Sunday, September 07, 2008


Economists often attempt to measure the value of a homemaker's services.

The exercise is not unlike measuring the value of any non-market activity such as volunteer hours or leisure time.

Another comparison is any non-market commodity like the environment. Often policy discussions involve attempting to place value on programs in order to perform cost-benefit analysis to project the value of a policy. Or often such exercises are used in court to place present and future value on people's efforts. For example, in a divorce case, the homemaker may need to attempt to value her efforts in order to justify a particular outcome.

"This market oriented predilection for using prices to measure value not only drives the methods currently used, it is the source of the problems in measuring, and perhaps the source of the courts often reluctance to rely on 'economic' measures of worth. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, economists often know the price of everything, but the value of nothing"
(Dr. Allen,

Economists have used two different methods to measure the value of a housewife:
1. the opportunity cost method (what does the household sacrifice by having one individual stay home to work?" and
2. the replacement cost method "how much would it cost to replace the services of the homemaker?".

Both methods have their problems.

I've got a better method.

Spend two years doing 90 percent of the household labor between you and your partner. Take on a leadership position at your kid's parent-teacher association and keep working, but arrange childcare for only the time that you are AT work (for me, less than 16 hours per week), while expecting yourself to do the rest of your work (class prep, grading and researching) while your youngest is napping (1-3 hours per day). Juggle this with lawn-mowing, shoveling, laundry, grocery shopping and the other usual homemaker activities. Have in the back of your mind some research expectations knowing that when you do go back to work, you'll be a bit behind and have nothing in the "pipleline" (i.e. a research project started, initial work done, draft papers and presentations ready, a paper out at a journal for review).

Add to that an extremely active toddler moving into young boyhood. Someone that needs nearly constant supervision and at least two hours outdoors every day in order to both stimulate and wear him out.

After having done this for some respectable amount of time--enough so that you have nearly forgotten what life was like before this schedule--decide to go back to your old schedule.

Last Friday, the end of my first full week back at my "real" job where I have 120 students, 100 percent faculty research requirements, and service duties which started a few days before school did, as well as what turned out to be eight hours of commuting in order to juggle a surprise trip that BioMom had to make for work mid-week, Big and I went to pick up Eight after school.

I ran into a parent-of-four who also happens to be a neighbor of ours.

She looked EXHAUSTED.

It was palpable.

And even she wondered aloud about her condition given that three of the four were now attending school.

In comparison, I felt like a hot-air balloon. Floating. Weightlessly.

Like my duties have been halved.

Like there were now 32 hours in a day instead of 24.

Now THAT is the measure of a housewife.

1 comment:

Jen said...

God Bless them all. I am tired just reading your day and I lived it myself. I tried to do it all. Work, kids, housework, lawn mowing, caring for my mother, bills, guilt, guilt and more guilt. I ended up quitting my job after three months and a raise! I was miserable and so were my kids. Since I have quit I have found plenty of work that I do when I want to do. Luckily for me my old boss loved me and is now sending projects my way as an independent contractor. Since I quit my kids and I have had dinner together, at the table, every night! This is a major accomplishment. I have also been able to make them a real breakfast, the clothes are not only clean but they are folded and put away. Something I just couldn't manage to accomplish before working a 50 hr week. I'm still tired but I am a lot happier.