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Two parents in the workplace: a net loss?

Two parents in the workplace: a net loss?

I have no opinion in terms of a woman’s right to work, as I hold to my belief that all individuals are sovereign and have the freedom to choose what they want to do with their time.  A recent article at the Daily Mail UK confirms one aspect of relationship economics that I’ve always held a strong opinion of: two parents in the workplace may be more costly than just one.

As women entered the workforce en masse in the 1970s, some interesting effects started to appear due to the cause of the so-called woman’s lib movement: an destruction of average wages.

Again, I’m not saying that women in the workforce is a bad thing, but there’s a big cost in relationship economics that needs to be delved into deeper.  It fits into a large part of my conversations with single women who are unhappy with their lives, although most argue against the idea that it’s their jobs that are costing them their happiness.

When a household has one parent working and one staying at home (note that I didn’t mention the sex of each parent here, as this matters to straight couples and gay couples, too), you have one factor of the supply-and-demand curve for labor satisfied and equalized.  Because there are fewer people available to work, wages tend to be higher by employers to attract labor instead of losing the best to the competition.

In the 1950s, about 30% of women were working, compared to 75% in the 1990s.  In a society with an equal amount of men and women, the 250% increase of women in the workforce in just 40 years equals an overall rise of 35% of available laborers for employers to hire.  More available laborers means a higher supply of workers for an equal demand from employers means that wages do get pushed down as more people are available to be hired.  Wages don’t necessarily fall 35% to equalize the supply and demand curves — part of the fall in wages is offset by a rise in unemployment.

The salary and unemployment pressures from a rise in the workforce are basically a given for anyone familiar or just interested in supply-and-demand curves and economics, but the secondary pressures that come from this rise lead to, in my opinion, many of the primary causes of depression that I see in so many of my peers in my generation and younger.

What does it take to enter the (corporate) workforce today?  Most would say a college degree, at the minimum.  If you suddenly have a 35% increase in people vying for the same jobs, you also will have a similar number of people who enter the higher educational market — driving up education costs.  As education costs rise, you also have more people acquiring loans for that education — driving up long term debt for each individual who acquired a loan to get that education in hopes of getting a job.  This is shown in recent debt reports that show that the overall total of college debt in the United States surpasses the total amount of credit card debt!

That educational debt, in the United States, is a permanent debt until paid off.  Bankruptcy laws have made it near impossible to make the debt vanish in bankruptcy: if you have a college loan, it’s with you until you pay it off.  I know quite a few people in my generation who are burdened with so much debt that they’re unable to make significant life-changing decisions, such as marrying, having children and staying at home.  To pay that debt, the educated individual is required to have a job, and by seeking that job they’re putting the original pressure on wages to be lower.

So now you have two individuals who are vying for jobs in a tight labor market, both possibly with educational debt that they must pay off or they’ll never qualify for a mortgage, a credit card, and in some places, a job (as derogatory credit checks are legal avenues for denying employment).  Is it any wonder that two educated and job-focused married individuals are relying on the broken public school system not just to educate their children, but also to raise them and guide them?

It’s a wild circle of frustration to me, because once a child is in that public school system, they’re driven to one major goal from a young age: do well in school so that you can…get into college.  I recall my own high school guidance counselor asking me what I wanted to do after school.  I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but she was adamant that I’d need a college education (along with the 4-5 lost years and a bundle of debt) in order to succeed in business.

Then there are tertiary losses that accumulate subconsciously that lead to even more depression for those of my generation and younger: women going to college to get a job, competing with others who have done the same, making many of them want to have higher degrees to be more competitive.  In terms of evolutionary psychology,  few women seem to be happy with men with lower degrees than them, or who earn less than them, so you end up with a dating market lockup of men who aren’t good enough for the women they’re available to date.

It’s a nightmare, and one that I’m challenged to look at more and more every day as I talk to men and women in their 20s and 30s, who are uncertain of what to do next.  Most of them have a huge burden of college debt (which they’re happy to defer, meaning they’re putting off their day of reckoning), are all competing for jobs in a market that is pretty stagnant, delaying long term committed relationships due to these challenges, and ending up unhappy and unable to make any changes because the chicken and the egg both cost to much to eat.

And I didn’t even get to the point of the linked article posted at the top: the costs of trying to raise a family when both parents are working.  Day care, nursery, nannies and extracurricular costs pile up, making it harder and harder on dual income households to try to pay the bills.  With two incomes, the household income is larger, meaning the entire family is in a higher tax bracket, too, with no option to defray some of those additional costs in any way.

So what’s the solution?  I don’t really see one: the cost of living is high, many dual income households still have that mortgage to pay for 30 years and the burden of college debt to pay possibly just as long; they don’t have time to properly and directly raise their children, so they settle those kids into public educations where the primary goal from kindergarten is “How can I get into an Ivy League college and who will pay for it?” — it’s a trap.

The realistic solution is one that I can’t see happening: leave the urban communities and find a suburban or even ex-urban tiny town lifestyle.  Become entrepreneurs with a service to sell that people need no matter where you live (fix HVAC systems or be a car mechanic, clean homes, roof repair, etc), downsize your expenditures so that you can be debt-free before you bring children into the world, stick one parent at home to raise those children and direct them to being independent and sovereign individuals who don’t need to take on a bundle of debt to be happy.


Related posts to peruse:

  1. The U.S. Misery Index: Ignorant Data
  2. Thank you, Sean Maher, for being gay
  3. Where are all the “good” men?
  4. In Defense of Capitalism
  5. A Modest Proposal: More Debt for Most
About A.B. Dada

A.B. Dada resides in Chicago, Illinois and manages a multitude of businesses involved across a wide range of industries.


  1. Stingray says:

    There are more people doing what you talked about in your last paragraph. The funny thing is (because it pisses off Joe 4,000 square foot house with Two Car Garage to no end) that the people who are deciding to live in this more simplistic manner are far more happy than their counterparts. Joe can’t figure it out, why with all his crap and his wife that just wants more stuff, how Mr. Simple can (who has such a nice loving family with a wife that actually takes care of him ) can walk around like he owns the world.

  2. A.B. Dada says:

    I concur.

    The happiest people I know are:

    A) living well below their means, or
    B) wealthy but pretending they are actually poor, or
    C) self-employed and well adapted to following the income.

    I can’t imagine the purpose of marrying with debt over both heads, only to bring on more debt.

    Teach your children, if/when you have any.

  3. Stingray says:

    Heh, we homeschool. I teach them everything. I will be a proud mother if they never set foot inside a college. I await in hope for that bubble to break next.

    As for the rest, I’ll do my best, but I hope they learn it from watching us. That is far more effective than words.

  4. A.B. Dada says:

    I give a few grand away a year to homeschooling parents. Good choice. Watch this site after Christmas and I’ll post my next education support process — I don’t have kids yet, so I can afford to drop $100/week all year long on the future entrepreneurs of this planet.

  5. Stingray says:

    That is truly a wonderful thing and I know those parents are grateful for it. Homeschooling parents can be a passionate bunch both about protecting their children and in giving thanks to those who deserve it.

    I hold a lot of hopes in these kids who have not been boxed in. Some of them are quite courageous. They may have what it takes to bring some real change some day, though every day I wonder if it is already too late.

    I look forward to reading your post after Christmas.

  6. Stingray says:

    By the way, I like the bog. It’s quite classy. I am actually surprised to find that I made the first comment (unless I missed someone else’s).

    • A.B. Dada says:

      Thanks! I actually reformatted the blog entirely just a week or two ago — erasing all of my old stuff/comments/etc. It was more like my own personal twitter feed (short posts, links, photos, etc) but I’ve gotten the bug to be an ass again. I’ve been writing contrarian comedy pieces since 1987 online (back then, it was on BBS and FidoNet, probably before your time).

      • Stingray says:

        I am utterly ignorant when it comes to computer stuff and I didn’t get introduced to the internet until college in the mid nineties so . . . those things don’t ring a bell at all.

        Anyway, I’ve seen your posts at Roissy and respect what you have to say. That’s how I found my way over here. I enjoy well written contrarian blogs very much, Vox Populi being one of my favorites. I am on a bit of a quest to learn and thicken my skin. Vox was where I started months ago and remains my favorite as he write about a myriad of things and writes about them very well. After reading through your posts today, you seem to have much the same formula and I very much like it.

        • A.B. Dada says:

          Hah, that’s hilarious — I also post at Vox’s site under ABDada (although I’ve posted there for years under a pseudonym!). He’s a great blogger — even though I don’t agree with him very often on religious and immigration issues.

          As for Roissy, I came by his site quite by accident — I lost the name of one of my blogs (forgot the domain name!) so I googled a title I knew I wrote and came across his site. Love the commentary there.

          Thanks for the props — I appreciate it!

          • Stingray says:

            May I ask what your pseudonym was? I’ve seen you post there under ABDada as well. I recognize many of the regular posters now and a few I try to make sure I don’t skip over as I’ve come to respect them as well. Curious if your old handle rings a bell. At each blog I visit there are always a few people I come to recognize and I was surprised to see you at Vox’s a couple of weeks ago. I wondered if you were new there or not. Guess it’s a small interwebz.

          • A.B. Dada says:

            My first pseudonym there was dada21 — but we’re talking YEARS and YEARS ago. I switched to another pseudonym that I used for many years which I actually want to keep anonymous as it was more a troll than a useful posting identity.

            Since I’ve repudiated privacy entirely (hell, I post my IRS tax returns and my bank balances regularly for the reading public to go over), I just use my real name everywhere I visit.

            You’d be amazed at how many of my friends around the world are people I’ve met through not just one or two blogs, but multiple ones that we all share a passion for reading and commenting at. I’m visiting a friend in Europe in a few weeks who I met through a few blogs, and I’m meeting another friend in Morocco a few weeks after that who I also met over a few blogs.

            Small world, indeed. I prefer having my identity out there in the open since it does give a sense of reputation — plus, the more I comment (and write on my own blogs), the harder it is to wade through Google to really find out that much about me.

          • Stingray says:

            That is truly amazing. I love the internet. However, while I have always used it as a learning tool, I didn’t realize how useful it could really be until recently. I have learned more in the past few months than the last several years combined. I have also conversed with some amazing people that I truly wish I could meet. I am happy that you are able to do that with the people you have met. And damn, what a couple of great trips. Enjoy them.

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