Every generation revolutionizes something, and Generation X is revolutionizing the intersection of family and work. There’s a new emphasis on keeping families together over career aspirations, and it’s what makes me most proud to be a part of Gen X.

Generation X knows that the belief that both parents in a family can have demanding, time-consuming careers outside the home is an antiquated one. Time has shown that it just doesn’t work.

Sure, girls can grow up to be anything, and boys can start companies and become millionaires. But there’s a limitation that no one talks about: Two parents working more than 60 hours a week each is bad for the marriage and bad for the kids.

Thanks to Gen X, the power-couple-as-parents setup will likely go down in history as just another terrible idea conceived by baby boomers.

At this point, it’s clear that families are better off when one person takes care of the household full time. Statistics support this conclusion, and it’s also intuitive.

The problem is that not many people want to stay at home full time. We already did that in a widespread way in the 1950s, and the cliche of the housewife who takes valium to cope exists for a reason: Staying at home with kids every day for 20 years isn’t a first choice for most people.

Today, 60 percent of mothers say they want part-time work, which means that when you account for women who want to work full time, only a small percentage of them want to stay home with kids all day. And nearly 70 percent of men say they would consider staying home, although men who succeed at staying at home usually have some other work or significant hobby on the side.

So most people want to stay home with their kids part time and work part time. This isn’t surprising, because work is easier than parenting — it’s more peaceful and more intellectually stimulating, and it has a predictable, structured reward system.

Also, it’s hard to get past the fact that society values work in business more than work at home; as wrong as this is, we all like to be valued in the society in which we live. It’s natural, then, that people want to have some kind of work in their lives that’s outside the home. What’s surprising is that there are people who still think that having two parents working 60-hour weeks is OK for children.

To begin with, very few families have a real financial need for two parents to be working that much, and the majority of the families that do don’t read Yahoo! Finance. So the couples who leave their kids with a caretaker for 10 hours a day are making a choice, and the strongest evidence that it isn’t a great one for kids is that Gen Xers who didn’t have both parents at home hated it so much that they don’t want to do it to their own children.

One indication of how Generation X is revolutionizing family and work is in the language we use. In middle age, baby boomers came up with the terms “yuppie” and “latchkey kid,” while in the same time of life Gen X coined “stay-at-home dad” and “shared care.”

And while Gen Xers have been labeled as slackers by workaholic media types, they actually value family and friends more than anything else. They won’t work the extreme hours boomers put in because they’ve seen the impact of not taking care of family, and they want no part of it.

Baby boomers divorced at a higher rate than any group in history, yet from 1970 to 1990 divorce decreased by almost half for people with college degrees. Gen X takes care of family at the expense of top-tier careers, and it’s paying off — when it comes to keeping families together, Generation X has succeeded where baby boomers failed.

What exactly is the payoff? Happiness. Nattavudh Powdthavee, an economist at the University of London who studies money and happiness, points out that earning a lot of money and maintaining intimate relationships both take a lot of time. So you have to decide where your time is best spent.

Powdthavee shows how to calculate how much money you need to earn in order to replace the happiness from a close relationship. He concludes that for the same amount of time spent, you get more fulfillment from nurturing relationships than from earning money.

Clearly, everyone in the family will be happier if one or both parents tones down their career aspirations and pays more attention to their personal life.

52 replies
  1. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    Hmm.

    While many families do not have a ‘financial’ need for both parents to work, many may choose to work that way because they are in truly satisfying jobs and they enjoy the work and the stimulation they get from it. But it is hardly ever articulated that as much fun as kids are and even if the choice to have them was cognitively pre-considered, their arrival presents challenges for which no parent is ever emotionally quite prepared. My neighbour, who was formerly in the workforce and has two kids, said to me “I cannot wait to get back to work; the kids are driving me up the wall; I yearn for adult conversation and all I get is boring mothers, who go on and on about their kids”. Ouch!

    Your description “men who succeed at staying at home” is funny. In the most well-known examples, these men have wives who are bringing home more than the bacon; they are bringing the whole flock of pigs. Women on the other hand stay home due to the remnants of conditioning that makes them believe they are the primary care-givers. Cue guilt on making alternative choices.

    I am always sceptical about research into money and happiness. How come rich people do not commission these researches? I should also like to see if the academics conducting these studies will stay in their (usually poorly paid) jobs if they were to be given an unconditional, say, £10M.

    Money does not make anyone happy inasmuch as lack of money makes someone unhappy. But money gives choices, including the choice to stay at home without wondering how one will finance college education or give their kids a step-up on to the housing ladder or retire comfortably.

  2. Craig
    Craig says:

    In the Yahoo article you say “They (Gen X’ers) won’t work the extreme hours boomers put in because they’ve seen the impact of not taking care of family, and they want no part of it.” Just yesterday you said “I tried not to hire people with kids because they are less able to jump for investors, more torn between where their head and heart are at any given time, and anyway, today's parents generally do not work insanely long hours.”

    I find these two statements ironic, at best. Evidently you admire parents seeking work-life balance, yet you really don’t want them working for YOU. Yeah, I know, start-ups are different, life isn’t fair, blah blah. Just doesn’t come off smelling too good.

    * * * * * *
    I think the two things I wrote are very consistent. And humbling, since I am a gen-xer with kids. I mean, I know that I am not as available as people without kids, and I know that it’s reasonable to be wary of that if you are choosing someone to hire. I’m not really sure what to do about it. I was more available to do work when I did not have kids. It’s just how things are.

    -Penelope

  3. Darren
    Darren says:

    I like this post. I’m also proud of Gen X for finally breaking the mold that we need careers and long work weeks to define us. Family and friends are infinitely more important and should be put first even if that takes some sacrifice. Unfortunately, there are still people who consider it “slacking” to not be a type-A work-centered person.
    * * * * * *
    Your email addresss — claresdad — says so much. Such a gen-x email address, because a baby boomers wouldn’t think to do that, and a millenniel wouldn’t have kids. Little things like this email address make me so happy becuase I start to understand where my generation fits in history.

    –Penelope

  4. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    @ Craig: One is an ideal which the society can at best tend-to (to borrow a mathematical term). The second is the reality, which is what we live in.

    Employers in the government and non-profit sectors in the UK routinely ask if the applicant has a care responsibility like an aged parent, an ill child etc. What do you think they do with the information? Use it as a filter to decide between 2 equally good candidates, ceteris paribus. It is illegal but it is hard to prove in court.

  5. cmp
    cmp says:

    Penelope – Looks like the comments/ratings on Yahoo! Finance are off – which is a shame because this is your best column by far. Most people don’t want to admit that there is no “real financial need” for both parents to work and that it is a tough choice, especially since being at home with the kids is a lot tougher than working. I have not always agreed with your advice, but I think you are right on with this insight.

  6. Matt Bingham
    Matt Bingham says:

    This is spot on, for me anyway. Friends and family define us much more than what we do between the hours of 8-5. I had no quams taking three days off after I just started a new job when my friends wife died of cancer – I told my boss I was going to be gone, hopped a flight to DC and came back. I don’t believe boomers would be so inclined to do that for a friend. I could be wrong, some may, but not most. X’ers put a lot more weight on non-work time than work time. But again, this all goes back to flex schedules and the lines of work and home being blurred. If my daughter has a day care program I am there…No questions. But if i’m working on a project deadline, i’m working at night…No questions.

  7. thom singer
    thom singer says:

    I am not sure why there is a need to always bait Baby Boomers against Gen X and Y…some of the language in the post is very accusatory against Boomers.

    That being said, I could care less about the “gen” groups. I have no group. I was born between the “Baby Boom” and “Gen X” …as 1966 was neither (there was a gap between those groups for years until someone felt the need that we all must be classified and moved the dates). I am too young to have protested the Vietnam War, and I am too old to have cared that Kurt Cobain died.

    I was, however, a stay-at-home dad for over 2 years after my 1st daughter was born. My wife and I believed that for a baby, one parent should be home. It was the hardest job I ever had in my life…as there is no off switch on parenting. My wife then stayed home full time. With the 2 kids in school she works part time on a contract basis, but is there to pick the kids up after school every day.

    But there is still stress for families with this model. Life is hard sometimes, and small kids are demanding no matter how many hours a person works. The saving grace is a good support network of family and friends who understand help out. This is not really about generational wars as much as about the realities of the human condition.

    I agree with the family first theme of this post, however, as anytime we as a society put our kids welfare first, it is a good thing in the long run. Selfish pursuits rarely help the common good of family or society. I hope that what you write about is truely a trend and not just hype.

    * * * * * *
    Hi, Thom. Thanks for the comment. First of all, 1966 is gen x. The definitions are on wikipedia. And, guess what? Your comment sounds like a stereotypical gen-xer.

    Re why do I write about the baby boomer like this: Baby boomers have been making an issue of generations forever — they started with don’t trust anyone over thirty. It is compleltely normal for people to frame things in terms of generations. The baby boomers don’t like it — now that gen Y has usurped center stage. But I think there is no way to talk about trends without talking about generations.

    –Penelope

  8. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    Penelope,

    Excellent post. Your honest and straightforward take on this topic is refreshing! Your statements are hard to argue with – (1) that kids are better off when both parents don’t work fulltime outside of the home, and (2) that staying at home is really hard.

    Finding a happy medium (like working part-time or from home) seems to be the best solution – and it’s encouraging to see that many companies are beginning to offer flexible work arrangements to parents. If options are given to parents, I’m certain that employers will find that they are just as ambitious, hard-working, and committed as the guy/girl with no kids in the next cubicle over.

  9. Doug K
    Doug K says:

    agree with Stephanie’s two points, and Shefaly’s comment about the women who bring home the whole flock of pigs made me laugh out loud. I know a couple like that, oddly the guy in that case is an extremely bright engineer and a considerable loss to the working world.

    I’d disagree with “The problem is that not many people want to stay at home full time”: the problem is not many people can afford to. If we could afford it, my wife would be home full-time, but working volunteer/non-profit jobs in that time. I drive a 1992 Subaru with 190k miles, we have a small cheap house, but if my wife didn’t work, there would be no retirement savings or college funds for the kids. I don’t expect to retire, but those savings are necessary to offset the drop in my salary as I get older.

    I’m officially a boomer (1960) but my wife and I agreed that kids require more than evening parenting. However there is no part-time work available in IT – she spent five years establishing her credentials at a company, went part-time when the kids arrived, and got laid off after three years. Beancounters hate part-timers, and moms in particular, so there’s not much in the corporate world for them. At some point it’s possible the corporate world will realize that the economy exists in a society, and that society needs sustaining to build a strong economy: but it will have to be beaten into them with a government stick, the profit motive remains more powerful than altruism.

  10. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    Although I see validity in many of your claims. What about the risks one is taking when leaving behind work to care for children? Many employers wrinkle their noses at the site of a “at home mom” gap (seemingly more so for those then fathers). Or generally, the risks one takes when death or divorce leaves the other with without a real resume, or means to support themselves. A mortgage cannot be paid with an entry level position. I know the arguements (alimony, child support, open a business, stay connected to your industry) and understand them well. This is just another point.

    Also, your children cannot be your life, and when caregiver is your job, it can be difficult to not develop that into your identity.

    I am a brazen careerist, a believer in possibilities and making ones own rules, but people today, especially woman, need to be careful not to make a man their financial plan.

  11. leslie
    leslie says:

    With all the technology that companies are producing why don’t they use it to let their most trusted employees work from home a few days a week? I have worked from home for over 12 years successfully. I doubt I surf the web anymore from here than if I was at an office and I haven’t missed a deadline yet.

  12. Nina Smith
    Nina Smith says:

    Another great post, Penelope!

    Earlier this year, Bill McKibben wrote an article in Mother Jones called Reversal of Fortune where he questioned the make money, get happy formula.

    He writes, "It's not so hard, then, to figure out why happiness has declined here even as wealth has grown. During the same decades when our lives grew busier and more isolated, we've gone from having three confidants on average to only two, and the number of people saying they have no one to discuss important matters with has nearly tripled. Between 1974 and 1994, the percentage of Americans who said they visited with their neighbors at least once a month fell from almost two-thirds to less than half, a number that has continued to fall in the past decade. We simply worked too many hours earning, we commuted too far to our too-isolated homes, and there was always the blue glow of the tube shining through the curtains."

    "Indeed, we seem to be genetically wired for community – Why do people so often look back on their college days as the best years of their lives? Because their classes were so fascinating? Or because in college, we live more closely and intensely with a community than most of us ever do before or after? Every measure of psychological health points to the same conclusion: People who are married, who have good friends, and who are close to their families are happier than those who do not – which is striking, because social ties actually decrease freedom of choice — being a good friend involves sacrifice."

    The same can be said for a good marriage and family life. Something's got to give and it's rewarding to be part of a generation that's revolutionizing the rules of work and family.

  13. PJ
    PJ says:

    One of my motivations for working “full-time” 9not 60 hours per week though) when my children were no longer babies or toddlers was to be able to afford to pay for their college educations. Nowadays, I find it hard to believe that it is realistic to save for collge for one’s children on a single salary. Perhaps the GenXers don’t realize how expensive it was for their parents to put them into a position that they are college educated and now can decide not to bother to use that education. I bet the Boomer grandparents end up paying for their grandchildrens’ higher ed costs!!!
    In returning to work, I was signed up for a pension savings plan. I never consciously considered what the difference in retired income this would make for me and my husband at the time. But wow, it really has added up. So we probably WILL be able to pay for our grandchildren to go to college, or for our children to inherit enough money for THEM to “retire” one day. Because with your model described here, they are not going to be able to save the money for themselves on single incomes.

  14. thom singer
    thom singer says:

    Penelope-

    Re: My above comment: I do agree with you that Boomers did start the generational debate forty years ago. And yes, they said not to trust anyone over 30…that was until they were over 30!!!! There is enough arrogance in all people regardless of generation, but it is fun to watch the boomers adjust to old age, isn’t it?

    I could be wrong, but I think when the term became popular in the US it was dubbed as born between 1970 and 1979 (or there abouts), and only later was it pushed back to the mid-sixties when folks realized there was 4-5 lost years in the middle of Baby Boom and Gen X. Again, that was just what I remember, but I am getting old, so I could easily be mistaken. I still dont feel like I fit into either generation, and actually personally have more personal traits that are assigned to Gen Y (but I am old enough to be the parents of some Yers).

    I do love you blog and the controversial way you attack subjects. Keep up the good work!

    thom

  15. Chris
    Chris says:

    IMHO, we all make choices and there’s always a compromise. My partner stays home with the kids, but deals with isolation and the loss of her career and sense of self to some extent. I telecommute and deal with noisy coffee shops. Last night I was on a conference call until 7:00 PM. Today I will pick up my 6 year old from school on her birthday and have cupcakes with her. We save a whopping $25.00/month for college, but eat dinner together every night. We have a 20 year old TV and a 15 year old car, but we fly cross-country to visit family twice a year. Choices and compromise.

    P.S. Demographically speaking, the Baby Boom ended in 1964, Gen-X started in 1961. Full disclosure: I was born in the overlap. Go figure.

  16. Kathryn
    Kathryn says:

    Bleh, I confess that I started skimming the comments a moment ago, so pardon me if I repeat something already said. (Skimming is my fault, not that of the comments.)

    What’s surprising is that there are people who still think that having two parents working 60-hour weeks is OK for children.

    To begin with, very few families have a real financial need for two parents to be working that much, and the majority of the families that do don’t read Yahoo! Finance.

    Penelope does not say that few families need both parents working full-time. She says that few families need both parents employed in high-compensation, high-time-commitment positions.

    Families that truly need both parents working time-and-a-half are generally families where both parents are employed in under-compensated hourly positions where working substantial overtime is the best way to achieve a middle-class lifestyle. Hence the comment that people with these sorts of families probably wouldn’t be reading the Yahoo column because either (a) they wouldn’t have time or (b) Penelope’s advice would rarely be applicable.

    I’d also like to point out that Penelope is not asserting that it is common for men to stay home, but that most men would be interested in the possibility. Furthermore, the link regarding hobbies is in fact to another post in which Penelope discusses the fact that current culture does not readily accommodate men that truly just stay home to care for children. Hopefully, however, by publicizing the commonality of the desire to be a stay-at-home father and by treating this desire as a normal response to being a parent, society will slowly adjust to where it is acceptable for men to satisfy this interest.

  17. Zeena
    Zeena says:

    “Sure, girls can grow up to be anything, and boys can start companies and become millionaires. But there's a limitation that no one talks about. . .

    The problem is not whether someone stays behind to run hearth and home, but WHO does it.

    If GenX and GenY aren’t fighting over who has to give up their career to take care of the kids, then what tough choices are you all talking about?

    If the Gen-women don’t resent being the ones who make the sacrifice most of the time, then what is the point of this article?

    How many Gen-men really believe quality of life is more important than financial security? How many would to put it to the test?

    You can talk all you want about quality of life, but the ‘American Dream’ is expensive and its burden on the family is heavy. Sacrifice that and you won’t need two career families.

  18. Kathryn
    Kathryn says:

    This suddenly occurred to me while reviewing the very first comment: all of the professors and academics that I know would not only continue in their research if given a free $20 million, but would probably put a substantial portion of that money right back into their pet research projects!
    (I went ahead and did the rough conversion.)

    The number of researchers who make more money by staying in academics is incredibly small. The vast majority who stay out of industry for the whole of their careers do so out of love for their research. A quick survey of academic blogs will quickly reveal the idiocies, hypocrisies and out-right biases that most researchers (of all levels) tolerate in order to continue studying what they love. People will stagnate in post-doc positions for 10 years or more if it means they still have a hope of a professorship and free reign over their research topics. It really is crazy talk.

  19. jmh
    jmh says:

    Excellent post Penelope! I am convinced that no outside success can compensate for failure in the home, and yet, for some time now, the popular belief has tended to lean toward seeking fulfillment in life from enriching shareholders and already overpaid executives rather than enriching our own relationships and preparing our own children for success in the world. Your post is the first I’ve seen to buck this trend, and I hope to see others follow. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts, and though I don’t agree with everything you say, I appreciate your thinking ahead of the curve on many things. You offer a fresh perspective we so desperately need (and you and I both know how that attracts it’s share of crowd-following critics). If there’s one area, we as a country can do better at, that will truly make a lasting difference on society, it’s nurturing those who really matter most within the walls of our own homes. Admittedly, I am biased because the choice my wife and I have made for our family is that she would stay home with the children (and you are right, she has often stated that it would be easier to resume her job as a teacher.) But we have definitely seen the rewards after only a few years, and there’s no greater feeling in the world! But, it has been a long time coming as you intimated, and it is a struggle financially, when so many families choose dual income lifestyles. If everyone were to realize the value of one parent staying with the children, there would be less pressure for families to earn more by sending both parents away for 60 hours a week. Not only that, but our children would have a better sense of value, priorities, and choosing what really matters in life. Thanks!

  20. Amy
    Amy says:

    Penelope,
    As usual, I love how you can use words so well to crush the status quo. I deeply believe that two parents each working reduced hours is the magic formula for happiness for many families. It allows us to shed just enough of the standard American dream to get down to what really matters (fantastic relationships with our kids and partner) and let go of what doesn’t (high-power careers designed to bring in big money).

    I question the statistics you refer to that say having one parent home full-time is what is the very best for families, however. I think this could easily be morphed into ‘having parental presence at a full-time level’ rather than ‘one parent home full-time’. In our case, the amount of time my husband plus I are home individually with our kids adds up to at least the amount of time a full-time parent would be home when her/his spouse was at work. I think this shared option would qualify for ‘best for families’ too. And it might even add some benefits that a full-time SAHP arrangement doesn’t provide – such as equal intimacy for children with both of their parents, learning from the strengths of each of them. Two parents home with their kids at this involvement level become experts at parenting to the same degree, I suspect, as a SAHP.

    Anyway, all I can truly say is that it works very well for me!

  21. elysa
    elysa says:

    I have mixed opinions about this topic.

    First, I do believe that it is better for children to be raised by their parents and not spend 40 hours a week in day care.

    However, I am also a career woman. Because I have watched my mother & her sister (both boomers) suddenly be thrown back into the work force after divorce I am leary of being a “stay at home mom.”

    The solution for me (or at least my plan) is to be able to work around my children’s schedules. Having kids is about 5 years down the road for me so I plan to continue the corporate world until then and then work on my own whenever there is time.

  22. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    I’d like to comment on a few things in the comments…the post was good.

    First, the assumption that people with kids are less reliable partners or workers? Are there any statistics to back up either the fact that they are less reliable? or that they are less sought after as employees?

    Some people who spend lots of time with their kids and work (whether full or part time) are exceptionally well organized. They plan their day, have time with the kids and time working and are highly efficient. They may be more reliable because they are so organized.

    For example, in a discussion on another (closed/private) board someone commented that in a group of cohorts writing their Ph.D. dissertations, the only two people to finish on schedule were the two women who had babies while researching and writing.

    I’ve also heard some companies seeking employees with kids because they tend to be more stable – think longer term, won’t quit in 3 months, etc.

    Second comment on the comments and the post, I question whether children over the age of about 1-2 are better off only being at home with mum or dad. Many people seem to assume it’s an either / or question. In the 21st century the ability to make social connections, get along, collaborate etc. are all essential traits — and ones we learn young. On the playground I can always spot the kids of 100% stay-at-home parents: they don’t share, are rough (even violent toward other children and when they don’t get their way), and completely self-centred.

    Gen x may need to be careful not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Some time away from mum and dad, learning new social skills, paying with others, being forced to share all the time isn’t a bad thing. 10 hours a day of daycare 5 days a week is probably too much. But 25-30 hours per week might not be.

    As someone said, “it takes a village” to raise a child.

    * * * * * *

    Wendy, these are good questions. Here is some clarity about the resarch.

    The research about 0-2 year olds is not only that they are better off not in day care but that they are better off with their mom than their dad. This research totally blew me away when I read it. But researchers don’t focus on this finding because it’s not productive since people aren’t setting that up in their lives. Instead the resaerch is about how to approximate the mother-child caregiving experience without the mother there.

    I know this would be a good time for a link. I don’t have it right now. But even if I did have the link, everyone would argue about it. Just like you did about the kids on the playground. So maybe it’s fine that I don’t have the link. Peopele don’t really want to hear about reasearch, I don’t think. We want to hear that what we have worked out for ourelves is fine.

    Re not hiring parents. Parents do not perform worse than non-parents. There is some research to showt hat parents are even more productive than nonparents. But either way, they are discriminated against (consciousy or unconsciously) becuase they have more commitments outside the company and that bugs people. This is true for both genders in startups, where people live and breath the company to get it off the ground. And for women in larger companies, where kids unarguably cause them to have decreaed earnings.

    –Penelope

  23. jim
    jim says:

    I read your article with interest and have to tell you the genXers I know aren’t at all like you describe. Both work and as soon as the baby is delivered, mom is back at work and not enjoying those first months with her new baby. I often wonder why they have kids.

  24. Ernie
    Ernie says:

    It doesn’t surprise me that you find my playful comments rude. (Note: I deleted it. – Penelope) This is trademark “X”. Your display for competition between generations is typical Baby Boomer. Gen Xers are the ones that don’t like to keep score.

  25. Joseph
    Joseph says:

    Enjoyed your post. As usual, you make some interesting and useful points.

    Having said that, what’s up with this diction: “So the couples who leave their kids with a caretaker for 10 hours a day are making a choice, and the strongest evidence that it isn’t a great one for kids is that Gen Xers who didn’t have both parents at home hated it so much that they don’t want to do it to their own children.”

    You lose effectiveness when I have to reread what you write 3 times to understand it.

  26. Quasar9
    Quasar9 says:

    “Sure, girls can grow up to be anything, and boys can start companies and become millionaires. But there's a limitation that no one talks about: Two parents working more than 60 hours a week each is bad for the marriage and bad for the kids.”

    It’s all about what you think life is about.
    Take two career people with mega incomes, they raise the ante, expectations and property prices

    So that now it is impossible for a man on middle to low income to provide a decent home for a wife and to raise a family …

    Sure, nature and biology plays its part, and even people with no job or income or stable partner can have children and expert ‘support’ to raise a family. But there is a subtle social engineering going on. Couples in Britain being forced to take a £180,000 mortgage on a one bedroom flat or studio flat – are being forced into slave labour.

    It is no longer a matter of ‘choice’ – they are having to work harder and longer (whether they want to or not) to pay for a claustrophobic home unsuitable to raise children in (even with maternity and/or paternity pay) and with no guarantees that they’ll be able to buy their way out into a three bedroom home with front and rear garden (prices starting at £280,000) or idyllic little cottages in the countryside in idyllic little country village life.

    Of course those with a joint income of £100,000 plus are oblivious to this fact, but just think how many people are earning much much less in the real world if ‘average’ incomes are still below £30,000.

    Those with incomes below the ‘average’ are becoming increasingly distant and alienated from the concept of an ‘average’ home or ‘average’ mortgage – unless they are already on the ladder, they are not likely to see progressive home value increases on their high mortgages… home prices increased by three hundred per cent whilst wages ‘on average’ have increased by less than a hundred per cent in the same time frame.

    Of course the main beneficiaries of this boom, were those who owned or inherited money, and those with high enough incomes to buy into the dream. But amazing that nowdays people pay anything up to a million pound for places I would not want to live in even if they paid me.

    I guess everything in life is relative. But amazing how we’ve created a society where people make a career choice according to income or status rather than according to personal goals or satisfaction. Is it any surprise that despite having so much more people often seem to ‘really’ have less.

    Maybe I should move to Baja California or Montana and become a dental floss tycoon, or buy some cheap land near the Virgin Space Centre in Mexico.

  27. Two-career family
    Two-career family says:

    I would like to offer another point of view to the discussion. My daughter was born 5 years ago. I love her completely, but I didn’t want to stay home all the time. I’m not really that great at arts and crafts. I am quite patient but I am also a busybody who thrives on variety and stimulating challenges. My husband has a similar disposition. For the past five years I worked 10-hour days four days a week and concentrated intently on doing excellent work at my job and building my network. Our daughter went to a small preschool program for those four days each week and made good friends, became very prepared for kindergarten and learned how to socialize well with others.
    After a few years I probably could have quit and afforded to live on a one-person income, but I didn’t want to. I know that if I were to quit working altogether, I would become unhappy. I have seen this happen to so many mothers who have career ambitions–they become agitated easily, seem bored and tend to yell at their kids. It is definitely true that it’s hard to stay home all day long without any help.

    My work is very important to me, along with being a loving mother, and I was determined to strike some sort of balance. This doesn’t make me part of a “power couple”–we were not striving to buy a Jaguar, but instead our goals were to build a healthy college fund, buy an average-size house in a great school district in our vibrant city, take vacations and trips to see family, and buy high-quality food and other necessities.

    The result of our plan is that our daughter is now in kindergarten and seems well-adjusted and happy. We met all our goals, and my network is strong enough now that I’m able to be self-employed. I pick my daughter up each day after school and still work almost full time (creative hours).

    There are so many decisions to make and ways to make it work when you’re a parent. I try not to judge decisions that others make or make blanket statements about what “the right way” is. There is no singular right way. You have to look at the situation in context.

  28. Margot Marrakesh
    Margot Marrakesh says:

    I’m a banker in Morocco (and formerly a banker in Wyoming) who is a regular reader of your column. I really enjoy your advice. A solution to the problem in this post has been found in Morocco, and many other countries. If you have two parents with high-powered careers (very common among the upper classes in third-world countries) you need to have a housekeeper (and a chauffeur for the children). The question comes down to this–does the income of each parent separately exceed the cost of a maid/housekeeper, and/or chauffeur? Here, it definitely does. Does it in America?

    I have known American couples who did this. When I was a banker in Wyoming in the 1990’s, I knew one couple, both of whom were stock brokers at the same firm. They had a full-time European “au pair” who lived with them and helped look after the children.

    However, most middle-class employees in America don’t have jobs that are high-powered enough in terms of salary to pay someone to take care of the home, and yet still have anything left over to make working worthwhile.

    Margot
    * * * * * * *
    Margot, the point here is not how to afford good child care. The point is that the trend among Generation X is to want to do the chauffering, cooking, etc. for their kids themelves. Gen X is over the idea of paying someone to raise their kids. Not becuase it’s too expensive financially, but because it’s too expensive psychologically.

    –Penelope

  29. salia
    salia says:

    The research by Kaplan and Sadock actually suggest that some children ARE better off at day Care depending on the Quality of the Day Care and the conditions functionality (dysfunction) of the families – Also a mother may come to resent being at home if there is a Need or desire to work, which can adversely affect the child

    Nothing is often as Black and White as it appears.

    * * * * * *
    Yes, of course. So I think the only way to have the conversation about what is better for kids is to compare apples to apples — best day care and best parenting.

    –Penelope

  30. Peggy
    Peggy says:

    I completely agree that 2 high-powered careers is a recipe for incredibly challenged parenting – and I like the thought of a new generation challenging that model (though I fall in between the gens and don’t identify with either). However, the notion that the family is best when one parent stays home full time needs to be challenged – esp when some research shows that stay-home parents are more prone to depression and FT sole breadwinners are more prone to stress related diseases – it seems most folks need both work and family in their lives. Do we really want to model a one-sided view of life for our children? What about options like shared care – both parents working to create reasonable careers and have time to invest in parenting? DH and I have been playing the work-family game for over 11 years now – taking turns working part-time and both consciously scaling back on things when the other’s work required more intensity. It’s challenging and bumpy at times, but what life path isn’t? The result after over a decade is that we both have successful careers we enjoy, we’ve both learned how to develop expertise that keeps us relevant even if we won’t work 50+ hours, we spend a lot of time together as a family and have dinner together most nights, and our kids are doing great. I think the key is to realize that whatever point-in-time solution you come up with is not a forever deal – decisions about work-family balance are complex and nuanced and change over time. Telling parents that one solution is best (i.e., have a parent FT at home) is not encouraging or realistic.
    More here: http://careerencouragement.typepad.com/the_career_encouragement_/2007/08/would-you-rathe.html

  31. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    I’m Gen X and a 100% stay at home mom. I learned from having a full time working mom and a broken home that was not what I wanted for my children. Now one being 17 and the other 12. I am having the time of my life. For me family was first. I’m able to teach the children values and add to there education from everyday experiences small or large. Not having some strangers values or beliefs. Sure you cant be on top of your children 24-7 they went to 4 H and summer camps. I did volunteer work over the years in summers too. Thats whats great about staying home I found you can help community and teachers. Some say what will you do when the children are all grown up? I smile and say enjoy my grandkids of course and my husband. To me your career wont last forever but what you instill in your children will from one generation to the next. You cant take toys with you when you die but the memories of your life you can.

  32. Phoebe
    Phoebe says:

    Wow. Which comments got more attention the generations or the parenting? I love that you address Gen-X and the relationship with the boomers. Boomers and Gen -Xers have a psychic connection that sparks an almost instant dislike. Also the topic is dear to my heart as a Gen-Xer who considers myselff a “slacker.” Secondly, I just told my husband tonight that most children don’t have this much time with their parents. We both work part time. But financially speaking we should be working much much more. We are getting progressively closer to the lower rungs on the class ladder.The price to pay for familial togetherness may become too high. Glad to know that we aren’t the only ones.

  33. Suzanne
    Suzanne says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m a 36-year-old working mom. I worked part time for a while and now I telecommute fulltime. I love having control over how my time is spent. My husband is also more than willing to adjust his work schedule to make sure our kids our priority 1. Have our choices hurt us (especially in terms of dealing with our Babyboomer bosses)? Absolutely. Do we care – not at all.

  34. Carolyn
    Carolyn says:

    Hi, I am a 38 y.o. female and mother of three. My husband has a good paying job but he is far from considered rich. He makes enough money for me to stay home but we would not have any extras (hockey, ballet, gym memberships, vacations etc.). I am fortunate enough to have a career that has incredibly flexible part-time hours with great benefits and it pays well too. I am a critical care trauma nurse at a large Boston Hospital. I have been a nurse for 16 years and I do not regret one minute for choosing the field of nursing. My mother, who is a babyboomer, could not comprehend why I choose nursing as my college major when I had the opportunity to become anything I wanted. She said there was a time when women had very limited career choices…they either became nurses, teachers or secretaries but now the choices were endless. I respected my mother’s opinion and I could even understand her reasoning, considering she was from a generation where women’s liberation flourished and for the first time in history they had multiple career choices. I told my mom I still have those choices and I choose nursing. Anyways, my point for all you generation Xers is this: We still have endless choices to be anything we want but most Gen Xers want more than just a career, we want families…and we want to raise them. For Gen Xers our jobs do not define us…we want to live. On the other hand, in order to LIVE we need to work. Most families can not afford to live off of one income and for those that are lucky enough….here’s a thought…maybe the stay at home Mom or Dad needs something more than just raising kids. For those of you who just gaspsed, bear with me. While raising kids, in my opinion, is the most important job in the world it is also the most difficult and can be very draining because it is 24/7. It is not selfish but rather it is healthy for the primary caregiver to have some stimulating, thought provoking interaction and to have outside achievement. This is why some fincially well-off stay at home Moms or Dads choose to work part-time or do volunteer work. Studies have shown that the psychological well-being of a mother tends to set the tone for the psycholigical well being of the rest of the familiy. So respectively… a happy Mom means a happy family. All in all many generation Xers want a well rounded, well balanced life and I share my story with you because I am fortunate to have a job that allows this.
    Nursing as a career seems to have many of the motivating factors that Gen Xers seek in a profession: flexibility, stimulating-exciting work, family-work balance, independence and it pays well. The demand for nursing is so high right now that not only does it allow you the flexibility to practically choose your own hours it also gives you the freedom to change jobs when you are unhappy. There are several specialty areas in nursing so if you are no longer challenged with your specialty you can try another. Another thought provoking point…I feel it is important to keep your hands in a part-time career that has a pension or 401K or 403B and pays well enough that you can be fincially independent if you need to be. I do not wish divorce or death on anyone but these are facts of life and are possibilities for anyone. I know this sounds like a nursing recruitment add but for me nursing has allowed me to stay home during the week (I work every other w/e 12 hrs shifts and one 8 hr evening during the week = 20hrs-my husband is with the kids while I work), stimulating work and fincial independence. It may not be for eveyone but it does seem forfilled a lot of the desires of many “Generation Xers”

  35. Engr. Ekwe Jeffy
    Engr. Ekwe Jeffy says:

    Hello Dear,

    I am Engr. Ekwe Jeffy, 42 years old from United Kingdom I work as construction engineer and I don’t usually stay at home unless during weekend.
    My house address is 26 York Street , London ,

    I will like you to know that I have just 2 kids Charlene (7 years old) and Wayne (4 years old).
    I need an Au pair who can take care of them.
    Your duties will be taking them to where the school bus normally pick them and bringing them back home, play with them prepare/serving there snacks and foods.

    You will have your Private Room which will have Bathroom, Toilet,
    Television, Air-Conditional. You will have access to the Internet and
    a Telephone at home to get in touch with your friends and loved ones.
    You will be having Sundays as your off day, so to enable you have enough time for yourself.

    As for your salary, I will be paying you 3,500 Pounds every month and a pocket fee of 200 Pounds weekly which I suppose should be Okay by you.

    I hope to read from you soon.
    God Bless You
    Engr.ekwejeffy@yahoo.com
    Engr. Ekwe Jeffy

  36. Child of Gen. Xers
    Child of Gen. Xers says:

    There are a few things I find wrong with your article. First let me say that I am in no way, shape, or form of Generation X. I consider myself in Generation Z (though by some sources I can be a late Generation Y).

    Both of my parents worked full time when I was younger. It is not a “terrible idea conceived by the Baby Boomers.” nor does it have adverse effects on the children. This year’s (2011) poverty level is $22,350 for a four person family. This appears low but the price is set without adjusting for future inflation (its only April). And lets not forget that the government estimates are usually very off (they said that my parents could afford $12000 to pay for my college. Yeah right.)

    The 2011 average for a four person family with both parents working is $81,000. With one parent working, the average is nearly halved to $48,000. Each of these figures is the median for their respective ranges. I know my mother made in her part-time job (she received a part-time position later in my life) $30,000 this year, supporting a five person, four pet home almost entirely on her own. Given all this, we can safely assume that both parents can NOT afford to use a one working parent model unless said parent can double the other’s expected yearly salery, as these numbers assume that all your family is doing is working and sleeping. Your utilities and other activities and needs are not accounted for.

    Not to mention that having both parents working instills a strong sense of independence in their children. The daughters of women who work are likely to be more driven, do better in school, seek a better education and higher paying jobs, and are more likely to fend for themselves in relationships. Children who have one parent who’s main job is taking care of them are more likely to develop sexist views, and are more likely to be dependent on their significant other, unlikely to end abusive relationships.

    This is not to say all households are like this. Child care is expensive and has the risk of detrimental effects. However the teens I know who were in a child care program say that they never viewed it as a negative thing and claim close relationships with their parents. And remember that you don’t have to enlist child care if both parents are working.

    Personally, we went to my grandmothers while my parents worked. It essentially had the same positive social effects of child care and being raised by a parent (there were other kids on her block that were our age, which is great socially. This made it like child care services) plus the added bonus of a better relationship with my grandmother. Other young children I know are also with their grandparents while their own parents work.

    In the end, what I am trying to say, is that you need to do more research. When you post something, try to point out both sides of an argument.

  37. ipad3
    ipad3 says:

    Superb posting, I share the same views. I wonder why this particular world truly does not picture for a moment like me and also the blog site creator :D

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