I’m continuing today with Robert Verbruggen’s accurate and refreshing analysis of data on men’s and women’s work time, both paid and unpaid (IFS, 6/11/19). Here’s a quotation regarding men’s and women’s preferences that I included in Saturday’s post:
As David Barash put it in his book Out of Eden, “there is no society in which men do more fathering than women do mothering.” And as Steve Stewart-Williams noted in The Ape That Understood the Universe, it is far more common not just among humans but in nature writ large for females to be the sex that invests more in children. The reasons for this are obvious and many. The mother is always present at a child’s birth, for instance, making maternal bonding an especially reliable way to ensure a kid is taken care of; moms also can be sure that the children they deliver are their own, and thus don’t risk “wasting” (in evolutionary terms) their parental investments on a child who doesn’t share their genes. At a minimum, we shouldn’t find it surprising or offensive if women indicate a greater desire to spend time with their children, even if it costs them at work. And they do.
It is inherently unlikely that human females in the 21st century would behave very differently from human females of times gone by. And sure enough, they don’t. Women, like the females of essentially every other social mammal, tend to prefer caring for children than taking on the more traditionally masculine role of resource provider. Needless to say, humans are extremely varied, so some women prefer exactly that, but overall and overwhelmingly, they don’t. Indeed, as Verbruggen later points out, the more prosperous and freer the society, the more women tend to hew to their traditional roles. Unlike other species, we can pretend that we’re not mostly expressions of our evolved biology, but a close look at what we actually do tells us otherwise.
Here though, Verbruggen’s train leaves the tracks for a bit.
Years ago, women were all but forced to stay at home while men worked, but this changed dramatically in the middle of the 20th century, and women flooded into the workforce until the turn of the millennium.No, women were not “all but forced to stay at home.” The reality is that, until the mid-1930s, the United States was an agrarian nation, i.e. more people lived on farms than in cities. In fact, it was one of the major changes wrought by the Great Depression that, for the first time in our history, that wasn’t true. The precipitous drop in prices for agricultural commodities forced an unprecedented number of people off their farms and into cities.
That means that, prior to that time, most women lived on farms and the idea that farm women didn’t work is both untrue and absurd. Meanwhile, in the cities, countless women worked at a wide variety of jobs. They did so because men’s wages were often insufficient to support their families. Women were not forced to refrain from gainful employment.
Second, women didn’t all of a sudden “flood” the workplace. In 1950, 33% of women between the ages of 16 and 65 were in the workforce. By 1970, the number had risen to 44%. Today, it’s about 56%. In short, it’s been a gradual, albeit continual, increase in women’s workforce participation. That stopped several years ago and, as Verbruggen points out, along with men’s, women’s workforce participation rate has reversed slightly.
Throughout that time and up to this very minute, men have always been more likely to work for pay than have women. That’s all down to their differing preferences.
And the gains to female employment stalled at a level at which men are still more likely to work than women. Among those 25–54, nearly 90% of men but only 75% of women are in the labor force.Plus,
There’s additional insight in opinion polls asking women about their “ideal” work situation, which can tell us if the nation’s mothers do somehow have a repressed desire to do much more for GDP than they already do. In general, per a recent IFS/Wheatley Institution survey, just 28% of moms want to work full-time, 40% part-time, and 23% not at all (with the remainder saying they’re not sure).Other surveys, like one done for Forbes several years ago, show that over 60% of working women – whether mothers or not – want to work less than they do. And when it comes to the values of the general public, the same holds true.
Only 12% of the public thinks full-time work is ideal for moms, while 70% thinks it ideal for dads.Stated another way, after 50 years of hectoring by feminists to turn away from children and family and toward the workplace, women have overwhelmingly said “no thanks.” Women work and earn because it’s the responsible thing to do. They well understand that the rent has to be paid and food set on the table. But, where possible, their preference is to care for their children and their house. Verbruggen makes the point:
A goal of pushing moms to do more at the office and less with the kids goes against the preferences of a lot of those very moms.A few people will respond to these crystal-clear numbers with the claim that women are simply the witless dupes of a heartless and all-powerful patriarchy that seeks the subjugation of women. For my part, I respect women far more. I know women to be fully capable of ascertaining their own needs and desires and acting on them.
The upshot of all this being that men’s greater workforce participation and earnings provide the funds that allow women to act on their preference for childcare. That, plus fathers’ increased time spent in caring for their children add up to a pretty flattering picture of fathers, which is what Verbruggen’s article is all about. Good on him.