On a personal, anecdotal level books that argue that daycare screws you up make me suspicious. Because, you see, I went to daycare and it did me a lot of good. As an only child it probably saved me from being screwed up in lots of other ways.
But I digress. Now that this is relevant to my dissertation I have to be a little more scholarly about the whole thing, right?
First, labor force participation as measured by the census does count people who are working part-time. Thus, 64% of mothers working does not equal 64% of mothers working full-time.
Second, it strikes me as highly implausible that the change in the last fifty years from near-universal exit from work upon childbirth to the common juggling of both motherhood and paid work is something that all these women have been forced into.
Now I don't deny that at an individual level some, probably many, women feel that their choices about combining work and motherhood are not as free as they would like. In other words, it's difficult to find the time to give your children lots of attention, and make career progress.
But I think it's more likely that the widespread combination of work and motherhood actually reflects families choices about what they want to do with their time and money.
I haven't read the book, but when it comes via inter-library loan, I'll be interested to see if there's much discussion on how this is a trend intimately related to declining fertility. I'll also be interested to see how much the book focuses on the modern 'plight' of white, professional women with 1-2 children, and how much it acknowledges that around 1/4 of black mothers were in the labor force in the early twentieth century.
I'll also be interested to see what the book says about the motivations couples have for earning two incomes. For example, at fairly low household income level s Americans expect to have two cars per family. And in a way that's not unreasonable. The Twin Cities area has pretty good public transit, but in most of the suburbs your transit options get you to work downtown at 7.39am and back again at 4.54pm (so don't miss the bus!). They don't get a mother out of the house at 10.17am to go to play group with the four year old. Thus, the likely need for a second car, especially if Dad doesn't work downtown, but works in some freeway-intersection office park that doesn't get transit service. But the second car costs money, and that might mean Mom has to go out to work, even if she'd rather spend more time with the kids.
My point is that parents could choose for one parent to stay home, but they also want to live in the suburbs and they want to have material possessions and go on vacation now and then too ...
In the end mothers are working because families want to have children and other things too.Posted by robe0419 at December 8, 2004 12:20 PM | TrackBack