Friday, July 6, 2012

Homemakers and the economic downturn

Reading The Thinking Housewife I've frequently come across an opinion that I've occasionally thought but rarely expressed - that even if a woman is fully skilled and qualified to work at a career or profession that it is economically beneficial for her to remain at home. With unemployment at depressingly high levels we really don't need another warm body applying for that HR/data entry/managerial position. Women say they can't afford not to work when really the uncomfortable truth is that their uncles, brothers, sons, and even their single/divorced/widowed woman friends are the ones who can't afford it. It's simple supply and demand. If there are a pool of 20 male pharmacists in a given region and 10 female pharmacists enter that pool you've just increased the number of applicants for any open position. We'll further assume at least half of them (10 men/5 women) are highly qualified. A savvy hiring manager looks at the employment statistics and surmises that he can take his pick and probably not have to pay or treat them terribly well because (as he's seen during the application process) there are plenty more highly qualified pharmacists out there looking for a job. Let's further assume that 2 of those men retire and 8 of those women get married and become housewives. You've now eliminated 1/3 of the labor pool. Supply and demand tells us that for each of the remaining 20 pharmacists the demand for their labor has increased. When demand increases an employer also has increasing incentives to offer competitive (read: higher) wages and a stable, respectful work environment. In short, employee acquisition and retainment becomes more important. Wages are higher and jobs become more secure. For women moaning about how it's so difficult to be a housewife or full time mom, that means their husbands will have more income and better job security. In short, they benefit.

Now some people are going to say this is overly simplistic, and I realize that it doesn't take into account all the different factors in a given job market. Some jobs (oil rig tech) will always be dominated by men while other jobs (elementary education) will probably retain a fair number of women, which, incidentally doesn't bother me in the least. This isn't a screed again women working outside the home. There are plenty of women employed for perfectly legitimate reasons. However, when you take into account the larger job market, it's generally true that when people remove themselves from the employment pool in large numbers the price of a given person's labor will rise. Since I believe women should be generally home focused it makes sense that married women with and without children can benefit their communities by freeing up jobs for men. Mothers will naturally have their hands full, but I believe that women without children can likewise find fruitful occupation.

That brings me to the homemaker part of this post's title. There were several places in which Laura Wood at Thinking Housewife has vigorously defended the title of housewife in general and, in some cases, specifically said she prefers "housewife" to "homemaker." The argument itself isn't important, but it made me think about why I always refer to myself as "occupation: homemaker" and never as "housewife." First, I like the idea of having a home. We've all heard people repeat folksy quips about the difference between a house and home. They're cliched, but actually they're pretty good cliques for the most part. A well decorated house isn't necessarily a home. A house in chaotic order isn't necessarily a home. The word "home" embodies a quality of warmth, safety, and generosity that doesn't necessarily follow from the blue lines on an architect's drawings. I also like the active emphasis of the term "homemaker." It reminds me that I should be actively engaged in creating something beautiful, respectable, and worthwhile. My goal is one of those essential intangibles like grace or charity that are primarily conspicuous by their absence. Far from being a brainless occupation it requires character, intelligence, generosity, diligence, grace - in sum the total of a woman's resources. It can't be done by rote as doing it well requires careful study of the people who enter your home and the wise ministering of time and resources. This all sounds terribly high and lofty as I'm writing, and even though I'm describing aspirations instead of accomplished deeds I still think I'm saying something true. What we do matters terribly. It matters to the men who are trying to provide for their families, and it matters to families. I even think it matters to couples of all ages who aren't raising children even if we've forgotten what roles those families used to fill in our communities. For all those reason I want to be a homemaker. Some days I'm a lazy homemaker, but every time I write a blog post like this or spend a day painting the living room or anything of that nature it solidifies my resolve. This stuff matters.

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