This story is everywhere today, and I’m finding the various spins on it so fascinating. First of all, I have yet to see any major media outlet put men at the center of the narrative: I can’t find any stories that talk about the 60% of MEN who are supporting their families. All the focus is on the 40% of WOMEN who are now out earning their husbands.
Feminist websites are all rah rah rah – ladies be kicking ass so hard!
Instructively, Jezebel (linking in from a fellow Gawker site) follows their sneering piece with a gif showing a scantily clad woman punching a man in office setting, with the headline “Woman Shows How To Kick Ass At Work”.
One can imagine the outcry if it were a man doing the same thing to a woman.
Double XX at Slate has two stories, both trying so hard to spin the 40% as some kind of feminist triumph. Hanna Roisin confesses that the numbers are a teeny bit misleading, since economic factors (such as the wide scale decimation of male dominated manufacturing jobs) are one of the principle reasons men are unable to make a living wage anymore.
Women didn’t magically acquire more skills, or learn to use them in more productive ways. Men lost their jobs. That’s not exactly a triumph. Winning a race because your main competitor broke his leg at the starting line is not winning. It’s taking first by default. A victory dance might be premature.
Amanda Marcotte has nothing to contribute to the conversation, really, other than to mock another news site for their reactions. She pays at least passing lip service to the idea that stripping men of economic power leaves FAMILIES worse off, but can’t quite bring herself to suggest that, oh, men just might be good for something after all.
It’s true that these new breadwinner stats are not all good news, but the real problem is that men earning less means less money overall for the average American home. What’s really hurting Americans isn’t female equality, but growing income inequality between the rich and everyone else. Pitting men against women is simply a distraction from the real economic issues facing us all.
Amanda doesn’t really want to address the whole income inequality issue in any depth because the first fact that will leap out is that single mothers make up 25% of the so-called “breadwinners”, and single mothers tend to be dirt poor. Single motherhood remains a terrible choice for women and children, and for the fathers who are shut out of the picture from the get-go.
Income inequality highlights that little niggling fantasy of the “patriarchy”, too. When the top income earners, both men and women, are taking ever larger slices of the economic pie, it looks a lot like aristocracy and not patriarchy.
What nobody really wants to discuss is the actual Pew Study itself, but I think we should take a look because there’s some pretty interesting stuff lurking there.
Let’s leave aside the number of women who are currently working outside the home and look at how people FEEL about that situation. How many people think the ideal family is a male breadwinner with a full time mother at home?
51% think having a mom at home makes children better off.
74% think having moms work has made it harder for families to do a good job raising children. 50% think having moms work has made it harder for marriages to thrive.
And pretty much no one thinks being a single mother is a good idea.
Here is the graph that I find the most interesting:
People over 30 seem capable of understanding that having women work outside the home is bad for children and bad for marriage, but they don’t seem to grasp a very simple economic fact: women flooding the labor market has been a key reason men’s wages have evaporated. The number of “jobs” may have increased over the past few decades (mostly housewife or paper filing jobs), but the amount of money available to pay for those workers has not. Instead of having one very productive (usually male) worker earn a family living, we now have two workers fighting over the same wages.
People under the age of 30 seem to get that: having two people work doesn’t make it easier to live a comfortable life. It makes it harder. More people scrabbling for the same resources will obviously make workplace competition cutthroat, and no is better off in the long run.
What we are seeing is a Tragedy of the Commons playing out. We have a finite (more or less) set of resources in the form of jobs and money. We need those jobs and money to support families and children. Rather than maximize our potential as a family unit, we have set up a situation in which any given individual has to fumble after limited resources the best way they can, leaving everyone worse off.
The supply of money is not limitless. It really comes down to that. We can work together as families to maximize how much money we get in two ways: both adults compete and both take home less of a finite resource, or the two adults specialize. One takes care of the money and one takes care of the home and children.
Specialization wins every time. And it looks like lots of people know that instinctively, but the train is picking up speed on the way to Disasterville and no one seems to understand where the brakes are located.
It’s under the desks where all the women are sitting.
When the US government wanted to encourage home ownership, it made the cost of interest on mortgage payments a tax deduction. Lots of reasons that was a good idea, and lots of reasons it was a terrible idea.
But the economic adage “if you want less of something, tax it; it you want more, subsidize it” holds true. Putting the brakes on the train could be as simple as offering generous tax deductions to men supporting families at home. Basic personal amounts, amounts for dependants, income splitting – there are lots of ways to reduce men’s tax burdens for the years they are winning the bread their family eats.
And that’s the sticking point for feminist culture in particular. Depending on men. It’s a strategy that has worked for thousands of years, and based on my iPhone, 3G wireless network, dishwasher, flush toilet, push-up bra and every other luxury I have access to, it looks like men are pretty damn dependable.
But that isn’t a story that gets told very often, anymore. Once upon a time, there were men who were loving fathers and husbands, who spent their lives toiling to bring home the bread.
Once upon a time? 60% of men still do exactly that. My guess is 100% of men would gladly be the family breadwinners, provided there was both opportunity, and rewards in doing so. In a culture that can’t bear to demonstrate even the tiniest slice of gratitude or acknowledgement towards the majority of men who continue to support and provide for their families, why on earth should they continue to be beasts of burden? Why march out daily to compete for resources against the very person with whom you are going to share those resources?
It makes no sense.
40% of women are the family breadwinners. Peachy, ladies. Let’s all fight over crusts.
And in the end, we’ll all starve.
Lots of love,