An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Stay-at-Home vs. Working Moms

Stay-at-Home vs. Working Moms
A couple of years ago, Julie Beck, the LDS General Relief Society President, gave a General Conference address admonishing “mothers who know” to stay home, care for their own children, and keep a clean house. The Mormon blogosphere exploded with criticism and defense of Sister Beck’s remarks. Because I currently live in a neighborhood of mostly stay-at-home-moms, I thought the issue had been resolved in favor of SAHM.
A couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to hear two young mothers with part time jobs comment during enrichment meeting that their husbands wanted them to go back to work fulltime and were willing to help out with the kids and household chores. Both were mothers of toddlers and preferred not to take on full time employment. Still, they sympathized with their husbands who wanted the security of a two-income family.
Even with careful management, a single income doesn’t always stretch to cover house payments and keep food on the table and shoes on the feet. And many formerly secure jobs now shake in the winds of recession. Opting for the financial stability of two incomes makes sense for many families.
Two fulltime jobs creates strain for most families. An easier situation is for one parent to work part time. Here’s where education and training pay off. A person with a degree or specialized skill works fewer hours for the same or more money than a less skilled worker. After her first child’s birth, my daughter, a social worker, worked ten hours a week at $20 an hour. She would have had to work full time at minimum wage to earn $200 a week. Just think how few hours she could have worked if we’d sent her to dental school!
Regardless of what Church leaders preach from the pulpit, couples have to weigh their options and decide what works best for their own family. One talented young couple I know agreed (before marriage—after the ceremony is not the best time to negotiate) that each needed time to pursue creative endeavors and that they would take turns. He provides the major income with his teaching job and she stayed home with the preschoolers for four years while he taught and wrote his first book. With his book published, he took over more child care responsibility freeing her to teach art.
A couple in our neighborhood agreed that he would work full time and complete his degree with evening classes while she stayed home with preschoolers. With his degree completed, he now cares for the kids while she is takes evening classes to earn her own degree. Will they be criticized by ward members for this decision? Obviously their schedule for the next four years precludes his accepting church callings that include week night meetings.
When I worked full time with a family, I felt no support and a lot of criticism from the Church. Has this improved for young families? Is criticism for working moms now limited to mothers of preschoolers? Are men criticized at church or in the community if their wives need to pull in some extra income?

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Comments on: "Stay-at-Home vs. Working Moms" (4)

  1. Here’s where education and training pay off. A person with a degree or specialized skill works fewer hours for the same or more money than a less skilled worker.

    I think that’s much less true today then it has been historically. The cost of college has increased much faster than the wages of college graduates. He’s some eye opening analysis: http://www.robertsonfoundation.com/?p=12.

    Killer quote: Most surprising was White females which ranked at the bottom for financial gain at all colleges. At private colleges the average White woman has a negative return indicating that after a 40 year work career they will have less money than their high school counterpart after deducting college expenses and financing costs.

    It’s a terrible idea for a woman who wants to stay at home raising children to get a college degree unless she is able to get a scholarship or her parents are the sort of chumps who will pay the entire cost. Ask yourself this question: with a minimum wage of 6 dollars and a “college graduate” wage of 20 dollars, how many 10 hour weeks would your social worker daughter have to work in order to recoup the cost of college? Years right? Now do the math again with a minimum wage of 8 dollars, college expenses more than twice as high and a “college graduate” wage that’s still just 20 dollars.

    This is why higher education is a bubble.

    • Thanks for the link–the author presents a good argument against the College Board statistics. Well worth a look for anyone in or contemplating college.

      As the author says, it is talking about the mythical “average” student. My daughter was paying $4.00/hour for baby sitting while working for $20/hr. She would have gained less than $2.00 an hour if she’d been working for the then current minimum wage.
      amj

      • As the author says, it is talking about the mythical “average” student.

        Ok, let’s not take an average student. Let’s use her and today’s tuition numbers.

        The local university (UW) estimates that the yearly cost of schooling for a student living with her parents is $14,532. That gives us a 5 year cost of $72,660.

        A 30 year AAA muni bond currently yields 4.96%. Assuming a 50 year work week, skipping school and investing the proceeds translates to a $7.20 an hour, 10 hours a week part time job. Add this to an $8 per hour minimum wage job and your clever college graduate daughter is less than $50/week ahead, not counting the tax benefits of buying muni bonds.

        For the average student it’s even worse. The National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges estimates that the lifetime benefit of a college degree at current tuition prices is a mere $121,539. Assuming a 40 year carreer with a 40 hour week and 2 weeks of vacation, that’s a little over a buck fifty an hour. And still tuition prices continue to rise faster than wages. It will be a negative number before long.

        My daughter was paying $4.00/hour for baby sitting while working for $20/hr. She would have gained less than $2.00 an hour if she’d been working for the then current minimum wage.

        Yes, daycare costs make being a working mother with no nearby family a terrible proposition. Add in taxes and transportation costs and many 2 income families aren’t actually in any better shape than they would be with one.

        Traditionally (and by traditionally, I mean from before the advent of written history to the industrial revolution) women with small children contributed to the economics of the household by manufacturing textiles. Spinning and weaving are perfectly suited for women with child care responsibilities since both are easy to resume after interruption and safe for toddlers to be around. Spinning can even be done while walking or talking.

        With the invention of the power loom, this domestic economy collapsed and women with small children began to become a financial drain on the household. Clearly the solution is to burn the factories and smash the looms. The Luddites were right all along.

      • Sure glad I didn’t live when my only occupational choices were spinning and weaving!

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