20.9.05

IS THAT ALL THERE IS? Mahablog comments on a New York Times article discovering that female students in the Ivies aren't as interested in staying attached to the work force. Key news discovery:

Much attention has been focused on career women who leave the work force to rear children. What seems to be changing is that while many women in college two or three decades ago expected to have full-time careers, their daughters, while still in college, say they have already decided to suspend or end their careers when they have children.

"At the height of the women's movement and shortly thereafter, women were much more firm in their expectation that they could somehow combine full-time work with child rearing," said Cynthia E. Russett, a professor of American history who has taught at Yale since 1967. "The women today are, in effect, turning realistic."

That may mean your boss 20 years from now will be wearing a Northern Illinois class ring. And she's not going to be one of the Ashleys with delusions of snaring the next Donald Trump that populates the article. There's a lot more to higher education and labor force participation than what the society reporter at the Westchester, er, New York Times discovers. On the other hand, that resources are scarce and have competing uses, which prompts the title of this post.

"It really does raise this question for all of us and for the country: when we work so hard to open academics and other opportunities for women, what kind of return do we expect to get for that?" said Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of undergraduate admissions at Harvard, who served as dean for coeducation in the late 1970's and early 1980's.

It is a complicated issue and one that most schools have not addressed. The women they are counting on to lead society are likely to marry men who will make enough money to give them a real choice about whether to be full-time mothers, unlike those women who must work out of economic necessity.

Was the inventor of the desktop computer disappointed that people were buying them to play games rather than work engineering problems? Perhaps. Are we better off that desktop computers are available for game playing as well as for working engineering problems -- and with algorithms more powerful than Quick Basic? Now, on to that "economic necessity." How many times must I run a review session on the Say Aggregation Principle? More labor force participation by women, more two-income households, more prices that reflect the ability of two incomes to bid for those goods. That actions have unintended consequences ought not come as a surprise. And what's this about "lead society?" You mean that lady over there, yes, the one with the Northern Illinois class ring, ought not be viewed as a possible leader? (On the other hand, does an emergent order have to have leaders? Questions, questions.)
University officials said that success meant different things to different people and that universities were trying to broaden students' minds, not simply prepare them for jobs.
Quite. A working jive-detector is useful, whether it's being used in the employ of others, or in minding kids, or in shooting the breeze at the model railroad club.
"What does concern me," said Peter Salovey, the dean of Yale College, "is that so few students seem to be able to think outside the box; so few students seem to be able to imagine a life for themselves that isn't constructed along traditional gender roles."
Perhaps because the box evolved to reduce some transaction costs. Sometimes the proper response to these "think outside the box" cliches is to say, "respect the box." Turmoil for its own sake is not equivalent to improving one's life. That's something that Mahablog appears to be recognizing.

This, of course, rather ignores the fact that sixties feminism was very much a reaction to the mistakes of fifties Stepford-wifism.

But the larger issue no one wants to talk about is that raising children in a post-Industrial Age society is a problem with no good solution.

Again, there's the title of my post. Forty years ago, the daughters of dependent housewives were asking that question. Today, the granddaughters are observing their stressed-out moms and rephrasing the question.
So, it became socially acceptable for women to work outside the home. In fact, in recent decades the American economy has become increasingly dependent on the productivity of women, just as the famous American middle-class lifestyle has become dependent on two paychecks.
Yes. There are laws of conservation in economics. It ought come as no surprise that if some people see the financial benefit that comes from two incomes as simply incidental to the greater freedom made possible by those daughers asking my question, prices will adjust to reflect those incomes.
At least we are getting away from the "having it all" myth, which said that women can have the high-power career and be excellent parents at the same time if they just tried hard enough. There may be a few high-energy types who manage it (the ones I've met made enough money to hire nannies), but most of us who have tried this end up leading lives of unquiet desperation.
Institutions evolve to conserve on transaction costs.
I'm not sure what the solution is, other than better social supports and more Real Men who carry their share of the load. Ultimately I wish we could re-think the whole nine-to-five employment thing.
Good point. Sometimes I'd be happy to be limited to nine-to-five rather than whenever-to-whenever, depending on what's on the answering machine or in email or how imaginative the wrong answers on the homework or the methods of the research paper under review are.

I continue to notice summer rush hours beginning around lunchtime (one story here) and employers may implicitly understand that there is a backward-bending supply curve and offer promising employees with families a different combination of pay and hours. The rethinking, however, is likely to be an emergent phenomenon, with any codification in law to come later.

SECOND SECTION: Crooked Timber and Althouse comment on the Times, with spirited bull sessions in progress at both sites. In those discussions some irritation with treating one or two anecdotes about life among the priviligentsia as evidence of a social trend emerges.

THIRD SECTION: The view from 11-D.

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