“How Society Pays When Women’s Work Is Unpaid” is an interesting New York Times article.
Cultural change is also important, [Melinda] Gates said.
She recalled being unhappy about the long commute to her oldest daughter’s preschool. Mr. Gates, then chief executive of Microsoft, said he would drive their daughter two days a week.
“Moms started going home and saying to their husbands, ‘If Bill Gates can drive his daughter, you better darn well drive our daughter or son,’ ” Ms. Gates said. “If you’re going to get behavior change, you have to role-model it publicly.”
In other words, she married a guy who brought $80 billion into the household, but ended up being unhappy with the division of labor in the household.
A subtext in the article and in reader comments is that men are able to earn more money because women do “unpaid work” around the house. This is kind of a cornerstone of the American family law system, i.e., that the lower-earning spouse somehow contributed to the higher-earning spouse’s ability to earn (successful women who pay child support and alimony to ex-husbands so that they can have sex with younger/hotter women end up not being too happy about this theory), though it is no longer an assumption in Germany.
Certainly there do seem to be a lot of high-earning people with spouses who don’t work for wages. But maybe that is simply due to a combination of high tax rates for those marginal earnings and also the fact that increasing after-tax household earnings by 5 percent won’t significantly improve living standards. (And typically sufficient cash can be extracted through litigation following a divorce. See how Jamie Cooper-Hohn collected about $500 million from the English courts without working for wages.) Consider Sheryl Sandberg. She earned over $1 billion, mostly from Facebook shareholders, without a stay-at-home spouse. Judith Faulkner‘s husband has continued to work as a physician (source) and that hasn’t stopped Ms. Faulkner from earning nearly $3 billion by building Epic Systems. Hillary Clinton would perhaps argue that Judith Faulkner could have made a lot more if she had been a guy, but does anyone argue that she would have earned more if her husband had quit his doctor job?
New York Times readers don’t seem to have much doubt as to the potential earnings boost from an adult at home 9-5. Here’s a reader comment:
if the man is able to gather assets into the marriage because he has his wife at home doing his laundry, cooking his meals, and caring for his children, the assets reasonably and ethically belong to both parties. If he wants to negotiate a rate of pay with her, wherein he pays her for all the things she does for the family, then it would make more sense to talk about who earned what if it becomes time to divide the property.
I agree with this comment’s second point, which is not too different from what happens in some European jurisdictions where lifetime alimony is not available. If a couple makes the decision that one will stay at home, the working partner puts money into the stay-at-home partner’s retirement account. This way they don’t spend 100% of their assets (and their children’s assets) on legal fees to have a judge figure out what is the fair division of assets and income post-divorce.
The first point raises a question, however. I responded with
Is there a basis for the assumption that a stay-at-home spouse increases a person’s earnings? Do companies find out that an employee has a stay-at-home spouse and say “Wow, here’s your fat pay raise”? In nearly every part of the U.S. a child can be parked with the government until 3 pm and then be seamlessly handed off to an “after-school program” until dinner time. If a child is in school or in an after-school program from 8 am to 6 pm, how does the presence or absence of a stay-at-home spouse affect the earnings of a worker?
You mention laundry. There are services that will pick up and drop off laundry. You mention cooking meals. Americans have been known to survive on take-out or pre-prepared meals from supermarkets.
If you’re right on the impossibility of making money without having a stay-at-home spouse, how is it that single people are able to earn significant money? Who does their laundry and cooks their meals?
Of course it is nice to have a wonderful home environment and there is a lot of value delivered to a family by an adult who enhances that environment, but I am not sure how we get from that to the assumption that this affects the earnings of a full-time worker who is part of that household.
Readers: What do you think? Does consuming a home-cooked meal enable you to earn more money? Does sleeping in an elaborate suburban home enable you to earn more money than if you lived in a smaller full-service apartment? Can you earn more money if you have a stay-at-home spouse doing child care compared to if kids are parked in commercial care?
[Personally I was at my most productive when I lived in a modest rental apartment and consumed most meals from restaurants and/or corporate cafeterias. For one thing, I didn’t spend half of my life on the phone with Whirlpool and GE trying to get appliances repaired!]