Monday, October 25, 2010

"Rich Mom, Poor Mom" article in New York Times glosses over economic reality.

Nancy Folbre, a University of Massachusetts economics professor, writes in the New York Times:

The Mama Grizzlies running for office this fall oppose increased government spending, including programs that could help parents balance paid employment with family work.

Perhaps increased economic inequality in the United States means that individuals running for office don’t have a very clear understanding of the problems facing people in different circumstances than their own. In particular, they don’t fully appreciate the difficulties many mothers face holding down difficult jobs while caring for young children.

You might assume that highly paid women suffer a bigger economic penalty than other women when they have a baby because, after all, they have more earnings to lose.

In a startling new look at the “motherhood penalty,” however, two sociologists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Michelle J. Budig and Melissa J. Hodges, show that mothers with lower earnings suffer the biggest percentage loss in hourly wages.
Folbre criticizes other people for lacking a full understanding of what it's really like to be a mother.

What I quoted is a small portion of the whole article. If you click the link and read the whole thing, do you notice what Folbre never mentions?

Hint: It's a hugely important factor in how much money a person actually has, which is not the same as how much money a person earns.

As comment #4 on the article says, the article never mentions "husbands" or "fathers" or "spouses" or "families."

As Thomas Sowell says in Economic Facts and Fallacies (discussing a different issue, the gap in pay between men and women):
In principle, family responsibilities can be divided equally between husband and wife, father and mother. In practice, that has not been the norm in most places and in most periods of history. Since economic consequences follow from practices, rather than principles, the asymmetrical division of domestic responsibilities produces male-female differences in incomes . . . . Moreover, statistical records of money payments can be misleading as to economic realities. Family income is pooled income, and how it is spent, for whose benefit, does not depend on whose name is on the paycheck or paychecks, or whether one paycheck is larger than the other.
Everyone depends on other people in life. No one is just a lone individual. Your money isn't necessarily equal to the money you receive from the paycheck at your job.

All of this applies to mothers at least as much as it applies to everyone else in the world.

Are we simply not supposed to mention these basic facts? Maybe some people find them distasteful for some reason, and would rather leave them unsaid. Fine . . . but then, they shouldn't criticize other people for selectively ignoring economic realities.

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