Economics of career/family order

I'm not the president of Harvard, so perhaps I can talk about male/female differences without getting pilloried. NYT columnist David Brooks has a very nice article which makes what I think is an important point about the optimal order for women who want both families and careers.

He points out that the common sequence is for women to have jobs first, then families. But this is the wrong order to do things in. The difference in fertility between a 25 year old and a 35-40 year old is huge, whereas the difference in learning/working ability is small, if not nonexistent. (Heck, it may even go the opposite direction). So the standard procedure is a non-optimal way to order a woman's life.

One simple way of looking at this is as a result of technology. Medical care has extended our lifetimes, and in this day of mental jobs, our working lifetimes, by decades. It has only extended women's fertile period by years. It is this difference that makes the family-then-career ordering such a win.

Unfortunately, our culture and institutions promote the opposite order. An obvious explanation is that jumping straight into a career is the male way of doing things, and our institutions (colleges, jobs) have only recently gone from male-focused to co-ed. Hence they retain, to some degree, the male way of doing things.

Whatever the reason, I urge young women to consider the relevant incentives, and not feel like they are letting down their gender if they choose a family first. There is plenty of time to go back to school and have decades of career later. There will not be plenty of time to have a large, healthy family.

(Obviously this only applies to those women who want both. I am not speaking to those who want a career only).

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Sumners hypothesis is based

Sumners hypothesis is based upon a empirical fact that cannot simply dismissed by "nurture" arguments. The fact is that women have made HUGE gains in many areas but not in the sciences. Ability or choice are the two options. Nurture proponents argue that women are not given sufficient choice for cultural reasons and thus there is a lower incidence of women in scientific academic slots. The problem with this argument is that it cannot be tested to the satisfaction of the Nurture crowd. The fact that women enter these fields but do not rise to the highest ranks is proof for them that there are barriers. The problem is this field is one of the most egalitarian. Talent wins.

Brooks observation is at best anecdotal to this question. In fact he demonstrates why he is not a leading scientist (and just a journalist). His “facts” on public opinion are the type that separate social psychologists into two camps – scientists and aspiring social engineers. Opinions do not translate into action for many reasons other than resource constraints. Conflict among opinions is a major contributor.

um, I was not claiming that

um, I was not claiming that Brooks' comments had anything to do with Summers...merely using the apropos incident as a segue...

I place a high degree of confidence that the hypothesis which Summers weakly presented (saying he hoped it was false) is actually true. Men and women, regardless of whether they have different mean IQs, clearly have different variances, hence men are overrepresented at the top (and bottom).

Nor do I understand your attack on Brooks. Was anyone claiming that he's a leading scientist? I was merely applauding his (IMHO) correct economic reasoning.

Whatever the reason, I urge

Whatever the reason, I urge young women to consider the relevant incentives, and not feel like they are letting down their gender if they choose a family first.

Let down their gender??

I honestly don't know why people agonize so about this stuff. If you think the time is right, go for it. I sustained a career and family at the same time with little problem. Didn't need to consult the culture or any institutions about it. Why would I?

Lynette, the reason people

Lynette, the reason people agonize over it -- women in particular -- is that the decision, which was once an individual one, has been under heavy collectivist pressure for forty years, through the feminist movement and its allies in the wide-scale media.

Time was, there were certain matters into which outsiders did not intrude. Family planning was one of those matters. Today, it's quite different. Everybody and his no-account uncle feels he has a perfect right to declaim on the progenitive choices of others. Women who'd like nothing better than to be left alone to decide such things for themselves can't help but feel as if they're under scrutiny by the entire world.

In Orwell's 1984, one of the most telling and memorable scenes is when Winston and Julia make love for the first time. Winston muses shortly thereafter that pure love and pure lust had disappeared from the world, precisely because of the Party's insertion into all such things. "Their lovemaking was a blow against the Party. It was a political act." This is a close analogue to what's been done to women's decisionmaking over their families and careers in our time.

"Women who’d like nothing

"Women who’d like nothing better than to be left alone to decide such things for themselves can’t help but feel as if they’re under scrutiny by the entire world."

Sure they can.

Lynette - I was arguing

Lynette - I was arguing about avoiding a particular form of cultural pressure. Sure, rational people shouldn't feel that pressure. You may be hip enough not to, and if so, more power to you. As a die-hard independent fuck-the-standard-way kind of guy, I find such pressure non-intuitive too. But a lot of women seem to feel the feminist pressure to act in ways which I think are harmful to them. Given that, why not try to argue them into ignoring the stupid voices?

Yeah, and how the HELL was I

Yeah, and how the HELL was I supposed to AFFORD a family if I wanted one, without a previous career to generate savings, an inheritance, or helpful generous types around? Are you suggesting young women should go on welfare and then somehow find the money and time to go have a career or start a business? We can't all be homemade-cookie tycoons or barons of resume typing. :wall:

Um... speedwell, you know,

Um... speedwell, you know, there's this fuddy-duddy tradition where two people, one male, one female, get together and make babies. One primarily runs the household while the other one primarily earns the money required to do so, although many duties may be shared. It can work fairly well if those two people know what they are getting into and are willing to put forth effort to make it work.

Sure, Andy, YOU go ahead and

Sure, Andy, YOU go ahead and put your life and the lives of your babies into the hands of another person, without making damn sure you can carry on in case that person either a) doesn't justify your faith in her to provide, or b) becomes incapable of providing.

I thought most posters on this blog were libertarians. Which libertarian philosopher claimed that an individual should render themselves completely dependent on the charity of another person? Which thinker told you that it was OK to have kids just because somebody else made you a bunch of sweet sounding promises?

Grow up. Life is not perfect, and (at the risk of sounding like Sylvia Plath, who I abhor) neither are daddies.

"Which libertarian

"Which libertarian philosopher claimed that an individual should render themselves completely dependent on the charity of another person?"

Which says you shouldn't? Anyhow, a marriage is a contract, an agreement, and therefore the support of your spouse is not charity but an obligation.

That said, you do have to be damn sure you pick a good partner. What's wrong with that. Still, life isn't risk-free. Maybe you'll have a career, then kids, and find yourself, through some unforseen accident, unable to provide for them.

Libertarianism per se has nothing to say about whether you ought to raise children on your own. I chose to have a family, and am a daddy who both earns the bulk of our family budget and plans to stay around. Inexpensive insurance provides that in the event of my demise, my wife will be able to spend 5+ years starting a career, without having to worry about money.

Speedwell- Andy aside,

Speedwell-

Andy aside, Patri's point was that the current paradigm pushed for professional women is to have a career first and then have babies, which flies in the face of biological reality and has left many women deeply unsatisfied/saddened in their later years (when they find it difficult, extraordinarily expensive, or impossible to have children), and suggests that a more efficient/optimal means/ends combo would be to have children first and *then* go work. Seems uncontroversial to me, given the documented heartache, heartbreak, and economic hardship borne by older women trying to conceive & bear children.

I don't believe that his suggestion is simply to find someone to take care of you and then reproduce; the supposition behind choosing to have children is that you have the means to support them beforehand. It is odder, but perhaps telling, to suppose that a woman should make the decision to reproduce autonomously, as though a child were simply hers, a consumer durable that she chooses to have or not have circumstances willing, rather than the equal product of two individuals joining to create a new individual.

Andy alludes to this oddity when he refers back to the traditional arrangement for parenting, which was that you have the mother & father (or at least a couple) combining familial resources to raise their joint offspring vs. relying on the finances & financial position of one or the other. The consequence of choosing single parenthood is to bear the financial & emotional burdens alone, which may put parenthood out of reach of many women (presumably until they've worked enough to have enough money to afford it solo).

This goes back to the social dynamic Patri was talking about, namely that the 'pressure' to do it on your own (and to follow a male life pattern, which is unaffected by fertility) is leading to rather profound bad consequences for a great number of women, and that maybe we in society should rethink our attitudes toward parenting first vs. later (or career after mommyhood).

It does nobody much good to suppose that there aren't very real tradeoffs to women putting career first. Many women aren't bothered by this (they do not desire children, ala Virginia Postrel, so there's no real tradeoff), but for those that are, pretending otherwise is a disservice. I don't see anything unlibertarian in pointing that out (neither Patri nor Andy are suggesting that we, say, tax women harder to discourage career firstism, or regulate womens' career choices, etc etc).

Brian-- Fair enough. The

Brian--

Fair enough.

The real problem as I see it is twofold. (Assuming Mom isn't independently wealthy:)

First, motherhood makes women dependent, and thus vulnerable. It doesn't help to be unprepared, skill-wise, to enter the job market if an emergency makes it necessary.

Second, an older woman without specific job skills, who has lost her first youthful attractiveness, will find it very hard to compete in the job market when she chooses to enter it after a successful (or unsuccessful) first career as a mother. Naturally a smart mom will try to fit in some skills training, and starting her own business isn't completely out of the question, either.

If the issues above can be constructively and realistically resolved, which I see no reason why they can't be, then we can get on the same page. I submit polymarriages, and other sorts of voluntary extended families, as one possible solution.

Time was, there were certain

Time was, there were certain matters into which outsiders did not intrude. Family planning was one of those matters. Today, it’s quite different. Everybody and his no-account uncle feels he has a perfect right to declaim on the progenitive choices of others. Women who’d like nothing better than to be left alone to decide such things for themselves can’t help but feel as if they’re under scrutiny by the entire world.

This is not true. Before the 1960s or so, not only was the discussion or use of birth control illegal in many parts of the US, the medical community (among others) made a deliberate effort to obscure its existence and availability. The family doctor might choose to pull aside a woman who had had a few children already and expressed an interest in not having more and explain birth control to her. There was a strong social stigma to not having children, and some of this stigma persists today. Society has always assumed both a right and an obligation to judge others' procreative choices.

Most women in today's society are caught in a double-bind: biology demands that they have children young, but the economics means that providing for children while they're young can be difficult, and they will almost certainly be able to do better later (in terms of not only basic necessities, but also things like being able to afford better schooling, etc.). Social aspects of work compound this: not only is ageism real (a 30-year-old or 40-year-old applying for an entry-level position is often treated worse than a 22-year-old, even if they have the same amount of education and experience), but because of seniority systems and the way job skills work, there's an increasing returns curve for working. If you spend 40 years working over your lifetime, you will gain much more income than someone who only works 20 years.

I think that in some of the previous comments, there's an implicit assumption that women will be the ones to handle the bulk of the childcare. Certainly, only women can carry children, and if they and their partners want to breastfeed, it's difficult for them to support that and most careers at the same time. However, there's no reason men can't care for elementary-school-age children as well as women can (at the very least, they can perform all the typical tasks as well). However, this too has economic costs: if the woman has taken time off for child-bearing and the man has not, he will, other factors being equal, earn more income per time than she would, if he quit his job to care for the children while she went back to work. So while sharing the burden distributes the costs of child-bearing more evenly, it doesn't eliminate them.

I personally think that we need to move to a different attitude towards work as a society, but that is obviously something individuals can do nothing about.