A Pew Research study on domestic time allocation has some interesting data on two-career American families.
While politicians are saying that being a parent is “incredibly challenging” (previous post) and therefore higher-income parents need to be showered with government handouts funded by taxes on the lower-income childless, the majority of survey respondents said that it was either “easier” or “no different” to seek career advancement while parenting.
A New York Times article on this study also references “The Production of Inequality: The Gender Division of Labor Across the Transition to Parenthood”, a 2015 paper from the Journal of Marriage and Family (funded with your tax dollars by the National Science Foundation, but of course you don’t have the right to download or read it). In two-career house households, compared to women the men did more hours per week of “paid work” and fewer hours per week of “child care.” (The authors seem to be fully up on modern gender theory so I am kind of surprised that they have only these two gender categories and also that they didn’t find out who in the survey sample had changed gender one or more times during the study.)
The three academics who wrote the study pretty much ensured that men would come up short on the childcare front by picking a sample of couples expecting their first child and surveying them just before the birth and then at a point when the child was 9 months old. Where the paper says “child care” what was actually surveyed is “infant care.” Consider also our society’s obsession with breastfeeding for a full year, especially for the first child, and I am not sure why we had to bleed tax dollars to learn that it was the mom who spent more time with the infant.
If we consider that the median fertility of an American woman is 2 (Census.gov) and that a child is a pre-verbal infant for at most two years, the study mostly sheds light on gender roles during 4 years out of 80 years of a woman’s expected life (i.e., covers 5 percent of an American woman’s life; 2.5 percent if you want to restrict to the breastfeeding phase).
Just how onerous is it to have a 9-month-old in diapers around the house? “Physical child care” occupied the two adults for a total of 25 hours per week. Add in “child engagement” (“look at that amazing explosion on TV, Junior!”) for another 11 hours per week.
Readers would be disappointed if there weren’t an analysis of the economics here. Suppose that the typical 9-month-old of the survey were the result of a one-night encounter in a Massachusetts bar with a dentist earning $250,000 per year. The after-tax revenue yield from obtaining custody of that child would be $40,000 per year (based on our interviews with litigators, the loser parent is typically ordered to pay the child’s actual expenses on top of this child support guideline amount). That’s based on the winner parent taking care of the child 2/3rds of the time, which would correspond to 16.65 hours per week of physical child care. That’s an after-tax wage of $46 per hour. The cash economy wage for taking care of someone else’s child is $15 per hour and thus it is straightforward to earn 3X as much for taking care of one’s own biological child. Another point of comparison is that the median hourly pre-tax wage in Massachusetts is $21.50/hour (BLS) and thus it is also possible to earn roughly 3X as much for taking care of one’s own child as it is for going out into the W2 workforce.
[The above analysis is probably incorrect because it is based on child care inputs by a married couple. Previous studies have shown that working single mothers invest less time in their children than working married mothers (I’m not aware of any study looking at time investment by single fathers). So the wage would be higher than the above calculation suggests. And if an older child required less care than a 9-month-old, the wage would also rise over time. This 2014 Pew study, which aggregates care of children of all ages under 18, found that single working mothers spend only 10 hours per week on child care. Their wage, assuming that they had sex in Massachusetts with a partner earning $250,000/year and that they had sex with a different partner for each child, would be roughly $77 per hour (tax-free) per child, i.e., $154 per hour if two children can be cared for simultaneously.]
The authors conclude, from looking at a snapshot of family life when the child is 9 months old, “the stalled gender revolution suggests that women’s gains in the marketplace have slowed and that women continue to lag behind men economically, in part because they are unable to pursue their careers in the same manner as men because of uneven unpaid work responsibilities” and “that parenthood remains an important barrier to a complete gender revolution.” Given the (1) high percentage of American children who are born out of wedlock, (2) the tendency of children to grow out of the 9-month-old breastfeeding-and-diapers stage, and (3) the number of marriages with children that are terminated by the mother suing the father for divorce, I wonder if this conclusion is justified. If the authors are right in their implication that women are getting a raw deal out of marriage, aren’t we forced to conclude that a lot of American women are behaving irrationally, at least from an economic perspective?
Birth control, abortion, and sterilization are widely available; why would American women give birth if the result is exploitation by a man? Why are women agreeing to get married? Given that nearly all live in a legal environment in which no-fault divorce is available, profitable child support is available, and women win more than 90 percent of custody lawsuits, why wouldn’t women terminate their marriages once they wised up to what a raw deal it was? What enables American men to lure women into this trap and then keep them there? If men in some more enlightened country are better partners, why wouldn’t American women seek to emigrate to that country and marry a man there? And, finally, in our world in which gender reassignment surgery may be paid for by an employer or health insurer and where people are encouraged to talk about their unconventional sexual preferences… why would a heterosexual woman choose to continue to identify as such? Why continue voluntarily as a member of an exploited class?
[On the other hand, even if we accept the study’s conclusions, perhaps American women are not behaving entirely irrationally economically when you factor in divorce litigation statistics. A lot of women sue their husbands when the youngest child is 2 years old and thus easier to place into commercial care. The result of a quickie marriage+divorce is often less child support profit than could have been obtained from one-night encounters with higher-income men, but (a) some hands-on assistance during the early years of child-rearing, (b) ownership of a fully setup house, (c) greater likelihood that the father will take care of the child(ren) at least every other weekend, thus freeing up a lot of leisure time for the mother. On the third hand, having escaped economic exploitation by Husband #1, a lot of divorce plaintiffs end up marrying Husband #2, thus suggesting that there is something beneficial to women in the condition of marriage+children (if not marriage to the father of those children).]