(Politician claims that working mothers are the cause of educational decline in the U.S.)
When my husband quit his job to go to law school full time, he used to joke that he was now “unemployed.” As an (annoying) labor economist, I would jump into the conversation and tell him that, since he was not looking for work, he was not, technically, “unemployed”, but was, rather, “out of the labor force”, a designation used for anyone who did not desire to work in the labor market for pay, such as those who are full-time parents or those who are retired. This distinction came to mind recently when I heard the comments of a politician (thank you, MomsRising.org, for alerting me to this) who is blaming the sometimes weak educational outcomes of the U.S. on the fact that many women now work for pay in the labor force. I was appalled to hear what he had to say and was reminded of the bumper sticker that says “every mom is a working mom”
So that is it, I guess. According to this politician, I am part of the cause of the decline in education in the U.S. Never mind that I spend the majority of my working life educating people, and often spend extra time working to help people who have gaps in their pre-college education. Apparently, since I work for pay, I am to blame. That is, according to this politician, who I suspect many would believe is in need of some additional education himself.
I thought about his comments for a minute, and two people came to mind. One is a neighbor with three children who is a full-time parent. She grew up near nature, and makes an extra effort to teach her children about the natural world around them. She teaches them about the birds and squirrels in their neighborhood, and even about the ducks and deer that are frequent visitors. She recently found a large pile of solid animal waste, and she was able to identify the animal that left it with a little help from the internet, leaving the children in the neighborhood in a fit of giggles because this one mom was taking “poop” so seriously. The gift that she is giving to her children by being there to teach them about the world is enormous, and its effect is clearly seen in the skills her children have acquired by her constant interaction.
However, I am also reminded of my sister, a woman who worked full-time while raising her two children. She made a point of interacting with her children as much as possible, showing them continuously how much she loved them. Even as babies, she spoke to them as if they could understand her, and it was not long before they were speaking to her with fluency well beyond their years. She worked full time and brought in a substantial portion of her family’s income, something that she continued to do until just weeks before she died. Indeed, she was in the hospital room where she died before her husband assumed responsibility for her family’s health insurance. I cannot believe that my sister did not give her children the best educational start possible, and the fact that she worked for pay in their early years did nothing to hinder that start.
So, here we are, with evidence of both sides of the argument. What am I to do? There is only one thing to do, since, after all, I am an economist who can actually search for evidence. I spoke to my co-author, and we are looking for data that will let us test this hypothesis empirically. Who knows, the results may even be publishable in themselves. I’ll keep everyone posted.
…Wishing any of my readers who are dads a very Happy Fathers' Day!