Monday, October 5, 2009

Especially for Mormon Women

In The Family: A Proclamation to the World, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles provide guidance on gender roles within marriage: "By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nuture of their children." To oversimplify, fathers are responsible for bringing home the bacon, and mothers are responsible for making sure the children also eat their vegetables. But don't forget the all important qualifier to this counsel: "In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners."

In the 1970s, at about the same time the Equal Rights Amendment was gaining traction in Congress, women across the country--who were not familiar with the as-yet-unwritten Proclamation, but who nonetheless had lived by the gender roles it prescribes up until that time--decided that being equal partners meant that each marital partner needed to fulfill both roles. Fathers needed to become nurturers (without giving up their jobs), and mothers needed to become providers (without neglecting the children). As a result, women entered the workforce en masse. This migration of women to the workforce is the subject of a book that every Mormon woman should read: The Two-Income Trap, by Elizabeth Warren & Amelia Warren Tyagi. The mother daughter combo examine the impact of women entering the workforce and creating two-income households and provide what I see as compelling evidence that organizing your family in accordance with the gender roles described in the Proclamation is a good financial as well as spiritual idea.

Warren and Tyagi suggest that for many wives and mothers, the decision to enter the workforce was made with altruistic motives--the desire to provide a better lifestyle for their family and children. After all, such women might have reasoned, "two incomes can provide a better living than one." Notwithstanding this optimistic attitude, Warren and Tyagi conclude that the primary effect of women entering the workforce has been . . . an astronomical rise in bankruptcy rates. This seems counterintuitive, yes? Families with two incomes should be more financially secure than families with one, right? WRONG: "Two-income families are more likely to file for bankruptcy than their one-income counterparts" (83). Why? Two reasons. 1) Most people vastly underestimated the economic value of a stay-at-home mom. Mom not only takes care of the kids--she also represents a built-in uninsurance policy if Dad loses his job and can provide care for high-maintenance sick relatives. If Mom's at work, families have to hire a daycare facility, have no replacement worker if and when Dad loses his job, and may have to hire medical care for ailing relatives. 2) No one saved the money brought in by Mom, which meant that the two-income family was living at the edge of its means--but with a doubled risk of unemployment because both Mom and Dad could now be laid off, and no one could take either of their places. Remember the next line of the Proclamation? "Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation". . . unless you unnecessarily adapted beforehand by sending mom into the workforce when she didn't have to go and therefore didn't have that option when "Death, disability, or other circumstances" came along.

I'm only giving you the bare bones of their argument, but Warren and Tyagi are pretty convincing, in my mind, that the two-income family is in every way financially worse off than the one-income family of yore. Notwithstanding their own compelling evidence, they are hesitant to suggest that moms and wives should quit their jobs. Instead, they are advocates for new government programs that they believe would provide a comprehensive social safety net, allowing the two-income family to enjoy their new life-style without worrying for the risks it entails. Warren and Tyagi do a fantastic job laying out the problem (and really, I've just covered the essentials; it's worth reading for yourself), but I find their solution to be dubious at best. Their solution sounds to me like something the late President James E. Faust said in a fantastic talk on womanhood: "Women today are encouraged by some to have it all: money, travel, marriage, motherhood, and separate careers in the world." He followed that up by stating that "you cannot do all these things well at the same time. You cannot eat all of the pastries in the baking shop at once. You will get a tummyache. You cannot be a 100-percent wife, a 100-percent mother, a 100-percent Church worker, a 100-percent career person, and a 100-percent public-service person at the same time."

This is the same conclusion that recent research on happy women came to:

The author in the video suggests that women should identify the one thing that makes them happy and seize on that thing without worrying about "balancing" and doing it all. President Faust (and the Proclamation) provides guidance as to what that one thing is: "For women, the important ingredients for happiness are to forge an identity, serve the Lord, get an education, develop your talents, serve your family, and if possible to have a family of your own." Take the advice of Elder Faust as well as daytime TV, and embrace a life of imbalance. But make sure that imbalance is in the right (nurturing) direction, or you could find yourself unhappy--and financially vulnerable.


Jenny said...

I'm having a moment here.
Thank you for shedding some light on my very unbalanced (but happy) life.

Jenny said...

P.S. I never was good at juggling...
interesting study!

Jo Jo said...

Yeah! I never knew why I was happy. Thank you for explaining that. I didn't like their solution either, but their findings were great.

Becky said...

thank you for validating my very happy life. :) I LOVE being able to stay home and take care of my husband and children. I couldn't imagine it any other way.

Stephe said...

I'm not sure why the woman needs to stay at home.

Anonymous said...

Let me talk about 2 couples I know. One, the wife is a medical doctor, she works in a nearby town full-time. The husband, he stays at home to work on the farm (its mostly a hobby farm, doesn't produce a lot of income). As a result, he does most of the household chores and was at home with the kids when they were younger (they've all grown up now).

Another couple, the wife is an executive for a big IT company, jetting around the world. The husband stays at home to look after the kids. Make sense for them, because due to her experience, qualifications, abilities, etc., her earning potential is much more than his would be.

So, what about the stay at home husband? Sure, they are a small minority, but if it works for some, why not? I don't think there should be a cookie cutter approach to family, what works for one doesn't work for another, because everyone's situation is different.