"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Woman's Work

Elizabeth Wurtzel, a woman writing for The Atlantic, argues that raising children is not work since no one will pay you to do it.  Real feminism, according to her understanding, is to have employment that is equal in respect and pay to that of a man.



As I pointed out in previous posts, this conclusion makes sense.

Prior to the increases in hygiene and nutrition that occurred along with the industrial revolution, women had a very tough job. They had to conceive, carry, bear and raise children.  Roughly 20% to 30% of their children would not survive the first year. In certain subpopulations, upwards of 75% would not survive long enough to get married themselves. Women had to bear enough children to compensate for those losses. And they only had about 12 years to get it done. That's how long, on average, a marriage lasted before either the father or the mother or both, were dead. So, if any children were to survive to adulthood, women had to be pregnant on a fairly regular basis. 

If a crop of wheat failed, it meant everyone in the village would starve for a year.
If a crop of children failed, it meant the village disappeared.
Women's work mattered.

In 2012, a child is about 40 times more likely to survive to adulthood than it  was in 1812. 
That's an enormous increase in the efficiency of women's work. 

When production becomes more efficient, the price of the good drops.

It used to take enormous skill and luck to bring a crop of children to maturity, and able to enter their own marriages. 
It takes no skill to produce and raise them anymore.
Children are no longer valuable. 

So, the social value of women's work - raising children - is very much lower than it was in the past. Modern medicine, nutrition and production has made raising children among the lowest paying of occupations.  If women want to remain valuable in the eyes of society, they have to switch from child-bearing and child-raising  to a more difficult occupation.

Thus, the liberal fixation with "the war on women" has a real economic basis. Those who fixate on this sense that women's work is not valued as it used to be, that it can never again be valued as it was. The only way it will ever again be perceived as "hard work" is if we involuntarily return to a 75% loss rate before maturity.

And this explains the interest in keeping abortion legal. The economists attempted to increase the value of women's work by legalizing abortion. Abortion was legalized at the end of the post-war baby boom - when infant mortality rates had dropped to about 20 per thousand and the country was awash in kids. Too many kids. The cost of children had to be raised. 

Abortion imposes an arbitrary 30% loss rate on children before birth. Put another way, legal abortion has returned our infant mortality rates to pre-industrial levels. Demographers do not point this out publicly. It belies the idea of our being "medically advanced." It's embarrassing.

It also hasn't worked. Women's work, the raising of children, is still too efficient. Survival rate of born children to maturity is still 40 times higher than it was two centuries ago. Attempts have been made to allow infanticide, but those haven't yet been successful. Given most people's squeamishness about murdering visible children, it is unlikely to have the necessary levels of success anytime soon.

On some level, Elizabeth Wurtzel and her friends recognize all of this. They insist there is another gambit, a better gambit, that women must employ: end participation in the "women's work" game entirely. They got out of the child-bearing business and they encourage other women to get out of the business as well. Women control the means of production, but too many women refuse to quit producing. From Wurtzel's point of view, women having children are traitors to their sex because their refusal to raise the clearing price of children by limiting supply is reducing the general value of "women's work" throughout society. 

You see, even if Wurtzel's work has nothing to do with children, the very fact that so many women do want to have children encourages her employer to treat her as someone who is statistically likely to abandon her job in exchange for pregnancy. Men are statistically unlikely to do that, so men don't get profiled this way.  Stay-at-home moms encourage employers to "profile" all women.

In order to get around this perception, there have been various attempts to divorce women from child-bearing and child-raising entirely.  Free or low-cost child care, cradle-to-18 "schooling",  "it takes a village" sloganeering, all kinds of methods have been used to break the mother-child bond, to get all the women into the public workforce, to get them out of the piece-work of bearing and raising children. If it were successful, this would allow the annual child crop to be undertaken entirely by a regulated industry or the government. This is the goal. This is ultimately why research into artificial wombs, artificial gametes, etc., is subsidized and encouraged.

But we don't have artificial wombs yet. Ultimately, employers are not wrong to profile. Some women really do need to leave the public workforce and produce children if the nation is to survive.  Like the pre-industrial village, a nation without children disappears. The wage gap cannot be avoided.

But there is also irony here. While there is, indeed, a wage-gap, it only amounts to about 5 cents on the dollar. As Wurtz herself points out, women have already taken advantage of the efficiencies. 70% of women with children work. Fully employed mothers spend 86% as much time with their children as unemployed moms. How is that possible? How can a woman who spends 40 hours a week working spend "86% as much time with their children as unemployed moms"? Well, nowadays the children work too. They're at school thirty-five hours a week. 

So, how much is raising children worth? Apparently, about five cents on the dollar. But there is another way to raise that price.

Wurtz, in her fixation on the corporate world, misses an option that many women have already figured out. Home-based businesses can be worth the time if the units produced are hand-crafted and high-demand. Artisan hand-crafted children, also known as home-schooled children, are becoming more popular precisely because they return value to "women's work." If Wurtz were a real feminist, she would promote homeschooling as a real alternative. If she were a real feminist.  

6 comments:

Tim Kowal said...

And if you do choose to homeschool, it's arguably harder now to raise children than it was at any point in the second half of the 20th century. The economy has been redesigned for two-earner households, and it takes a lot of time to cut through the misinformation and red tape and low-grade hostility facing homeschooling families.

My wife points out we have a hard time affording keeping her at home to homeschool the kids. I tell her, we can't afford not to.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The economy has been redesigned for two-earner households

Haven't we danced this one before? It seems intuitive that if women compete with men for jobs, wages will be driven down for whichever gets the job. But I dimly recall a statistical case made to the contrary, that having a larger skilled/competent workforce benefited the economy as a whole and was a tide that lifted all boats.

As for homeschooling, that is a separate topic. It is only a concern where the parents hope only to get their kids up to their own skilled/competent level. For this nation of immigrants, that the government [or the Catholic Church] would educate one's children far beyond one's own education was a given back when upward mobility was a given--that each generation would surpass the last--what used to be called the American Dream.

The New American Dream seems to be happy to tread water, for one generation to pass on what it is and what it has to the next without too much degenerative loss.

Shit, Tim. What a revoltin' development. And I don't even have any kids. I feelya, man.

RTod said...

FWIW, I'm not sure you laid out the article's thesis well so much as you have the headline's.

The writer isn't saying that raising children isn't work. She's saying that having a nanny raise your kids while you play (if you can afford to do so) isn't work.

I don't know that I want to defend that argument, as it seems both overly steeped in class warfare and shooting at a straw man (straw woman?) Cruella DeVille villain. But it seems like addressing the price and not the headline is the better endeavor.

Tim Kowal said...

"The New American Dream seems to be happy to tread water, for one generation to pass on what it is and what it has to the next without too much degenerative loss."

At the civilizational level, the prevent defense is a loser. Sitting on the ball is not an ethos.

Tim Kowal said...

"But it seems like addressing the price and not the headline is the better endeavor. "

The Atlantic piece is muddled claptrap. She's mining a vein and doesn't know where she's going with it. Steve did more justice to her argument than she did.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Aye. I was getting The Atlantic for $3 a year and let my subscription lapse.

I used to read it cover to cover, now I can't bear to even read the cover.

RIP Michael Kelly
http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/michael-kelly-in-his-own-words/274612/