Monday, May 16, 2011

State of The Nation

In the May 23rd issue of The Nation, New York Times economics writer Louis Uchitelle reports on the decline in the number of dual-earner married couples between 2007 and 2010.

Uchitelle takes particular note of married couples who find themselves relying on what had been women's "second income" jobs after men lose their places as the primary bread winners:

Meanwhile, Rhonda's long working days - she leaves at around 5 am and is gone until early evening - have altered her role in the family, not to mention his. She still views him - and he views himself - as the chief provider, if not today then in the long run, when her income, they hope, will once again become secondary.

Uchitelle describes a shift in household responsibilities, but whether or not this constitutes a shift toward gender equality is another question:

When Ruth Millkman, a sociologist at the City University of New York, noticed this role reversal in data from the 1930s, she thought it was a move toward gender equality. "But because the role reversal was strongly associated with economic deprivation, it was not welcome," Milkman says. Seventy-five years later, Keith Baudendistel certainly does not welcome it. "I want to be the head of the household again," he says, "but until that can happen, we have to manage as best we can."

I have to wonder about the hope and the expectation that life can return to what it had been. Even when men like Keith find work again, they are likely to earn less (even considerably less) than what they earned before, and it is unlikely that Rhonda's income will be "secondary" again. Their home life has been and will be transformed.

I think there might have been a moment when it looked like the financial crisis might precipitate important and meaningful changes in the way things (and people) work. It seemed like crisis might precipitate a searching of our collective souls. Question the power of financial institutions. Question the work week. Question inequalities, including gender.

Did I miss the parade?

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