Blogs > Liberty and Power > Quick Reply to Otteson

Oct 21, 2004 9:48 am

Quick Reply to Otteson

Just a quick clarification James: I completely agree that sometimes the division of labor in the household that puts more of the work on the woman is the best solution to the particular situation that home faces. I say this as someone whose wife was out of the labor force for almost ten years when our kids were younger. Two points seem key to me:

1. We have to recognize that families have to solve these often complex intersections of economics and values according to their own lights. From a Hayekian perspective, no one else has the knowledge or the incentives to do it better than those intimiate with the situation. (I should note that this is also the start of a libertarian argument for parental rights, but that's for another day.)

2. At the same time, we can work to help both men and women understand that this decision should be a conscious one, rather than just doing what they perceive to be as"tradition" or women just giving in to male power. I'm fine with women (or men!) who make an eyes-wide-open choice to stay home and sacrifice wages in the process. Any gender wage gap that results from this is not a social problem to be remedied. I just want that choice to be made with as much knowledge and in as great a situation of equality of power as possible.

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Stephen Thomas - 10/29/2004

"At the same time, we can work to help both men and women understand that this decision should be a conscious one, rather than just doing what they perceive to be as "tradition" or women just giving in to male power."

Tradition is the right way to make these decisions.

First, you are incorrect that women generally take on more of the burden. This is simply a feminist myth. Factor in that men generally take care of the exterior maintenance of the home and maintenance of the car, and the division of labor is equal.

Second, a married couple who makes decisions on an intellectual/political basis is a married couple that isn't very married. The purpose of marriage is not to solve political/social problems. It is to satify the needs of the two parties who are married.

Intellectuals get awful confused about this stuff.

Steven Horwitz - 10/21/2004

Well, I think you've misread me, as well as the data. First, the data are pretty clear that *including* exterior maintenance, women still do a greater share of household work than men do. See the time diary studies from John Robinson out of the University of Maryland for confirmation of that. It's not a feminist myth. Why isn't it possible the feminists are right.

As for "tradition," well which tradition? The "mom at home, dad at work" family is a creature of the mid-20th century. A look at the history of the family will pretty clearly show that this arrangement is hardly "traditional." For one example, both moms and dads worked on the farm and then in the early decades of the industrial revolution. The "traditional" family doesn't become anything near the norm until the post-war era. Even then, it wasn't as widespread as popular culture and myth would have it. If we look over the long history of the human family, two working parents looks a lot more traditional. And keep in mind that those moms had help from extended family in dealing with household production.

Finally, I'm not suggesting that married couples make these decisions on ideological grounds. I've been happily married for over 16 years, so I think I know a little about it. If you read me carefully, you'd see that I said such decisions have to be made according to the particulars of the relationship. To me, that's what marriages should be about, rather than blindly following supposed tradition. Even so, good marriages at least tacitly understand that marriages and families have functions that need to be performed and that partners need to come to some understanding about who is going to do what. Marriages that *don't* confront those questions seem to me to be either dead-ends or miserable for one party or the other.