring for junior, while they lounge in salons and take yoga.
Wurtzel should be self-aware enough to recognize that she is an outlier. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the labor force participation rate of married women increases with education. Women with infants whose husbands are in the highest earning quintile have a labor participation rate (48 percent) that just about matches the participation rate of women whose husbands are in the lowest earning quintile (47 percent). Gallup echoes this finding, titling their research into this demographic, “Stay-at-Home Moms Lean Independent, Lower Income.”
Certainly there are well-educated moms with rich husbands who end their careers when they have kids and hire help. And sure, if you have a full-time nanny and housekeeper, then your duties as mom aren’t the equivalent of a full-time job.
So what? That has nothing to do with the experience of the vast majority of stay-at-home moms who get up early each morning, pack kids’ lunches, cart older kids to school, and then come home to clean the house and mind the toddler until the kids come back in the afternoon wanting mom’s attention, help with homework, and another meal.
I’ve written before criticizing attempts to assign a monetary value to the work of a stay-at-home mom, since they tend to be ridiculous and overlook the real motives and value of parenting.
However, clearly there is monetary value in the work performed by a stay-at-home parent. Families often have to make calculations about how much it would cost to hire someone else to perform the work of the mom (or dad) when contemplating going back to work or buying life insurance. Wurtzel’s claim that something only becomes a “job” with value when someone pays for it seems arbitrary at best. A family saves money by doing things themselves — whether that’s fixing their own car or raising their own kids. It seems more accurate to assume that if you can call something a “job” when you hire an outsider to do it, one can safely call it a “job” when you do it too.
Wurtzel is honest, at least, that it isn’t just the semantics that bothers her: She, like many feminists before her, is frustrated that all in the sisterhood — particularly her fellow ivy leaguers who she thinks should know better — make choices about how to spend their lives that she feels are a waste and detrimental to her cause.
She can rage against it, but this problem for liberal feminists is not going to go away. The simple truth is that many women, including well-educated women, are going to make the calculation that they are happier raising children (or heaven forbid, enjoying life on their own terms) than in the working world. They are going to decide that they can contribute more to their families by focusing on raising their kids than working for someone else.
Wurtzel says she’s happy with the choices she has made. I’m glad to hear it. Now can’t she leave the rest of us alone and appreciate that we may actually be happy with our choices too?