Birds and Bees
As we approach the end of the weaning process and Lily starts to exclusively eat “big people” food, I have a confession to make. I don’t have breasts. I couldn’t have fed my daughter at all for the first six months of her life if not for the assistance of modern technology, and even with a one-year-old nursing remained invaluable.
The importance of the mammary glands should not be underestimated. It is only recently in human history that formula has been developed as a real viable substitute for breast milk. Bottle feeding itself is also a novel development, one that has been absolutely essential to my ability to act as a primary caregiver.
Beyond nourishment, nursing is the parent’s ace in the hole to soothe a fussy baby. When it is 3 a.m. and Lily wakes up screaming, I have to take the time to pick up the baby, go to the fridge, make the food, and even then it doesn’t guarantee that she will go back to sleep. Alyssa, on the other hand, can roll out of bed and soothe the baby back to sleep with only the accouterments that the good Lord has given her.
I’m using this example to demonstrate a larger point: gender roles evolved as a biological and practical necessity, and it is primarily thanks to technological advancement that gender roles in parenthood are no longer as fixed as they once were. Simply continuing the human species (the highest biological function of life in my opinion) has required the adoption of specialized roles for the sexes since the very dawn of Man: hundreds of thousands of years.
Even today, there are still some basic biological differences that cannot be eliminated through technology. Women give birth. Men do not. That act alone (and the nine months leading up to it) puts an insane amount of strain on a body. You can say all you want about the importance of government-mandated paternity leave, but it won’t change the simple fact that two days after a child is born, the father’s body is physically able to work and the mother’s body is not. Heck, I was just in the room with my wife when she gave birth and I’m a little traumatized. I can’t express how impressed I am with what women endure on that front, and how physically demanding (and painful) that can be. Kudos to you, ladies, you are the real MVPs.
A Political Aside
While I’m on the subject, though, here is a brief breakdown of my thoughts on government-mandated maternity and paternity leave. First of all, there is a big difference between thinking something is a good idea and thinking it should be mandated by the U.S. Federal government. I think watching Winnie the Pooh with my daughter is a great idea, in fact, we are doing it right now while I type this. Government mandated Winnie the Pooh, on the other hand, is shockingly dystopian.
Likewise, when a former co-worker told me that my old boss only gave him a day off for the birth of his first child, I balked. I told him I would have quit over that one. I don’t think, however, that the government should levy a fine or worse on the business. Nor do I think it is my job as a third party to fight my friend’s battles for him, or make him quit over the issue. What would be a deal breaker to one person is often an acceptable sacrifice to another.
This is the core of the issue. When the government mandates something like maternity or paternity leave, what they are really saying is that no employee should be allowed to choose to work without taking such leave as compensation. You are taking away the freedom of not only the employer but also of the employee. For many people, leave and time off is more important. For others, though, the pay is more important. What’s more, those who need the money the most are often the poorest employees with the least amount of skill. Mandatory leave policies are in essence forcing these people out of certain positions, whether they decide to have children or not.
Maternity leave, in particular, is shockingly anti-feminist in that it puts working women without children at a significant disadvantage. By mandating maternity leave the government is forcing all employers to take on a potential liability whenever they hire a woman. Maternity leave is a cost, therefore the business must consider the probability of incurring the cost when making hires. A man who has zero percent chance of taking maternity leave is obviously preferable to a woman of the same qualifications. In order for the risk to be worth it, the woman must agree to a lower wage than the man, even if the woman never intends to have children. No amount of anti-discrimination enforcement can make this reality go away: it is not logistically feasible for the government to examine every single hiring or wage change, let alone in real time. The cost of attempting such a massive regulatory organization would be incalculable.
Extending government-mandated leave to include paternity leave, or mandating “family leave” as they call it, substitutes one problem for an even greater one. Ignoring for a second that men are much less likely to take parental leave even when it is offered, family leave seeks to avoid disadvantaging women by hobbling men in equal measure. Allow me to explain.
In real terms, mandated parental leave policies reduce wages. The reason should be easy enough to understand: when a company has to offer a person three months paid time off, they cannot afford to pay them as much. You can’t pay the person the same amount for less work and mandated leave creates the possibility of an employee doing less work than they would otherwise do. If total days worked per year is roughly the value an employee brings to the company, and you reduce that by three months, well you reduced the value of the employee. Thought of another way, you increase the cost of the employee to the employer: The employer now has to pay three more months worth of wages per employee for the same amount of work. Thus, the nominal wages (i.e. money payment) must decrease to compensate for this.
As the cost of labor increases, certain transactions (jobs) are no longer economically feasible. There are only two ways for an employer to absorb the cost of mandated leave: by taking that cost out of the employee’s nominal wages or by increasing the price of the goods being sold. You can’t legally decrease nominal wages below the minimum wage, and you can’t practically lower it below the lower limit of wages for that job. Likewise, you can’t increase the price of a good above the upper limit of what demand will allow. In most cases even a small increase in price will reduce demand to the extent as to make the price increase meaningless: if fewer people buy a more expensive product then it is basically a wash. In situations where the cost of paid parental leave can not be absorbed, the jobs cannot exist and those businesses will fail (if they are ever undertaken to begin with). This would most likely occur in low-skilled, low wage jobs, the jobs that are most vulnerable to automation. In other words, it would hurt poor people the most.
Okay, so most people take a pay cut, some entrepreneurs won’t be able to start up new businesses (retarding job creation), and some poor people just got priced out of a job and onto welfare. No big deal right? Well on top of all that, government-supported leave policies could increase female unemployment and “reduce professional opportunities for women,” according to a study by Cato Institute. I recommend reading the full study, but certainly, the potential to create a new glass ceiling alone should be enough to give proponents of these policies pause.
These side effects of government-supported leave policies should come as no surprise. In reality, as alluded to before, women take these benefits more than men. So even when the leave is offered to both parties, these policies are going to put women at a disadvantage. The data seems to agree: even in “egalitarian” Nordic countries where paid leave is mandated by the government, women are represented much less at the highest levels of business than in the US (in the US 14.6% of women are employed as managers compared to 4.2% in Sweden). When California instituted its leave policies unemployment among child-bearing age women rose by 5-20%. Overall female unemployment is lower in the US than in other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries with government-supported leave. So yeah, if you believe in egalitarianism between the genders and giving women an equal opportunity to pursue careers then you probably should oppose these government policies.
On the philosophical level, a government telling private businesses how to operate in the name of the common good is a, if not the core tenant of fascism. Remember that the term fascism used to have a meaning other than just “someone who I disagree with politically.” It referred to a form of government, adopted by the Italians under Benito Mussolini, where the central government heavily regulates private individuals and private enterprises which are subservient to the State. Unlike socialism, property remains privately owned, yet the government still exerts a great deal of control over it. The basic economic philosophy of Fascism is that private businesses can and should be coerced by the State into actions to benefit the public good. Does that sound familiar?
But Anyway, As I Was Saying
Yes, it is good for women to be free to choose to pursue careers. It is also good for women to be able to choose to have families. Heck, it is awesome that many women can have both careers and families, just as it is great that many men can have both careers and families. You won’t find me arguing against granting women equal rights and treatment under the law as men, quite the contrary.
At the same time, though, things do not happen in a vacuum. A mother’s experience when having a child is different than a father’s. It is absurd, therefore, to assume that the effects of having a child on other aspects of life (i.e. the impact on one’s career) would be the same for both men and women. This is just one example of how, in the quest for equality among the sexes, the fundamental difference between men and women is sometimes lost. Remember, sexual equality does not mean the same thing as sexual equivalence.
Frankly, I’m amazed at what the female body is capable of. Over the course of a mere nine months, it is able to take a few bits of genetic material, some everyday food and nourishment, and then build it into an autonomous human being. That is crazy when you think about it. It is a thing that we still haven’t been able to accomplish through scientific intellect and technology; we aren’t even close. As a man, that is something my body simply was not built to do, and I accept that.
Bottom line: there are some consistent differences between all men and all women. We learned about some, but not all, of them in health class. These differences, in general, add up to make it easier for women to stay at home and raise a child and men to go to work and earn sustenance for the family. We’ve established this.
That isn’t to say, however, that all men and all women are the same. What might be right for one man, might not be right for another, and the same goes for women. Some women want to go back to work as soon as they can after having a child. Some want to stay home with the kid for six months, a year, or forever. Some men would rather be in the office than present at the birth of their child, some would rather spend as much time on leave as possible. Each situation is different, so let’s not judge lest we be judged.
So Why Be A Stay-At-Home Dad?
So with all the reasons for the woman to stay at home and the man to go out to work, you may be wondering why my wife and I chose to do the opposite. Admittedly, I do have an affinity for doing things the hard way. In this case, however, I don’t think it is reducible to simply taking the road “less traveled.”
The primary thing enabling our family to live with this model is without a doubt that I married an awesome woman. Alyssa is college educated, successful, and driven. Not only does she command a relatively high wage for her age and experience, but she also has the skills necessary to negotiate with employers. She is in a position where she is powerful enough to demand that her employer provide her the flexibility and support necessary to be a working mother. If one employer won’t, there are plenty that will. In fact, most companies are trending toward providing better parental benefits of their own accord, because they recognize how much their employees value them, and how necessary they are to attracting the top talent.
Secondly, I decided to choose a career path where work can be done almost entirely from home. When I went freelance, I knowingly took a pay cut. The decrease in pay is compensated by an increase in flexibility. In addition to working at my desk, while Lily naps or enjoys watching Winnie the Pooh, I can increase or decrease my workload as is necessary and set my own schedule. If the need arises, I can even rejoin the full-time workforce with much greater ease since I have not had any lapse in my resume. This is a position which while it does not maximize my earning potential, it does maximize my ability to respond to unforeseen circumstances. I could not do any of this if I worked a shift on a factory floor.
While those two factors make it possible to operate as a stay-at-home dad, they are not alone sufficient to make it worth the sacrifices necessary. What really does it for us is simply that this is what my wife and I want out of life. I want to spend my days taking care of my daughter. I’m not a very ambitious person to start with. The ability to be the person I want to be, living by my moral standards, and enjoying the type of life I freely choose has always been more important to me than any monetary or professional success. In the immortal words of NOFX, “Lowest totem-pole position is where I’d rather stay than be like you.”
While my wife is more ambitious than I am, she is certainly not the kind of person who would want to focus solely on her career, working 60 hour weeks. She loves being a mom and being able to spend a great deal of time with our daughter. She is happy to be able to have both a career and family and appreciates each part of her life for what it is. Sure, times can be tough, but we always manage to get through it together.
I am grateful to live in a country where I have the freedom to make these choices myself. I’m thankful that the United States of America is as free-market as it is, and think we should be moving toward truly free markets, not away from them. You see, where most people view free-market capitalism as a system which pushes people into the most economically advantageous decisions and encourages greed, I see it as a system which gives people the freedom to make decisions which are economically disadvantageous but advantageous in other ways. I believe when one is allowed to freely make choices with due consideration to the real cost, they are better positioned to choose that which is truly important to them personally and also gain a deep appreciation of it. I want to be free to bear the full cost of my choices with my head held high. I guess that’s what makes me different.