The Chronicle recently had two contradictory articles dealing with the pressures in academia on those with kids and those without,notes Laura at Apartment 11-D, who goes on to observe,
This war reveals some real problems. Lonliness, alienation, hyper-individualism, and work exhaustion to name a few. These issues might be bubbling up in the pages of the academic paper, but they must be certainly affecting everyone. Solutions anyone?In a later post she points to others who have weighed in. Moment, Linger On reminds readers that retirees ultimately depend on the productivity of younger people; this is as true if the pensions are confiscated from current workers in the form of social security taxes as if the pensions are dividends and interest, where the productivity of people currently working with current assets provides the income stream. I believe there's something called an overlapping generations model at work here.
Behind the productivity, however, is another phenomenon at work. I have recently finished reading Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class (details or compare prices) and intend to offer more comments on that book, time permitting, over the next two weeks. For now let me restrict my observations to the phenomenon of front-loading one's career, which Professor Florida characterizes as laying the foundation for future prosperity early in one's working life (no start as telegrapher and work up to president on this track). Such front-loading is typical of the tenure track; the most effective among us will have commenced sufficient work to make professor in the first five or six years out of graduate school, and the person who is willing to put social pursuits aside will have an advantage in such a competition. (Something similar is likely at work for some entrepreneurs.) Whether that advantage is socially desirable is another matter: a few years ago the Chicago Tribune Sunday magazine did a feature on the Economics Department at the University of Chicago (motto: we build bombs beneath our bleachers) that included a telling anecdote ... a faculty meeting was running long, and a new faculty member wondered if his colleagues could wrap it up as his wife was waiting in their car and he didn't want her to divorce him. An old head is supposed to have noted, "You would fit in better here if she did." On the other hand (this is part of the Economics B.C.S. after all) as long as people are free to choose to work harder, whether at their research, their businesses, or their webzines (No, nobody would do THAT), those that choose not to take on the responsibilities of family or to stay out of the swamp called contemporary mating are able to outshine their competitors who do. No easy way to make the people who want to apply themselves NOT apply themselves. Similarly, no easy way to make the people who want to apply themselves accomodate co-workers who would like a different mix of burdens.
My sense, reading many of the posts, is that the greater tension is between less driven workers with family responsibilities, who seek some easing of their workplace burdens, and less driven workers without family responsibilities, who perceive their burdens as being augmented by the workplace accommodations (some now mandated) for people with family responsibilities.
I would note also that it is difficult to do any careful analysis of the balance between work and play (which is being blurred to some extent anyway if Creative Class is accurate) on the basis of anecdotal evidence. Chris at Signifying Nothing dissents in part, and Chutry Experiment suggests some additional confounding factors any systematic researcher would have to consider.