Linda Hirshman really struck a nerve both in the blogoshere and here at home with her op-ed in the New York Times. She argues that affluent, educated women are doing a disservice to themselves and society by staying home to take care of children. Here is what she had to say:
Why are married mothers leaving their jobs? The labor bureau’s report includes some commonsense suggestions, but none that fully explains the situation. New mothers with husbands in the top 20 percent of earnings work least, the report notes. As Ernest Hemingway said, the rich do have more money. So they also have more freedom to leave their jobs. But why do they take the option? It’s easier in the short term, sure, but it’s easier to forgo lots of things, like going to college or having children at all. People don’t — nor should they — always do the easier thing.
The pressure to increase mothering is enormous. For years, women have been on the receiving end of negative messages about parenting and working. One conservative commentator said the lives of working women added up to “just a pile of pay stubs.” When the National Institute of Child Health reported recently that long hours in day care added but a single percentage point to the still-normal range of rambunctious behavior in children, newspaper headlines read, “Day Care, Behavior Problems Linked in Study.”
Should we care if women leave the work force? Yes, because participation in public life allows women to use their talents and to powerfully affect society. And once they leave, they usually cannot regain the income or status they had. The Center for Work-Life Policy, a research organization founded by Sylvia Ann Hewlett of Columbia, found that women lose an average of 18 percent of their earning power when they temporarily leave the work force. Women in business sectors lose 28 percent.
And despite the happy talk of “on ramps” back in, only 40 percent of even high-powered professionals get back to full-time work at all.
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.
We are the parents of a very active two year old. The world's cutest toddler. Really.
For about the first eighteen months of our son's life, my wife was able to continue working at the Governor's office in a job she really enjoyed. By the eighteen month mark, however, it was clear this was not working--despite our best efforts our son was not getting the continuity of care he needed and it was showing. My wife therefore made the most difficult decision of her life--that our son needed her at home. She does not regret her decision (although she loved her job). It was the right decision for our son and our family. We feel fortunate that we had the wherewithal to make that decision. Most families don't.
Hirshman is dead wrong--it was not "the easier thing" for my wife to decide to stay home. Far from it. But it was the right decision for our family. And it is simply not true that stay-at-home moms don't "use their talents . . . to powerfully affect society." Seems to me that affecting the next generation is doing just that. Finally, I think she misses the point--the decision in many cases (including our own) was not financial. Changing the tax code would not change our decision. In the end, the decision came down to what was best for our family. There comes a time when our children's needs have to come first. This was such a time.