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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Woman's Work

Elizabeth Wurtzel, a woman writing for The Atlantic, argues that raising children is not work since no one will pay you to do it.  Real feminism, according to her understanding, is to have employment that is equal in respect and pay to that of a man.

As I pointed out in previous posts, this conclusion makes sense.

Prior to the increases in hygiene and nutrition that occurred along with the industrial revolution, women had a very tough job. They had to conceive, carry, bear and raise children.  Roughly 20% to 30% of their children would not survive the first year. In certain subpopulations, upwards of 75% would not survive long enough to get married themselves. Women had to bear enough children to compensate for those losses. And they only had about 12 years to get it done. That's how long, on average, a marriage lasted before either the father or the mother or both, were dead. So, if any children were to survive to adulthood, women had to be pregnant on a fairly regular basis.

If a crop of wheat failed, it meant everyone in the village would starve for a year.
If a crop of children failed, it meant the village disappeared.
Women's work mattered.

In 2012, a child is about 40 times more likely to survive to adulthood than it  was in 1812.
That's an enormous increase in the efficiency of women's work. When production becomes more efficient, both the price and the value of the good drops.

It used to take enormous skill and luck to bring a crop of children to maturity, and able to enter their own marriages. It takes no skill to produce and raise them anymore. Children are no longer valuable.

So, the social value of women's work - raising children - is very much lower than it was in the past. Modern medicine, nutrition and production have made raising children among the lowest paying of occupations.  If women want to remain valuable in the eyes of society, they have to switch from child-bearing and child-raising  to a more difficult occupation.

Thus, the liberal fixation with "the war on women" has a real economic basis. Those who fixate on this sense that women's work is not valued as it used to be, that it can never again be valued as it was. The only way it will ever again be perceived as "hard work" is if we involuntarily return to a 75% loss rate before maturity.

And this explains the interest in keeping abortion legal. The economists attempted to increase the value of women's work by legalizing abortion. Abortion was legalized at the end of the post-war baby boom - when infant mortality rates had dropped to about 20 per thousand and the country was awash in kids. Too many kids. The cost of children had to be raised.

Abortion imposes an arbitrary 30% loss rate on children before birth. Put another way, legal abortion has returned our infant mortality rates to pre-industrial levels. Demographers do not point this out publicly. It belies the idea of our being "medically advanced." It's embarrassing.

It also hasn't worked. Women's work, the raising of children, is still too efficient. Survival rate of born children to maturity is still 40 times higher than it was two centuries ago. Attempts have been made to allow infanticide, but those haven't yet been successful. Given most people's squeamishness about murdering visible children, it is unlikely to have the necessary levels of success anytime soon.

On some level, Elizabeth Wurtzel and her friends recognize all of this. They insist there is another gambit, a better gambit, that women must employ: end participation in the "women's work" game entirely. They got out of the child-bearing business and they encourage other women to get out of the business as well. Women control the means of production, but too many women refuse to quit producing. From Wurtzel's point of view, women having children are traitors to their sex because their refusal to raise the clearing price of children by limiting supply is reducing the general value of "women's work" throughout society.

You see, even if Wurtzel's work has nothing to do with children, the very fact that so many women do want to have children encourages her employer to treat her as someone who is statistically likely to abandon her job in exchange for pregnancy. Men are statistically unlikely to do that, so men don't get profiled this way.  Stay-at-home moms encourage employers to "profile" all women.

In order to get around this perception, there have been various attempts to divorce women from child-bearing and child-raising entirely.  Free or low-cost child care, cradle-to-18 "schooling",  "it takes a village" sloganeering, all kinds of methods have been used to break the mother-child bond, to get all the women into the public workforce, to get them out of the piece-work of bearing and raising children. If it were successful, this would allow the annual child crop to be undertaken entirely by a regulated industry or the government. This is the goal. This is ultimately why research into artificial wombs, artificial gametes, etc., is subsidized and encouraged.

But we don't have artificial wombs yet. Ultimately, employers are not wrong to profile. Some women really do need to leave the public workforce and produce children if the nation is to survive.  Like the pre-industrial village, a nation without children disappears. The wage gap cannot be avoided.

But there is also irony here. While there is, indeed, a wage-gap, it only amounts to about 5 cents on the dollar. As Wurtz herself points out, women have already taken advantage of the efficiencies. 70% of women with children work. Fully employed mothers spend 86% as much time with their children as unemployed moms. How is that possible? How can a woman who spends 40 hours a week working spend "86% as much time with their children as unemployed moms"? Well, nowadays the children work too. They're at school thirty-five hours a week.

So, how much is raising children worth? Apparently, about five cents on the dollar. But there is another way to raise that price.

Wurtz, in her fixation on the corporate world, misses an option that many women have already figured out. Home-based businesses can be worth the time if the units produced are hand-crafted and high-demand. Artisan hand-crafted children, also known as homeschooled children, are becoming more popular precisely because they return value to "women's work." If Wurtz were a real feminist, she would promote homeschooling as a real alternative. If she were a real feminist. 


Steve "scotju" Dalton said...

Steve, it's insightful posts like this that keep me coming back to this blog.

Anonymous said...

As always, you give us a lot to think about. Thank you.

You have adopted an economic point of view towards the raising of children, however as Catholics we know that children are not mere "products". They are being with souls, who are deserving of our love and care. It takes a Marxist to truly treat people as things (and I know you're not doing that here), because of their grounding in radical materialism and denial of the spiritual. This grounding in Marxism is precisely why modern feminism, and the Democratic Party, are so keen on attempting to control everything on the state level up to and including human reproduction.

Yet, at the same time, there are market forces which sometimes have unforeseen or unrecognized effects.
One of your links was to a BBC article on foundlings in England. The proper response, documented in the article, was to be horrified at the lack of care for human life, and attempt to love one's neighbor by ameliorating those conditions. The Marxist response, on the other hand, is to eliminate the problem by eliminating the people. And this is consistent with radical materialism because a baby or forty-year old man have no more value than a rock. If that rock is in the way of building your road, you remove the rock. If you need that rock to build your road, you crush it into gravel and have the workers shovel it where you want it.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Exactly right, alphatron!

This is why the United Nations is so upset about "baby boxes" - the opportunity many European countries give women so that they know their children will be cared for and they don't have to abort.

The Marxists WANT the kids dead. Carrying those babies was time taken from the state without the state's permission. Women don't have the right to do that. They're taking money from the government when they get pregnant like that.

From the Marxist point of view, they SHOULD have aborted and gone back to work. Anything which encourages a different decision is wrong.

Anonymous said...

"From the Marxist point of view, they SHOULD have aborted and gone back to work. Anything which encourages a different decision is wrong."

The incredibly high abortion rates the Soviet Union had, and the current forced abortion in China are empirical proof of that.

Andrew said...

I think the initial argument that "raising children isn't work because people won't pay you to do it" is off.

People pay for raising children all the time. In fact, many woman are essentially working specifically so they can pay someone else to raise their children, as their 2nd income goes in very large part to cover daycare and school expenses that wouldn't exist, if the mother stayed home and simply raised her children herself.

Outsiders won't pay parents to raise their own children.

A great many parents pay outsiders to raise someone else's children.