Economics and 'Free' Time

“Taking Back our Kids,” by Danny and Polly Duncan Collum (January 2006), has many important things to say about raising children in today’s American culture, but I take issue with one assertion: that it has been the “choice” of women to enter the workforce in the 1970s and beyond that is at least one cause of the degradation of the lives of children when compared to the 1950s.

Post-World War II America was a unique period in our history—indeed, in the history of any nation. Prior to this period, the lack of labor-saving devices in the home meant that the duties of a “homemaker”—food acquisition and preparation, house cleaning, etc.—required a full day of real “work” in addition to childcare activities. Except for the wealthy, who could afford household help, these duties fell to the homemaker/mother (and the percentage of the “wealthy” in any given population is always small).

The post-war era was a period of such strong economic expansion and technological growth in the United States that the time and effort required to keep a home declined to such a level that the “average” homemaker/mother began to have the “free” time previously available only to the wealthy. For several decades, the dominance of the American economy in the world allowed this privileged condition to become the accepted norm.

Alas, this happy time was not to last. The now-recovered European and Japanese economies caught up with and, in some cases, surpassed American technology, productivity, and economic growth rates. Later, rapidly expanding “second” world economies, primarily in Asia, have added to the economic pressure on American workers. One wage-earner’s income could no longer sustain the same standard of living that it did in post-war America.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2006
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