April 21, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
One of the key indicators of the status of fathers’ rights and their ability to achieve equal parenting post-divorce is the level of workforce participation by women. The more mothers opt for staying home with children, the more fathers must opt for paid work. And when those facts come before family court judges, mothers receive sole or primary custody essentially as a matter of course.
Now, that’s not the way it should be, but it’s the way it is. Amazingly, courts construe a father’s financial support of his family as a nullity when it comes to ordering custody. Just why judges believe that diapering the baby is a worthwhile act, but earning the money to buy the diapers is not, has always escaped me. But they do, and in states that require judges to consider statutory factors in deciding custody, who paid the bills is never one of those factors.
Fathers express their love for and commitment to their families by providing for them. They do that to a much greater degree than do mothers. But mothers’ typical parenting behavior receives its reward in the overwhelming custody they receive while fathers parenting is given the cold shoulder.
So, when it comes to child custody, as things stand now, it’s in fathers’ interest for mothers to do paid work. That not only opens up opportunities for them to hands-on parenting, it also brings in money to the family that otherwise would be dad’s burden to earn. And of course if the marriage breaks down, fathers with wives who’ve worked and earned stand a better chance of maintaining real relationships with their children.
That means this article and the facts it states are cause for concern (The Fiscal Times, 4/17/14). It reports that women’s workplace involvement, never robust, is now lower than in recent years and trending downward. (Recall that the workplace involvement rate is not the same as employment rate. The former is the percentage of people of working age who are either employed or looking for work. The latter is the number of people in the workforce with jobs.)
One tiny problem may be holding women back: they are leaving the workforce in record numbers. The number of women age 20 and older not in the labor pool, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has soared from 40 million in 2000 to nearly 49 million today; another 315,000 called it quits last month. The participation rate of women in the workplace has dropped from a high of 60.7 percent in 1999 to 58.8 percent today. By contrast, some 72.5 percent of men are either working or looking for a job.
And of course men’s workforce participation took a big hit in 2008-09 when the Great Recession hit jobs usually held by men particularly hard. So the divergence between male and female labor force participation is actually increasing.
It’s been three decades since women gained parity with men in college enrolment and since then they’ve greatly surpassed them. Today, some 58% of college enrollees are women. We’re always told that having a college degree is the surest way to get a good job, earn a good living and save for retirement. The assumption that claim is based on of course is that the people with the degrees actually use them in the workplace. What Liz Peek’s Fiscal Times article tells us is that that assumption is flawed. Women are educating themselves as much as men ever did, but they’re not behaving the same. Now we know.
So why is it that women aren’t seizing their opportunity to work and earn? As usual, we don’t have to look past their parenting habits to find the answer.
There are numerous explanations put forth to explain this trend. Most tend to identify two categories of workplace drop-outs: the first includes young mothers who are not highly educated and therefore not likely to earn enough to pay for childcare. Economically, these women are better off staying home.
The second (and more problematic) group consists of highly educated women who drop out (or “opt-out”) when they have children, even though they have the skills and income necessary to hire childcare.
In other words, for both the well-educated and the not-so-well-educated, the answer is the same; women are opting out of work to care for children. Peek pronounces experts “surprised” at this, but they shouldn’t be. The notion that the only reason women didn’t work and earn equally to men was the jack boot of the Patriarchy was always absurd. That women are better educated and have more opportunities than ever to work and earn, but are choosing not to, is proof positive that women value some things more than going to the office or the plant.
A sensible view of women’s behavior has told us this all along. After all, stay-at-home mothers outnumber stay-at-home fathers by over 30:1. That’s a minimum of about six million mothers who care for children and contribute nothing to the family finances. In reality there are far more whose main job is mother but, because they do generate some income, fall outside the Census Bureau’s definition of “stay-at-home parent.”
And of course study after study shows women opting out of work and into childcare. Only the thoroughly indoctrinated could know those statistics but fail to grasp their obvious implications. Mothers tend to opt for as much parenting time as possible because they feel a deep connection to their children and find great personal satisfaction caring for them.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with that; indeed, it seems like a healthy choice to balance work and family, to not spend one’s entire life at the office. But our society has bet a lot of money on this particular social experiment. We’ve bet a lot of our educational dollars on the female horse. So far, women are still content to come in second behind an ever-dwindling number of men.
Economists consider the defections costly for the country; we need highly talented and trained workers.
Into the bargain, Vanderbilt Law School professor Joni Hersch has some data that help explain the “glass ceiling,” i.e. the failure of many women to get into the ranks of top corporate officers.
She looks at female graduates of our top universities — those presumably who have the best shot at shattering the glass ceiling — and finds that once they have children, they are more likely to quit their jobs than are women who graduated from less selective schools…
[T]he presence of children is associated with far lower labor market activity among married elite graduates. Most women eventually marry and have children, and the net effect is that labor market activity is on average lower among elite graduates than among those from less selective institutions.”
Perhaps most astonishing is that only 35 percent of women who have earned MBAs after getting a bachelor’s degree from a top school are working full time, compared to 66 percent from second-tier schools.
It was just last fall that we got the breathless news that, in some 40% of households, women were the chief breadwinner. That datum was ballyhooed far and wide with commentators proclaiming a brave new world of women’s empowerment. Too bad the number obscures more than it reveals.
As I reported here, Professor Margaret Ryznar reported the truth behind the figure. About five-eighths of that 40% are the chief wage earners in their households because they’re the only wage earners. They’re single mothers with children and, since they’re the only adults in the household, they’re the chief wage earners. But when we look at married couples who both work, only 15% have women earning more than their male partners. The figure in 1960 was 11%. In short, there’s been very little change in women’s earning patterns in over 50 years of Second Wave Feminism. The 40% figure is almost entirely an artifact of the dramatic increase in single-motherhood, a dubious achievement at best.
The movement for children having real relationships with their fathers after Mommy and Daddy have split up won’t be held hostage to mothers’ decisions about whether to work outside the home. Too much social science points to the need of children to have both parents in their lives for us to simply hand the decision to mothers. Indeed, the rise of fathers’ rights may prove the driving force behind getting mothers out of the house and into the workplace.
But mothers opting out of paid work won’t make the goal of equal parenting easier to attain. And it won’t help an economy that’s already struggling to remain competitive on the world stage.
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