A new study by Bradford Wilcox and Steven Nock has discovered that, contrary to feminist theory, splitting work outside the home and the work of the home 50/50 between husband and wife is not the path to marital bliss. The survey of 5,000 women revealed that American women who don't work outside the home are happier than those who do and even when they do have a job they are more content if their husband earns the lion's share of the income while they do the majority of the housework.
Women know that statistical equality — where the husband earns half the money and does half the house work and half the childcare — is a trap. They can do the math.
While we talk about the 40-hour week, the fact is that in order to earn enough to support his family, the husband may have to spend 50 to 70 hours a week in work-related activity.
A woman who chooses to make the work of the home her primary vocation, understands that her husband's job often takes more time and effort than her work.
On the other hand, an organized woman with four children and a four-bedroom house should be able to accomplish all the work required to maintain family life in less than 40 hours a week — and there is no commute.
To this must be added child care. The time required for direct child-related activities varies greatly depending on the number and ages of the children, but much of this work meshes with the care of the home. For example, a mother may spend several hours a week shopping, but she takes the children with her. When everything is considered the stay-at-home mom's actual work-week is comparable to her husband's. And she has the added benefit of being the primary educator of her children.
On the other hand, if the husband and wife both have full-time jobs outside the home and divide the work of the home and care of the children equally between them, the both may end up with putting in 80-hour work-weeks. They may make more money, but the extra money may end up being spent on housecleaning services, fast food, childcare, and work-related expenses, including clothing, meals, commuting, taxes, and other payroll deductions. To all this is added the stress of transporting small children to day-care.
Several years ago I saw a program on TV in which an economist had been called in to help a family struggling to balance work and family life. So as not to incur child-care costs, the wife worked nights and weekends as a nurse and the husband worked days as a tree surgeon. They had no time for each other, both were completely exhausted, and money was still a problem.
The economist was blunt: The wife's job was actually costing the family money. If the wife quit her job, the husband could work evenings and weekends during storms. This additional overtime pay would be more than the wife's income after costs and payroll deductions were figured in and they would have time to be together. On hearing this news the wife burst into tears.
And it isn't just the money. When a wife makes the work of the home and the care of the family her primary job, she doesn't come home from her first job to a second job. Her husband doesn't come home to a second job. Both have the luxury of free time. Thus although their income may be less, their ability to enjoy what they have is greater.
Once the children are in school full-time, the mother may decide to take up part-time or low-stress work — in other words a second job. For example, some women have found that being a school bus driver is a good way to earn extra money and has the advantage that a mother never has to work on a day when her children are home from school.
Not all at-home moms are happy at home. Some don't treat the work of the home as a professional job. They are unorganized and undisciplined. They allow the clutter to pile up and put off essential tasks and then feel overburdened. Others don't use their free time productively. Women who have creative hobbies, are engaged in satisfying educational, civic or charitable activities, or find work they can do at home, tend to be more content and happy than those who don't.
It is not surprising that many young mothers are choosing to put their careers on hold and make the work of the home their primary vocation. They have calculated the benefits and weighed the costs.
Dale O'Leary is a writer, pro-family activist and educator living in Rhode Island. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.