Getting The Most Out Of WORKING WOMEN
No pedestrian excursion around the economy could be even remotely considered complete without a stop at the Shady Valley Museum of Traditional Family Life. Just beyond the freshly painted white picket fence and the newly mown lawn resides a full-scale, life-like, fully functional model of the traditional family. The two-car garage houses Mom's good old reliable family stationwagon right next to Dad's sensible four-door sedan. Inside the humble, but well-kept abode, we can find young Billy, who aspires to a career as a highly-paid doctor, and his sister, little Debbie, who hopes to marry a highly-paid doctor. The faithful family dog, Spot, is resting comfortably at the feet of our traditional husband, provider, and father, who has just returned from a long, hard day on the office. He has worked long and hard on this day to provide for his traditional family. Purring at the feet of our traditional wife, mother, and homemaker, is Fluffy, the family cat. Our traditional wife is busily preparing the night's traditional family fare of pot roast, potatoes, and green beans. After the meal, she will gaily clean the evening's dishes, a fine ending to her day that has been filled with shopping, baking, and cleaning. How quaint!
Reality Check! Reality Check!
Meanwhile, back in the real world, we find very few (if any) families that fit this traditional model. Of course, many families have two cars, two children, two pets, and a mown lawn. But, a great number of families in our economy have only one parent, quite often the mother, who does the cleaning, cooking, shopping, and providing. And many more families send both parents into the workforce each morning in desperate search of family provisions. It's becoming increasingly difficult for any family to follow this quaint, traditional pattern of working husband and stay-at-home housewife.
Let's throw a few numbers out to illustrate this point. Roughly 45 percent of the labor force in the good old U. S. of A. are women. Moreover, while 76 percent of working-age men in the economy are working, 58 percent of the working age women are also putting their share of bread onto the family table. So much for women staying home and baking pies.
Yet, while traditional families are few and far between, many strings of traditionality still dangle, tugging and pulling on both men and women as they struggle through the daily routines of a working life.
- Many women are viewed, usually by men but also by other women, as unwanted party-crashers into our economy's workforce. In spite of the realities of our complex economy, women are suppose to stay home and do womanly things around the house.
- Women who venture into the labor force are typically paid less than men in comparable positions. The number two-thirds sticks in my mind for comparing the average wage for women with that for men.
- Part of the problem for this two-thirds numbers is that women usually wind up in lower paid, less productive positions, such as secretary and nurse, rather than executive and doctor.
- Women who try to push the limits of the labor force often find themselves bouncing against the top of what is termed a "glass ceiling." Women advance up the ranks of the corporate hierarchy, much slower and attain much less loftier heights than men of equal training and ability.
Secure your jogging shoe laces and firmly tie the drawstring on your running suit, because our mission over the next few pages is to run through this somewhat annoying and downright frustrating predicament facing millions of working women in our economy. On to the plight of the working woman.
To work or not to work, that is the question (with all due respect to William Shakespeare). Stemming from changes in those old traditional roles of husband-provider and wife-homemaker, women are more frequently facing the choice of (a) seeking income-earning employment beyond the confines of their white picket fences or (b) doing nothing but the homemaker deeds that need doing at home.
Here's the choice: Are the efforts of gainful employment more rewarding than tending to family-rearing, toilet-scrubbing, and meal-cooking? Let's consider the benefit and cost on both sides of this choice.
- To work. The most obvious benefit of working to be had by any women pondering the possibility of employment is a wage, salary, or other income. This includes the myriad of fringe benefits that come with a job, such as retirement, health insurance, free parking, or whatever. There are also nonmonetary "psychic income" benefits (that is, where money doesn't change hands) that include having a career, being with (adult) friends and colleagues, and doing something useful. Of course, some or all of these nonmonetary "benefits" might actually be "costs." For example, you might not like the people at work or you just hate your job.
- Not to work. On the other side of the ledger sheet we have numerous nonmonetary benefits and a few costs from not working. The top of the list for most people is probably leisure -- the time spent watching television, piddling around the house, or just doing stuff that's fun. There's also a category of things we can term household production, an area that tends to be pretty significant for working women, and includes the cleaning, family-rearing, cooking, shopping, and sundry other activities needed to run a household. The "psychic income" stuff is also a big part of not working and can be a plus or minus, as well. For example, you like staying at home and raising a family (a plus) or alternatively you're bored down to your toenails from sitting around the house watching soap operas (a definite minus). There are also some actual monetary benefits from not working, such as welfare payments, unemployment compensation, or even social security.
Thus, the choice for potentially working women is this: Are the benefits of staying home more or less than the benefits from gainful employment? Other ways of posing this question are: Can a woman afford to work? Or can a woman afford not to work? Is the wage and associated benefits so low that a woman can't be enticed to enter the labor force? Or are the benefits of working so great that a woman can afford to stay home?
A Choice for All
Although we're asking this question about working women, the same decision is faced by virtually everyone in the economy. Women get our scrutiny here because, other than the title of this entry, their choice gives us a clear picture of both sides of the balance sheet. The scales of the balance sheet for many men, most all children, a great number of retirees, and a lot of the disabled clearly tip in one direction or the other. The benefits of working usually far outweigh those of not working for adult males. The choice usually (not always, but usually) goes in the other direction for kids, elderly, and the handicapped.
The situation for women, however, is not as clear cut. Many women could go in either direction. The reasons behind this are worth a look.
The Whys and Wherefors of Working Women
Let's take another tour through the Shady Valley Museum of Traditional Family Life. The traditional roles of husband-provider and wife-homemaker come from a deeply embedded culture norm that itself has resulted from obvious physical differences between men and women. Men, with greater physical strength, on average, have historically played the part of hunter and protector. Women, with childbirth capabilities, have always assumed the responsibilities of tending to the flock of offspring.
Although we've left the caves and moved into a modern, complex, industrialized economy -- with a two cars, two pets, two kids and a mown lawn -- men have continued this role as provider and women have maintained their position as homemaker. Men are "supposed" work, and women are "not supposed" to work. In the traditional past, this cultural and genetic stuff made women more valuable and men less valuable around the home -- in the eye many people. In terms of working, this enhanced the relative benefits of men and reduced those for women.
This, however, is exactly what is changing. Well, the genetic stuff about childbirth hasn't changed, but the cultural norms have. Income, wages, and other benefits of working are rising for women. Because providing the family meal seldom requires killing a mastodon, women have found that they're just as capable as men. They too can make executive decisions while lounging around the water cooler, in spite of their deficiencies in physical strength. Modern technology has also reduced in the amount of effort required for family-rearing, toilet-scrubbing, and meal-cooking. Long gone are the days when homemaking was a full-time sun-up to sun-down job that required hours each day just for butter churning. Even men (gasp!) can microwave a three-course TV dinner or order a pizza delivery.
As the benefit of working rises and that of not working falls, we have seen a larger fraction of women in the work force. Traditions, however, change slowly. That's why women tend to have less lofty positions than men and the two-thirds number for male/female wages pops into my head again.
For the time being, though, let's consider a tip on this basic work decision:
Tipping the Balance on Work
- Everyone, regardless of race, age, sex, or planet of origin, needs to evaluate this whole work/not work choice. For many, there is no choice -- you have to feed your family. If, for example, you have a working spouse who makes a ton of money, then you might be able to go either way. Whatever you own situation, consider the options.