The reason I ask this question is that there is an assumption that this is an undeniable privilege. Consider this comment on FSP’s blog: “I think people with a stay at home spouse should have an asterisk next to their name on their CVs and tenure documents, like baseball players who've taken steroids.”
First of all, there is no doubt that having a supportive husband has been integral to my success. I entered graduate school in 1999. My husband and I married in 2001, and had twin daughters soon afterwards. My husband is an artist and a musician, and he simply was not going to be able to earn enough in his chosen profession to pay for day care for our daughters. He did work while I was on leave from graduate school. But, when I went back to school, he stopped working. He has rarely had a full-time job since.
It did not make economic sense for my husband to work full time when we had twin infants, and less so when our third daughter was born. Putting all three children in day care would have cost between $2500 and $3000 a month and the jobs for which he qualified would have netted him about $1000 a month. As a graduate student, I was barely netting $1000 myself.
It was not until 2008 that we had all three children in free public school. At that point, my husband could have gotten full-time work. However, he did not for three main reasons: 1) In Lawrence, Kansas where we live, entry-level jobs pay very little; 2) Music and art are his passion, not working for the man; and 3) We love to travel and any job he would get would not permit us to take 4-week vacations in December and three-month vacations in May. Thus, my husband has become mostly a stay-at-home dad, although he occasionally sells jewelry, plays music, takes odd jobs, or works on our house.
In case you are wondering, we have been able to take vacations even though we have just one salary because we live fairly frugally in a low-cost area of the country. We have made vacations a priority over durable consumer goods and expensive nights out at home.
For us, his staying at home has mostly been a lifestyle decision. I have a flexible job as an academic and he has even more flexibility as a self-employed artist. I have thought a lot about the privileges it brings me (as a woman and mother) to have a husband who works as much or as little as he likes. Here are some of the things my husband does on a regular basis:
- Grocery shopping
- Picking up the kids from school and transporting them to activities
- Taking the kids to doctor and dentist appointments
- Staying home with the kids when they are ill
- Cleaning and cooking
- Yard work
- Helping kids with homework
- Getting kids dressed and groomed in the morning
- Reading to kids at night
- Paying bills and keeping track of finances
- Vacation planning
But, what about an academic who is married to a well-paid professional or even a decently-paid academic?
I do think that if my husband were able to earn a decent salary doing what he loves, he would do it. But, we simply have not been able to figure out how he could do that. And, if he were able to make a decent salary doing what he loves, then I think that we would simply pay people to help us out with the things he normally does around the house. Right?
For grocery shopping, there are grocery services. We could pay someone to transport the children to their after school activities, to clean the house, and to do the yard work. The greatest difficulty would be when one of the children falls ill. For that, one of us would have to stay home. However, the other things it seems that we could pay someone to do.
So, how much privilege is there in having a stay-at-home spouse versus a spouse with a well-paying job? Am I missing something in the equation here? Do I have privileges that a two-income household does not have?
As I mentioned above, it is clear that an academic with a stay-at-home spouse (or a working partner) has advantages over a single parent. It also is evident that there are privileges associated with having a well-paid partner as opposed to a low-wage partner. In that case, I am very lucky that my partner is happy working from home, not making very much money with his jewelry and music, and dedicating most of his time to our home and children. If he didn’t find that fulfilling and instead preferred to work for $9 an hour as an intern somewhere, then things would be more complicated. Or, if we lived somewhere where we couldn’t get by on my salary alone, life would be more difficult.
What do you think? Can parents outsource household tasks or are there real limits to that? Do academics with stay-at-home spouses have advantages over two-income couples?
I think that a generation ago a lot of working spouses took on fewer of the household tasks than you do - and this probably continues to some extent. Looking at the lists, my Dad did some of the yard work and financial stuff, and most of the vacation planning, but my Mum did everything else. In those kind of situations, then a stay-at-home partner does really free up more time and energy for your work than a partner in a high-paying job who buys in cleaning & babysitting etc (even excluding the time-suck of organising your various contractors.) Just to be clear, I don't think that's an ideal situation - and I'm pretty sure my Dad would choose to spend more time with his kids if he could do things again - but it sure can help with a publishing record. And of course in the past many of these stay-at-home wives were also very highly educated and worked as (often unacknowledged) typists, research assistants and editors.ReplyDelete
Thanks for your comments. I have heard that wives in the past (and probably today) worked as editors to support their husbands. My husband doesn't do that, although I have used research funds to pay professional editors.Delete
i just stumbled onto your blog. My husband is actually a stay at home dad too and i am an assistant professor who just finished my first year. I think you are right on in everything you have written. It is not as if having a stay at home husband means you do not have to do anything. I too still take a big responsibility for housework, child rearing, financial accountability, etc. We have a 2.5 year old son and a baby girl coming in August, without my husband's support my children would have to be in day care an expense that far exceeds anything my youth minister husband could make working for a church. So for the sake of our family, for my sanity, for the health of our children he stays home and it works really well for us. I mean we do get that occasional strange look from people who ask what my husband does and it is hard to find play groups for dads...which is a sad reality. And yes, we live modestly too...although we are in the process of building a house...which is now my husband's full time job really. Thanks again for your thoughts.ReplyDelete
My husband is also renovating our house. He doesn't do this all of the time, but, since we are moving, he has been working 40 plus hours a week fixing the house up. Of course, he can do that because our kids are (finally) all in public school.Delete
I think we all make choices based on our individual priorities and situations and I don't really think that anyone necessarily has it easier or harder. That said, there are challenges that arise even when you do have two decently-paid spouses who work outside the home.ReplyDelete
I think it is not really possible to outsource ALL of those household tasks unless one spouse has a job that pays very VERY well. After taking care of all of your financial obligations, goals, and priorities (e.g. rent/mortgage, any student loans, saving for retirement and your children's educations), I would guess that for most people there is probably not enough left over to pay for household help in all the areas that you listed. That means that some things have to fall by the wayside. For us that means the laundry piles up and our house is generally not that tidy. Oh well!
Next, there are logistical challenges that come up. It was mentioned previously that organizing whatever household help you do have can be incredibly time-consuming. Also, transportation can be an occasional issue if you only have one car (either by necessity or by choice). Finally, even if your kids are in school, their calendar inevitably has more holidays and vacation than the grown ups' calendars do. The parents have to then negotiate who is best able to take the day off.
Finally, when you have unusual work-related stresses or deadlines it can be difficult to have the emotional space to support your spouse if he or she happens to also going through a difficult time at work. That situation can also compound logistical difficulties, you can't BOTH stay at work until 8 if the kids have to be picked up at 6.
I can't stand comments like that one on FSP's blog! I think we all have privileges and we all have challenges. Comments like that are just not helpful to anyone!
Great points. It sounds like, no matter what kind of relationship you are in, academics need to have serious conversations with their spouses about what will and will not get done and what sacrifices will or will not be made.Delete
We haven't been saving for the kids' education, but hope to start doing that any minute now...
After reading the previous comments, I was surprised that no one stated the obvious: you are very privileged. You are privileged, because you are a high-achieving female academic who is lucky enough to pursue a carrier and have a family, because your husband stays at home. I can see where FSP is coming from (I did not read the blog): For male academics who have stay-at-home wives, it is so much easier to have it all: Carrier, family, loving spouse. For women in the same position this is - unfortunately - still a luxury.. I don't want to get started on how society (or women themselves) undermines new family models by entering subversive discourses on masculinity/ femininity and male/female categories.. In Germany there are 38 600 male vs 6800 female professors, carrier or family is still a question for women. Men never had to make this choice. (My background: I am a PhD-Student in Philosophy, I don't consider myself as feminist. I am just in constant concern about society. I am German and topics on women/carrier/day-care/ opportunities/ quota make the news here on a fairly quotidian basis.)ReplyDelete
I understand that I have privilege. My question is: "how much privilege is there in having a stay-at-home spouse versus a spouse with a well-paying job?"Delete
Here in the United States, it is much more common for female academics to have professional (better-paid) spouses than it is for them to have stay-at-home spouses.
However, as I have thought about this more, it seems it is not simply a question of who has more privilege, but how privilege works in different ways.
I think there are two main things missing from this analysis which are interrelated. One is a lack of consideration of the emotional work involved when you pay people to do a whole load of household/childcare related stuff and the other is the difference if any paid care rather than parent care has on children and household dynamics and related to this is the ability to pay people properly to do these roles. Paying someone to come and do some of the housework is quite intimate for them and you, it is usually low paid and requires management which can be time consuming and emotionally hard work. This sort of work is usually women's work (both the doing and the management of the do-er). All couples have to negotiate household standards and parenting practices this is even harder when it involves external paid 'help' because presumably we don’t want to be engaged in authoritarian and didactic relationships with our cleaners, handy-man, day-care worker etc etc. Overall then I would say that having a stay-at-home spouse alleviates some of the hidden work of hiring help and stops you from having to enter into ‘potentially’ exploitative economic relationships. I don’t have the time to go into the issue of parent-led care versus paid-led care and I am not really sure where I stand on it. I live in the UK am just finishing up my PhD (literally a few days to go!) I have a two year old and our second child is due in 3 weeks. We share care between us, paid care and grandparents but essentially I work part time (although no the last few months of the PhD) and am not sure how things will continue into the future. We would ideally like to both be in academic posts part time! I am sociologists and my partner is a medical researcher if anyone knows of any joint/part time posts going in a university near you - have passports can travel! P.S thanks to your website I have completely changed my writing habits which has massively contributed to getting the thesis finished so thank you!ReplyDelete
Congrats on (almost) finishing your PhD. Great timing with #2 coming along any minute now.Delete
Interesting take: It becomes a privilege not to take on hired help. And, it is additional work to find and keep help. I can see that. I suppose that explains why many academics who have full-time working spouses take on the responsibilities themselves instead of outsourcing.
I do not mean my comments to take anything away from your achievements, which I admire, nor am I sure that the OP was spot on, but what I would note is two things.ReplyDelete
First, you are assuming that the two working spouses have the income the support the pay-for services you outline. I work, full time, tenured, as an academic in an underpaid position in order to solve our 2-body problem. I love my job and I'm not giving it up. We have $ yes, but we don't live in an extremely cheap area of the country and thus things like housecleaning services, a nanny or chauffeur to drive our kids places (not something that would work with our sort-of special needs kid) etc would mean a fairly significant dent in our income. Furthermore our travel involves visiting family which is where most our discretionary income goes. Things that appear to save time, such as grocery services exist (and I used when my kids were babies) but the time it takes to put the order in online is not negligible. Money can only buy you a very limited amount of time and there are simply some things you cannot pay someone else to do.
The second point I'd make, having very good friends in your situation, is the lack of mental stress/time juggling that is reduced/taken away by a SAHS represents something no amount of $ compensates for. Conference travel, research trips, school vacations, a sick child are all quite complicated with two working spouses.
All that said, I think that teaching load and research $ from institution probably plays a greater factor in scholarly productivity.
Those are all great points. I did try to distinguish between a well-paid spouse and a low-paid spouse. It is remarkable, though, that a professional wouldn't make enough to pay someone to perform household tasks. (Not to say it's not true; it is just remarkable.)Delete
Nevertheless, the comment stream is making it clear that having a stay-at-home spouse can be emotionally easier - so long as the spouse is perfectly happy with their role.
Now that I think about it, in our family, we really haven't framed it as my spouse is staying home to take care of our children. Instead, staying at home is the best way for my husband to have time to do the things he loves: make jewelry, play music, and travel. Framing it that way means that he is happy with it. Although, occasionally, he ponders getting a "real" job or opening a "real" business.
I think the larger point is that, perhaps, you are underestimating what a stay-at-home spouse does and are therefore overestimating what can be outsourced. You may be able to order groceries online...but a human being still has to think about what needs to be bought, based on household needs, and order it. And if you are on a budget, how much you can leverage your grocery dollar. You can pay someone to chauffer your child around...but a human being still has to organize and manage the person that provides the service. Discrete task completion and the management of those tasks are really not the same thing at all. When your spouse does them, the management aspect becomes invisible--only when you have to farm it out do you realize what is actually involved. Have you never hired anyone? Or managed a project with multiple employees?Delete
Xela: The answer to that question is "sort of." When we lived in Peru, it seemed to be expected that we would have household help, so we did ... especially after I tried to wash the sheets in the river by myself. For the year we lived there, we had a person who cooked, cleaned, and watched the kids for us.Delete
And, I have had two research assistants, one who went above and beyond the call of duty on her own, and one who was practically useless.
I agree about the management of household tasks and how you can't just farm that out.
As they say in Peru, it is hard to find good help ;)
What do you think? Can parents outsource household tasks or are there real limits to that?ReplyDelete
I agree with FeMOMhist that there are definitely limits to outsourcing household tasks, the most important one being money. My husband and I are post-docs in neuroscience, with one baby, and there is no way we can afford any type of household outsourcing. We do all of it ourselves on the weekend, which I don't really mind. I would chose my post-doc husband over a stay at home husband any day, because I love that I am able to discuss science with him. I do think it would make an easier life if someone else would stay at home and take care of the baby and a lot of the household stuff, but I guess I can't take another husband ;-)
I suppose you can't outsource cleaning because you live in a high-cost area? Or perhaps you have other priorities? I imagine you outsource childcare.Delete
we actually never could afford to outsource childcare fully and taught alternate days and obv didn't write on the days we were at home with kids probably the clearest example of how our careers "suffered" from two TT parents. )ddly enough in the major metro areas of the US there are SO MANY DARN ph.d.s that yes professor/post-doc work can be QUITE low paying as crazy as that seems. In my case I gave up position with equal $ to solve 2 body problem, so I suppose you could say we prioritized being geographically together over $. I know other academic couples have made decisions to live apart, in effect being part time single parentsDelete
I guess the question of "privilege" or "advantage" is a value-laden one. Any capital (be it human or monetary) that affords one the choice to pursue one's passion/purpose in life is obviously a privilege; however, there is no singular absolute, one-size-fits-all answer to the question. It was important to my husband that I stay home with the kids, so I did--with no regrets (but many frustrations, of course). In hind sight, I was "privileged" to be able to stay home and enjoy all the little moments with my kids (yes even the billion doctor's visits!), but it did come with a cost. I had to defer going to graduate school until my forties, which put me in the "unprivileged" position of trying to start a career at mid life. I guess there's no such thing as a free lunch!ReplyDelete
I love this: "Any capital (be it human or monetary) that affords one the choice to pursue one's passion/purpose in life is obviously a privilege"Delete
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Interesting question. Unless you are very wealthy and decide to hire a small cadre of live-in workers who stay with your household for years and years (or live outside the US where such an arrangement is more normal), I don't think you can outsource responsibility, just tasks. And I think that's where the difference lies. Many stay at home spouses who have $ still *do* chose to hire assistance, and they often find that managing that assistance is in itself at least a part-time job. A more common example: anyone who has ever tried to hire caregivers to help an elderly parent knows that managing an employee to do something of value to you still creates work---so much work that often family members will chose for a family member to quit their paid employment and take over this responsibility because when something becomes someone's job it is executed differently than when it is someone's familial responsibility. So while I think that outsourcing can be helpful, I think there is work (much of it in the caregivng literature) to suggest that it is not quite a leveler.ReplyDelete
You make an excellent distinction between "responsibilities" and "tasks" and therein lies the rub.!Delete
You might be able to work 40 hours per week (from one of your blog post), but in some fields, you need to put in way more than that. This is especially true of the hard/lab sciences. The more hours you put in the lab, the more productive you are as a researcher... don't ask me how/why, I can't really explain it.ReplyDelete
When you have a working spouse and kids... You have to curtail your work hours, doesn't matter if you can afford extra childcare or not... or your kids will end up spending most of their times with babysitters/nannies. Perhaps you can arrange alternating working late with your spouse... but you're still curtailing your work hours.
And also... even if you can afford eating out on most nights with dual income (I don't think a lot of dual-income couples can do this anyway), do you really want your kids to be eating out to fatty restaurant food every night? Nope, you still cook on most nights.
I agree with Xela. I think perhaps you are underestimating the amount of work your husband does for you at the home front.
Sorry, love your other entries though...
Thanks for clarifying that. It has become clear to me that perhaps hard/lab scientists do have to work more than 40 hours a week to be productive. Between lab work and managing labs, and meetings, the hours add up.Delete
I actually disagree that the more hours you put in if you work in the lab sciences the better.I think that's falling into the same trap that many academics do, ie the busier, more harried and more stressed I am the more successful I am. As an experimental physicist I think the same approach as Tanya is suggesting can be extremely useful. Careful planning, know what is possible to get done, and when you need a break you need a break. If you get too tired it's really easy To make silly mistakes, wasting your own time and time on equipment. Whereas if your fresh your more likely to be productive,make good decisions, have energy to analyse data etc. also considering current research, working through problems and coming up with valid solutions are extremely mentally tiring and to me seem very similar to many parts of Tanya's day.Delete
I guess this is a hot button issue! I think that different people, different couples, and different situations make for a different recipes for success. I have a husband also faculty member, and 2 little kids--it's our first year with both kids in public school. We both have tenure. But we were able to do it with two very little ones, an 8 year long-distance marriage (one year with a toddler who was staying with me), and lots of moves before we finally landed TT jobs at the same institution. Our productivity was fine but I guess it could have been better--esp. since I didn't know your blog, Tanya! But the question that matters to me mostly is 'are you happy with your life?' and my answer is that yes, I am. Now regarding the roles in the family, my husband will do everything I ask him to do but he will not take charge. For instance, he'll cook if I ask him, but I have to decide the menu. So I do spend some part of my time organizing our life, and I am now used to it and it doesn't take me that long any more but it does take a while to come up with a working routine. I now almost automatically plan weekly menus because I cook and I believe in the importance of a healthy home cooked meal. Also I believe in a tidy household, so I hire a housekeeper once a week. Other than that, we do everything else ourselves. Of course in our case it helps that we are both academics and our schedules are flexible. If I have an evening meeting, my husband can pick up the kids etc. If the kids are sick, usually between the two of us we can figure it out, although the kids don't really get sick any more like they used to. When the kids were really little, I had a wonderful older woman who was able to help me whenever I needed (my our own family lives in a different country). Of course I paid her--and in terms of $$-- which a lot of people talked about--it did put a huge dent in our finances. For ex., 13 years out of grad school, we still have our grad school furniture, so we can afford some help and to travel to my home country every summer. So I think it's a matter of priorities and you need to set your priorities and then the family life and your career will follow along these lines.ReplyDelete
sorry for all the typos/grammatical errors! I wrote this while making dinner ;)ReplyDelete
I really enjoy your blogs, and I have to admit, I found myself asking "how does she do it with three kids?" She is INCREDIBLY productive! What am I doing wrong? I have put some of your suggestions about writing into practice, but I never feel like I have enough time in the day. Then I read this post, and said, Now I understand! That's her secret! I knew that somebody, whether it was a spouse, grandparent, or someone else, had to be staying at home in order for everything to work. Having a stay a home spouse beats extra research money and a reduced course load ANYDAY and if you have all of those things, you are golden. What you then have is a lot of time, not just to write, but to think, to focus, to write a short paragraph rather than a grocery list; to read a book rather than run baths and prepare food. I have a four year old daughter and by the time I put her down for bed, after making dinner, bathing her, and all the other good stuff, I am wiped out. My husband is not an academic and works full time as well. I always said, "if only I had a stay at home wife." So really be thankful for your good luck. Without your husband staying home, I must say that your productivity would likely look very different right now.ReplyDelete
Agree with Anonymous May 22 9:54pm. I've been telling my working husband that I need a stay at home wife for years...ReplyDelete
Wow. Thanks for all of your comments. As for my own work schedule, yes, it is true, I generally have between 8am and 6pm, Monday to Friday, to work. I don't work the full 50 hours as I use that time to exercise, have meals, and spend time with my husband, but do get in about 40 hours of work a week.ReplyDelete
It still is impressive to me that most of you think you would be better off with one income if the other spouse would be willing to stay home.
I think they´re right. 2 full time jobs = 2 people with high stress and while it´s more money, you still have to manage the tasks and there isn´t enough flexible time. Those semi employed spouses can really save $ just by what doesn´t have to be spent to maintain their high level career, and by what, between the two of you, doesn´t have to be hired out. Some of them even keep kitchen gardens, too. It´s a very good deal from a business p.o.v.Delete
Good help is really hard to find, especially if you don't have someone with the mental space to figure out who to hire.Delete
I've really enjoyed your blog - and it has definitely been helpful, and in some cases hopeful. I'm finishing up my PhD in the social sciences right now and my partner is finishing his up in engineering - I'm finding the situation to be both depressing and disheartening. My program offered little guidance and the community has devolved over the years to the point where it seems few of us are prepared after graduation (including me, as I am finding out) and none of us graduating have job prospects for the fall, even those who graduated last year are still on the search for full time employment...But I digress from the topic of this post. It's been very enlightening because my partner and I have been trying to figure out our next move. It has been difficult to find academic positions in 2 very different areas in the same general location. He is already employed in a steady job and has the ability to change institutions fairly easily and command a significantly higher salary than I would in the socials sciences, but I'm having difficulty in accepting the reality that if we want a family it might make much more practical sense for *me* to who stay at home and provide auxiliary support by only working part time (which seems to be the only work I've been able to get so far).ReplyDelete
Enough rambling! Suffice to say, I agree, it makes more sense in this day and age to have one spouse stay at home - I just wish I didn't have to be me!
When I was a grad student in the US, a prominent scholar in my field, a married man with a stay at home wife and no children, advised a group of us to avoid having children at all costs if we wanted to make names for ourselves as scholars! It was too late for me, as I already had one child when I began and two before I finished my PhD. It's not as if it is unfair for people to have a stay at home spouse. It's a choice people make. Making a career your priority and marrying someone else who does the same, that's a choice with consequences, just as are staying single, marrying and having no children, or marrying someone who is not concerned with a career. The unfairness occurs if gender itself limits options for one spouse.ReplyDelete