When blue collar men are unable to find work that befits their sense of dignity, they become objects of public sympathy. When mothers of small children can’t find decent-paying jobs outside the home, they’re stigmatized and called Welfare Queens.
In both cases, it’s a matter of marginalized labor.
Women’s Unpaid Labor
Women have always worked. In the days when America was an agricultural nation, women (and children) worked in the fields or tended the animals that provided food for the family table. They also managed the household, raised the children and did all the labor that women still do in the home—unpaid.
But, as America industrialized—and particularly in times of war—women began working outside the home—for pay. And that trend has continued and broadened as the technology-driven economy becomes increasingly dependent on brain work and less dependent on brawn.
It wasn’t until 1975 that the Department of Labor began collecting and publishing data on the labor force participation of women with small children. Before that it wasn’t an issue worthy of public notice. Since that time the trend has grown, so that by 2015, the rate of participation of mothers with children under the age of three was 61.4%. For mothers with small children, work outside the home has become the statistical norm.
The Suffering Marriage Market
The so-called “marriage market” has, of course, suffered. The days of Jane Austen are long gone. Women who are financially independent do not need a man to support them. In fact, men benefit more from marriage than women.
But what does that mean for mothering? Mothers still have a hard time juggling work and family responsibilities, especially without the support of family-friendly government policies. Quality child care is very expensive (approaching $20,000 per child in some parts of the country); so much so that a mother with two children would have to think twice about working outside the home.
A Novel Proposal
So why shouldn’t blue collar men stay home and take care of the children? Why can’t they find dignity and identity in performing unpaid labor inside the home the way women have always done? Why should these men sit home and collect disability when mothers of small children are required to work?
Yes, it requires a shift in cultural thinking. But expectations have always adapted to meet economic realities. And women have borne the brunt of those shifting expectations. Maybe it’s time for men to step up to the plate.