I’ll pick up on a comment thread from the last post, in which I argued that whether women with high earning jobs and high earning partners were “opting out” or being forced out missed the fact that many women with high-earning jobs are financially supporting their families and can’t afford to even contemplate “opting out.”
Why don’t husbands opt out to help wives? I have seen it done. and again, there is little reason why folks can’t survive on one income (in one of those incomes is coming from decent tenure track job)
Off the top of my head, I can come up with several reasons why husbands might be *much* less willing than wives to “opt out” or even take time off from their careers to help with familial responsibilities. And I think those reasons mostly have to do with cultural conditioning.
Our society is still very much of a patriarchy and many men were not raised to consider full-time family work a desirable option or even a possibility. In the patriarchal world view, women take care of babies, while men bring home the bacon. Even if the woman is bringing home the bacon, the man may still feel the need to contribute to the bank account rather than the baby rearing. Adding to that, if raising children is traditionally women’s work, many men do not have the confidence or even the interest in taking on those responsibilities. They’d rather work outside the home because they are afraid of failing at or being bored with being good dads and homemakers. Work in the home is not valued, economically or societally, in the same way that work in the workplace is valued. So men may see staying home as diminishing their personal worth. I’d bet that the above reasons explain why most of the men who could afford to “opt out” don’t. (One or more of these reasons are admittedly why Fish continues to work.)
Even if you’ve got (or are) an enlightened husband who places a high value on family work, taking time off from a man’s career to take care of family is seen as an aberration by potential future employers. Imagine being a man in an interview and trying to explain a 10-year gap on your resume (2 kids, 5 years apart, home until kindergarten). I’m guessing that the penalties for work gaps are even higher for men than they are for women. Why? See the patriarchy referred to above.
Some husbands do “opt out” – give up their careers to take care of their family. And they can be stupendous dads and partners. But it is not without cost for them, as Rebecca notes in the comments:
To answer Randy’s question, there are men who do opt out to help their wives. My husband is a stay-at-home dad, and we live comfortably on my income.
I think he faces more discrimination in his chosen vocation than I do in mine (computational scientist). When he goes out in public with our son, he is bombarded with advice, like he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Sometimes people praise him for “babysitting” his son. There’s a woman in our neighborhood who was so horrified that he’s a stay-at-home dad that she stopped speaking to him after she found out.
A lot of men think he’s lazy. I suspect that my mother-in-law thinks he’s mooching off my goodwill. Most of the working women whom I tell about our arrangement think it’s awesome, and most of the men feel threatened. He hasn’t tried to join any playgroups yet, which is probably a good plan, because stay-at-home fathers are commonly shunned by stay-at-home mothers.
Basically, he sticks out like a sore thumb for defying society’s stereotypes, and he pays for it whenever he leaves the house. I can understand many men’s reluctance to stay at home, because it’s unpaid, unglamorous, non-prestigious work. But, the more men do it, the easier it will be for the next man to do it too.
So add fear of being socially ostracized to the list of reasons men might not want to “opt out.”
While in theory, if the woman is bringing home the bacon, the man could fry it, in practice that’s far from the case for most couples. In the end, the women are still working two jobs – one that brings in a paycheck and sustains the family economically and one that keeps the family functioning – fed, clean, and happy. No wonder we’re so tired.