Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Economics of “Having It All”

One of the many responses to Dr. Slaughter’s article was by economist and mom, Adriene Hill.  Her response was couched in economic terms and appeared in the radio program “Marketplace.”  Her response is available at the following link:

As a tax lawyer, I appreciate the economic perspective Ms. Hill provides.  I also appreciate the gist of her comments which focused on prioritization.  She agreed with Dr. Slaughter that women can’t have it all, so she advised prioritizing “whatever gives us greatest value.”  Later she equates “greatest value” with “what makes us happiest.”  She concludes for herself that being a mom is where she is “both providing the greatest value and obtaining [her] greatest joy.” 

Three observations about Ms. Hill’s take on the work-family debate.

First, I am not sure that “greatest value” necessarily equates to greatest joy or happiness in all cases.  The ideal is that it does.  But the reality does not always match that ideal.  As a Christian, I think I’d agree that we ought to put our time where there is greatest value, but life is not just a constant party.   God gives us gifts and talents.  He gives them to us to use for his purposes to help achieve his plan for his children.  But there are bumps in the road and sacrifice may be required.  Following whatever whim puts a smile on your face momentarily is not necessarily going to achieve the greatest value in the long-run and be obedient to God’s plan.

Second, Ms. Hill concludes that she finds her “greatest value” and “greatest joy” by “[b]eing just ‘mom.’”  Earlier in her essay, Ms. Hill notes that she was divorced, had four kids and worked full time as an economist in our nation’s capital.  It thus appears she is spending most of her waking hours on her economist job, which by her own description is not where her “greatest value” lies.  That seems to be a contradiction.  But one can glean that she has no financial option but to work full-time to support herself and her children.  In purely economic terms, this would seem to be a misallocation of resources.  If she truly has greatest value in being a mom, her time working as an economist seems misused.  From an economic perspective, her time is better spent on parenting.  But again, there is ambiguity in what she means as “value” in this context.

Third, I worry about Ms. Hill’s assertion that her “greatest joy” by “[b]eing just ‘mom.’”  I don’t know her.  Maybe this is an accurate description of her true feelings.  But on the other hand, maybe she is simply conforming (consciously or not) to societal expectations of women.  We expect women to be nurturing and love children.  Even in 2012, even in the West, this is a deeply entrenched gendered preconception.  Most mere mortals want to conform to some degree.  We want to be liked and approved by others.  It is very difficult for us to say or do things we know others will condemn, even if it reflects our reality.  For this reason, I worry that Ms. Hill's assertion about her "greatest joy" may not reflect her reality.  Maybe that is just what she thinks everyone wants her to say.

1 Corinthians 12:4-7

There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries and the same Lord; and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good.


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