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?