Did The Women's Movement Hurt Women?

I just watched a positively fascinating video over at Like Merchant Ships. It's a video of a lecture done by Elizabeth Warren, author of The Two Income Trap. It's a long video...about an hour, but I really enjoyed it. It's filled with lots of **data**. Oooo baby. Those of you who know me, know how I love data. Give me some numbers...show me a graph...I love it! It's the engineer in me, what can I say?

She speaks on a topic that impacts my life every single day. She talks about how women entering the work force has changed the finances of families today.

On the surface, the women's movement was a very healthy thing. I'm all for women's equal rights, and their ability to choose to do whatever they want to do with their lives. I'm fully aware and appreciative of the efforts made by my "foremothers" to ensure my right to go to whichever college I wanted to, to choose a field of study that was typically only for the guys, and to be able to get a job in said field making really great money.

And I can also choose to stay home from the office to raise my children full time. Of course, it's financially painful...but for me and my husband it's well worth the trade-offs.

But every now and then, hubby and I look around and say to ourselves, "How is it possible that things feel 'tight' when hubby makes such good money?" Or, "How on earth do people make a go of it on less than we earn?"

And every now and then, when I really think about what it takes to raise a family in today's economy I wonder...do women really still have the ability to choose to stay home with their children if they want to? Or are they trapped? Are they forced to work, not only by their own purchasing choices, but by what's happened to our economy because women entered the professional work force in huge numbers some 30 years ago?

Before I tell you much about what Ms. Warren said, some basic info:
- She adjusted everything for inflation. So if you see numbers, don't go thinking that it's all about inflation...she essentially took inflation out of the picture so she could compare apples to apples.
- She studied only one segment of the population: a married couple with 2 children.
- The data she looked at was across the time from ~1970 to ~2003 (basically one generation)

For those of you who don't have an hour to spare, here's a list of some of my favorite points she made:
- Overall, a family's income went up, BUT men's income dropped by $800 per month! Women's incomes increased steadily over time, but men's incomes essentially dropped...or saw no increase over time as is usual.
- In 1970, families were saving roughly 11% of their incomes. In 2003, families are saving less than zero (spending more than they make).
- In the 70's, families were spending about 1/2 their income on "big" expenses (cars, taxes, child care, homes).
- In 2003, we were spending about 3/4 of our income on those same big expenses. We have less money left over after the "biggies".
- The bottom line is that now, families need two jobs to make ends meet.

You know, I always assumed that we, as a one income family, are at greater financial risk since we only have that one source of income. If hubby loses his job, we're in trouble, right? But let's assume that most 2 income families need both of those jobs, or face a financial crisis (and the statistics show that that's the case). Ms. Warren makes some really great points:

- The two income family sees twice the risk of a one income family. They see more risk, not less.
- We have a "backup" worker. If something happens to hubby or his job, I'm available to pitch in. In a two income family, both workers are already "used". If something happens to one of them or their job, they're just out the income provided by that person.
- What happens if a child gets sick? In a one income family, there is one parent available to sit by that child's bedside. In a two income family, when mom or dad goes to sit by that bedside it usually means a lost job. A lost job that was required for that family to keep their head above water.

I'm beginning to understand why she calls it the "Two Income Trap"!

And this is the most amazing statistic yet...I was shocked...ready for this?? Here it is:

This year, more families with children will file for bankruptcy than will file for divorce!!

So think about how many couples you know who have divorced. Statistically speaking, you probably know more people who have filed for bankruptcy.

Well, I've already made this post too long for most of you to still be reading. I encourage you to go check out the video (she's a great speaker), or to check out her book. I'd like to talk more about this though...what do you think of these statistics?

Becky Avella  – (6/05/2008 08:07:00 AM)  

This was really interesting....especially the part about the greater risk when you are dependent on the two salaries. Being only dependent on one gives you a back-up in emergencies....makes sense.

I definitely want to see the video. I better get off the computer NOW or I'm going to be late for Kindergarten this morning. : )

Hilty Sprouts  – (6/06/2008 08:26:00 PM)  

I understand the points that were made. They make sense and I have personally experienced feeling "trapped" by the fact that I have a good career that makes such good money. I often joke about being the "cash cow". Believe me when I say that it broke my heart to go back to work and leave my kids in daycare. I stayed home as long as I possibly could but after years of infertiity, adoption expenses, and thousands of dollars in student loans, the money simply ran out. I HAD to go back to work. I understand the problem but I see no way out and I have chosen to stop feeling sorry for myself, accept my life as it is and do the best I can. I began to see how I could bless my coworkers and make a difference in the lives of my students. I guess I chose the "bloom where you are planted" attitude.
Did the video have any suggestions on how to get out of the "trap" or did it just point out how screwed up we all are? I guess I feel a tad defensive, this is my life and I often wonder if I and women like me are being judged by others when we have to work.


Daiquiri  – (6/06/2008 09:03:00 PM)  

Hi Jen - Your comment has me concerned! I sure hope you don't have to feel defensive with me. I certainly do not have a negative opinion of women who need to go back to work after having children. Heck, I don't have a negative opinion of women who don't need to...but want to...go back to work.

And as for you personally, I commend you for working so hard to help support your family. It's obvious what a doting mom you are, and working doesn't lessen your role at home as mommy one bit.

This post wasn't about passing judgement. It was only about taking note of how choosing to go back to work because we want to has shifted (in many cases) to *needing* to go back to work due to the changes in our economy.

She didn't offer much of anything in the way of ideas to get out of the "trap"...the woman who posted the video in the first place had tons of comments saying, "yeah, interesting...but now what?!"

Hilty Sprouts  – (6/06/2008 09:26:00 PM)  

Thanks for your comment back. I really appreciate what you said. This is a topic that I think about A LOT and I think it is an area where satan likes to get a foothold and tries to trash my mind with insecurity, guilt and regret. I can't count the number of times the "what ifs" have chased around my brain!
My heart's desire is to be home and raise my kids but God would have to do a miracle. Not that he couldn't, but in the meantime "I gotta do what I gotta do"! This was one of the big reasons I decided not to have any more kids. I do not want to give birth to or adopt any more children if I can't give them my all. I have enough regrets with the two I have. I often wonder if I would have recognized that Noelle needed help sooner or could have prevented some of her attachment and anxiety problems if I had been there more for her.
Heavy, heavy stuff! Hope you don't mind my venting...I must have needed to talk!

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