Claudia Goldin won the Nobel Prize for the truth about women and work.

After 20 years of blogging, learning to do academic research was a steep learning curve. People told me to ask for help from professors at Harvard because they’d feel obligated to help me because I’m at Harvard as well. In fact most did not even feel obligated to reply to my email. But Claudia replied.

She told me what I was asking for was best accomplished with an econometrics grad student and gave me some ideas. So basically I asked a professor who was six months away from winning the Nobel Prize in economics if she wanted to be my grad student.

But really, now we know how much Claudia Goldin helped people throughout her career.

Is there an equation for how many times I’ve cited Claudia Goldin’s research on my blog to determine how brilliant I am about women in the workforce? When I called Melissa to tell her Claudia won the Nobel Prize Melissa immediate recognized the name as the one she cuts when she edits because I drop Claudia into every post I write.

I think my blog is like a Claudia Goldin book club. Each week we read blog posts that are in some way about her research. Sometimes we talk about policy. Sometimes we make it all about us. Sometimes  we’d read a bit of her book, or read a nod to her research at Jezebel . But Claudia’s been with us the whole time

When I first started reading her, I wrote about The End of the Glass Ceiling. In 2005. People thought I was nuts, but I was hooked. I trusted Claudia’s research. The same year I cited her when I wrote you can’t get respect for work and for parenting, right after I had a baby. And it was Claudia’s research, in 2006, that made me realize most high-earning women quit after maternity leave and we should just own it.

Claudia would never tell people what to do. She’s not like that. But I am.

So I told you in 2013 don’t be the breadwinner. Because Claudia showed that if you have a stay-at-home husband you’re likely to get a divorce. In 2016 Claudia found that even paying professional women more than men could not get women to keep working after they had kids. So I ranted about don’t pay for an MBA or law school or medical school when you won’t even stay in the workforce long enough to pay back loans.

People always ask me, “How do you know that my job is stupid job if you don’t know what I do?”

And I say, “Because you told me that your husband works full time and makes a lot of money and you’re also the primary caretaker of the kids.”

That’s Claudia Goldin right there. She won a Nobel Prize for showing us that it’s impossible to have two parents doing “greedy jobs” — which is her term for jobs that are serious enough to earn the parent respect. Because if both people have greedy jobs then no one is parenting.

The other thing people say to me is, “I have a friend who has a great career and she’s a great parent.”

And I say, “No you don’t. She’s lying to you.”

I started calling out the liars. Claudia’s data gives me confidence to go one step further and say to women no, you are not an exception, stop posturing to other women. Stop pretending to be superhuman to make other women feel bad.

Let’s pause right there and let it sink in. Someone just won a Nobel Prize in economics for saying that you can either be a high performer in your career or a good parent but you can’t be both. This is revolutionary.  It’s important because we have known since the 1960s that parents who can manage on one income should have one parent stay home.

So why does the second parent work if we have fifty years of research saying the second parent shouldn’t work? Emily Oster, an economist who writes about parenting, cites this study in her first book, Crib Sheet. In the book she writes that she knows the research and she doesn’t care, because parenting is not as interesting to her as work.

It takes a special person to go to work when everyone knows the family does not need the extra income. Goldin shows that the majority of women, even the very educated of those women, choose to drop out of the workforce because they know they can’t be a good mother and also be good at their job. Whatever good might mean to them, they know they can’t be good at both.

I say this as a parent who did everything wrong. I wanted to have a really interesting career and I wanted to be very involved with the kids. And there was no room for my marriage. I wanted to get everything. Be everything. And be respected for everything. And that’s probably why I’ve been entranced by Claudia Goldin for 20 years.

I see Claudia’s research as a celebration of humanity. She traces women’s rights from the 60s and 70s where almost 50% equity was achieved, through the 80s where women fought for a lot more. So by the time Generation X (my generation) got to the workforce we felt mostly equal.

Her research resonates with us because my generation didn’t want to fight. We wanted to raise our kids. All her data now validates us, because we lived counter to what the baby boomers were doing yet had no voice of our own. She discovered that the more power women have the less women want to work.

Claudia Goldin is so ahead of her time. She is so post-feminist. And her Nobel Prize is a celebration of what can happen when we are committed to elevating each other. And trusting the data.

86 replies
  1. Lucy
    Lucy says:

    I have a feeling you’re not interpreting Claudia Goldie’s work correctly, or at least greatly exaggerating it. Some of what you said resonates with what I’ve read in other places. Some stuff is very extreme. I do think two parents can’t have greedy jobs, but that doesn’t mean that two parents can’t have jobs. I am also skeptical that families can really survive on a single income in this day and age. Times are changing. I sent an article about the statistics of income earning, domestic abuse, and divorce to a couple of my friends who are the “breadwinners” and they said that their relationship was not like that. I believe them. There are always exceptions, and there is a new generation growing up that might be a little bit more equitable than previous generations. Do I still get angry at my husband for his passive-aggressive comments about how I should be doing more housework? Yes. But when I express that anger, instead of beating me he apologizes.

    I also think that Emily Oster’s point about how parenting is not interesting is very telling. Women who choose not to work (partially because of skyrocketing childcare costs) are welcome to do so. Maybe they really enjoy spending time with their kids! However, not everyone is suited to working with young children all day. If parents spend some time away from their children doing something they find fulfilling, this could be good for their children. It gives the parents something enriching, it makes it so that their children are not the center of their existence (possibly leading to codependency), and it models fulfillment for their children.

    Reply
    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      I am so incredibly frustrated with this comment that I’m annotating it. I’m frustrated that women are unable to accept that there can be research that shows women the reality of what is true about women and work and women and family.

      I have a feeling you’re not interpreting Claudia Goldie’s work correctly, or at least greatly exaggerating it. Some of what you said resonates with what I’ve read in other places. Some stuff is very extreme. I do think two parents can’t have greedy jobs, but that doesn’t mean that two parents can’t have jobs. WHAT? SO WHAT? WE ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT TWO PARENTS WHO SUCK AT THEIR JOBS AND SUCK AT PARENTING. THE WHOLE POINT HERE IS THAT TWO PARENTS CAN DEFINITELY HAVE JOBS BUT THEY WILL NOT BE GOOD AT THEM BECAUSE JOBS ARE GREEDY AND GREEDY JOBS REQUIRE THE PARENT TO NOT BE RESPONSIBLE FOR PARENTING. SO ONE PARENT HAS TO TAKE A HIT AT WORK SO THEY CAN TAKE CARE OF THE KID. NO ONE IS SAYING TWO PEOPLE CAN’T WORK. GOLDIN SAYS TWO PEOPLE CAN’T DO WELL AT WORK. I am also skeptical that families can really survive on a single income in this day and age. Times are changing. WE ARE NOT DISCUSSING WHAT YOU THINK THE CUTOFF IS FOR MIDDLE CLASS. GOLDIN, WHO IS AN ECONOMIST, ESTABLISHES THIS IN HER PAPERS, PROBABLY BY LOOKING AT THE DEPARTMENT OF LABOR. AND THEN STARTS HER ANALYSIS THERE. SO THE CUTOFF IS IRRELEVANT TO THIS DISCUSSION. I sent an article about the statistics of income earning, domestic abuse, and divorce to a couple of my friends who are the “breadwinners” and they said that their relationship was not like that. I believe them. There are always exceptions, and there is a new generation growing up that might be a little bit more equitable than previous generations. WHAT IN THE FUCK IS THIS? IS THIS YOUR RESEARCH? HOW IS THIS A RESPONSE TO A NOBEL PRIZE WINNER’S RESEARCH? YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY KILLING ME. ALSO, GOLDIN’S RESEARCH SPECIFICALLY SHOWS THE NEXT GENERATION IS CHOOSING TO BE LESS EQUITABLE BECAUSE THAT FEELS BEST. Do I still get angry at my husband for his passive-aggressive comments about how I should be doing more housework? Yes. But when I express that anger, instead of beating me he apologizes.THE BEATING COMMENT IS PRICELESS. I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY ABOUT IT, I JUST WANTED TO NOTE IT, FOR THE AUDIENCE :)

      I also think that Emily Oster’s point about how parenting is not interesting is very telling. Women who choose not to work (partially because of skyrocketing childcare costs) are welcome to do so. Maybe they really enjoy spending time with their kids! However, not everyone is suited to working with young children all day. If parents spend some time away from their children doing something they find fulfilling, this could be good for their children.THERE IS NO DATA TO SHOW THIS. OSTER DOES NOT HAVE DATA TO SHOW THIS, AND GOLDIN DOES NOT HAVE DATA TO SHOW THIS. SO I REALLY ENJOY HOW YOU WRITE, THIS COULD BE GOOD. IT’S JUST CRAZY TALK. It gives the parents something enriching, WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? YOU’RE IN AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE. THE CHILDREN HAVE THE GROWING BRAINS AND NEED ENRICHMENT. PARENTS DO NOT NEED ENRICHMENT. THEIR BRAINS ARE NOT GROWING. it makes it so that their children are not the center of their existence (possibly leading to codependency), and it models fulfillment for their children. THIS IS EXTREMELY FUCKED UP. YOU DO NOT MODEL FULFILLMENT TO YOUR CHILDREN BY NEGLECTING THEM. CHILDREN NEED TO FEEL THAT THEY ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THEIR PARENT’S LIFE, BECAUSE IF THEY AREN’T, THEN WHY NOT? AND WHO WILL TAKE CARE OF THEM? IF WORK IS MORE IMPORTANT TO A PARENT THAN THE CHILD, THEN WHO CAN THE CHILD COUNT ON? THIS IS SO INCREDIBLY MESSED UP I COULD CRY. BUT ALSO, THIS IS THE MENTALITY A PARENT STARTS WITH, AND THEN THE PARENT DOES MENTAL GYMNASTICS TO DENY GOLDIN’S RESEARCH. AND I’VE BEEN DEALING WITH THIS FOR 20 YEARS, AND FOR SOME REASON I THOUGHT BECAUSE GOLDIN WON THE NOBEL PRIZE I WOULD NOT HAVE TO DEAL WITH THIS ANYMORE.

      Reply
      • Gayle S
        Gayle S says:

        Sorry, I am Team Lucy on this. I don’t think many, if not most jobs,are “greedy jobs.” In high income/status fields like finance that might be (most jobs equate seat time with quality work), but many if not most everyday people’s jobs are vapid and empty. Okay that’s a bit cynical. They are stuck in cogs in a wheel jobs, which is why most Corporate American/Global Corporations are trying everything they can to do away with them in the name of efficiency and higher profits (my opinion). I also think Americans overstate how great they are at parenting and how great their impact has been on their children by staying home and “providing enrichment.” Personally (and this is me being cynical), I think that many women (especially dominant culture women) simply want to stay home and raise their kids rather than compete/work outside the home. And that’s okay. Competing and winning is hard. Cop to that, don’t try to justify that you’re fulfilling some higher mission and turning out “better kids.” Yes, I chose to work because I needed to (as a single mother and because I later married the “wrong guy”), though my daughter had a full-time stay-at-home female who took her to tennis lessons and made sure she did her homework (her grandmother). But I think she turned out as great as she did because of the variety of people who were a part of her life, giving her a much more well-rounded perspective of the world and experiences (the whole “it takes a village” thing). She experienced enough of my own neuroses (and my mother’s rigidities) as it were; thankfully I was not a full-time stay-at-home parent.

        Reply
        • Penelope
          Penelope says:

          Yes competition is a dominant force at work, and most women don’t like because if you don’t compete full-time full-throttle then you lose. Parents don’t stay at home with kids to “provide enrichment” they stay at home to provide kids with emotional availability, which is about time, energy, and physical presence.

          Reply
          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            My daughter said something funny this morning. I had been reading the NYT, which had a funny article about how parents are screwing up online grading systems. Here it is:

            https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/29/opinion/grades-parents-students-teachers.html?unlocked_article_code=1.CE0.M_jy.Rg42lm4g_vUT&smid=url-share

            It’s full of hilarious anecdotes, e.g.

            “I’ll never forget the example where there was a student in an English classroom in eighth grade and the teacher said to the student, ‘You need to put your phone away.’ And the student said, ‘I can’t. It’s my mom. You still haven’t posted my makeup work that you graded, and if it’s not posted by this weekend, I’m going to be grounded,’” she told me, highlighting how stress provoking and disruptive to learning the technology could be.

            Parents are all over online grading systems, especially pushy helicopter or snowplow parents. My daughter’s school has an online grading system, and my appropriate degree of interaction with it is zero.

            So my daughter asked “what’s a snowplow parent?” and I explained that it’s the parent who clears everything out of the path of their kid. She understood that, though neither of us is sure the difference is clear between “helicopter parents” and “snowplow parents.”

            Then she said “You’re a Clippy parent.” My wife said “whaaaa?” but I immediately understood what she mean, so I said, “It looks like you’re making a dress there. Would you like help?” and she said “Exactly.”

            I don’t even know why she knows who Clippy was. But it made me think about your line above, “Parents… stay at home to provide kids with emotional availability.” This is the description of so much of what I do as a stay-at-home parent: I’m just here when the kids need me. “It looks like you’re ___. Would you like help?” Clippy parent. I’ll take it.

  2. Liz
    Liz says:

    Goldin is a genius. I respect her work tremendously.

    Goldin said: “We’re never going to have gender equality until we also have couple equity…While there has been “monumental progressive change, at the same time there are important differences.”

    I 100% agree that attempting to be superhuman is a lost cause.

    What I fail to understand is the conclusion that women who want to be good mothers shouldn’t work, or shouldn’t work so-called respect jobs. It’s too binary of a conclusion, and does not sound like equity in the home. What even is a respect job? Perhaps your definition is higher than mine; for example, a 80-hour a week executive job.

    I’m a boring old academic with two small children. I work part-time from home and write things for professors. We don’t really need the money, but when I spend a few days alone with the kids without working, I feel as though I’m losing my mind. Yes, ChatGPT thinks I have ASD. I feel as though I’m respected within my circle, but maybe it’s not a respect job.

    Another factor is husbands these days. Many want to be great fathers and not the sole breadwinner. We have to consider their wants and needs in a family equation, too.

    Reply
    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      Goldin believes we’ll have gender equality when we do not have “greedy jobs.” She also believes we are very, very far from that. In the meantime, I’m talking about our reality. The reality right now, based on Goldin’s research, is that people do not respect you in your job because an academic job is a greedy job and you are part-time.

      You already know this, and down the line you will stop doing this work because your kids will need more of your time and your colleagues will be more dismissive. (This is exactly what Goldin’s research says — the further you go out, the more women drop out of the workforce completely.)

      You have some pretty disingenuous questions in your comment. Like, “What even is a respect job?” It’s a job we are willing to do when we don’t need the money. Goldin defines it as that in her research and you define it that way by deciding to go to work only two days a week — or not. Each person defines it for themselves.

      You also say, “Another factor is husbands… we have to consider their wants…” What the hell is this??? It’s just chatter so you don’t have to face reality. GOLDIN JUST WON A NOBEL PRIZE FOR CONSIDERING HUSBANDS!!!!! Can we please be done with denying that Goldin’s research applies to us? It is not helping to try to obfuscate Goldin’s extremely clear ideas so that we don’t have to face them.

      Penelope

      Reply
      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        Thanks for this post. It’s interesting. It’d be great if you could recommend what you think is Goldin’s best book. Yeah, I’m an old-fashioned guy, who buys and reads books.

        As for “greedy jobs,” how could we possibly get rid of them?

        As long as someone is willing to work harder than you, your job will be greedy, because you have to keep up with them. Maybe the Europeans have it right with mandated months of vacations. In America, we are dedicated to the winner-take-all mentality in all things. Why is that going to stop?

        And I agree with you and Goldin – you can’t keep ahead of that other person trying to work harder than you if you’re dividing your attention with your kids. If you want to have a greedy job and kids, you need someone to stay home with them full-time, or you’re going to do both working and parenting sub-optimally. If you want to be in the C-suite at a Fortune 500, you’re not going to get there by driving your kids to soccer.

        Reply
        • Penelope
          Penelope says:

          Well, that’s the think about Goldin’s research – the reason she was able to get so far in her career telling everyone that women don’t want to work when they have kids is she never actually said that. She stopped short of that and said what would have to change to entice women to work. But there’s not really any evidence that society wants that. There׳s not evidence that everyone wants to do half kids half not kids. We just keep saying people should say they want that. But people who have that choice — like, they can make their own job and they can choose to have just one kid, and they can pick a partner who does the exact same thing and they can live in a low cost of livi g place: NEVER. No one ever makes that decision. People have other priorities. So I just don’t think it’s really what people want. And I think Goldin knows this, but she’d be ostracized if she went there.

          Reply
          • Jennifer
            Jennifer says:

            I notice the opposite: that women want to work instead of staying home, but feel they have to justify this with the cost of living. Of course many families need two incomes to get by, but many also just aren’t making the financial sacrifices that one full-time parent would require. Then there’s the rose-tinted view of past generations, when one income supported a family…forgetting that they lived in a small ranch home with one bathroom, shared a car, had one TV set, cooked from scratch and sewed, vacationed rarely and had never heard of cell phones, cable TV, the internet or many things we consider necessities today.

          • Bostonian
            Bostonian says:

            Freakonomics re-released a podcast with Claudia Goldin to celebrate her win, and they have a bunch more:

            https://freakonomics.com/podcast-tag/claudia-goldin/

            So I got something of an introduction to her research and ideas. One of he things she talked about a lot was the high compensation cost of workplace flexibility. Her main point seemed to be that women make less than men not because of discrimination but because they choose professions, and jobs within those professions, that have greater workplace flexibility, and these pay less. “Flexible” is the opposite of “greedy” as refers to a job.

            I was nodding my head on my way around the pond listening to her because I lived this research. We were a little concerned when I stepped back to take care of the kids because we gave up having two salaries, but i knew the research supported it. And once I got out of my wife’s way she no longer needed flexibility at work and could commit to a greedy workplace, and her income shot up, quickly replacing mine.

            Every time you say to your boss “I don’t know if I can go to XXX, let me check,” it makes it less likely you’ll be invited to XXX in the future. With two careers in the family, each person has to check with the other. Now she doesn’t have to check, she just informs: “I have to work late tonight” or “I have to be in Zurich next week.” Okay, no problem.

            I found a paper of hers which talks about the phenomenon of high-cost flexibility:

            https://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/aer.104.4.1091

            “I will demonstrate that some occupations have high penalties for even small amounts of time out of the labor force and have nonlinear earnings with respect to hours worked. Other occupations, however, have small penalties for time out and almost linear earnings with respect to hours worked. In the first group of occupations are individuals who have earned an MBA or a JD. In the second group—the occupations with lower penalties for time out and the more linear ones—is one in the health sector (pharmacy).”

            Her interest seems to be mostly in what can be done to eradicate the greedy jobs and make them more like the flexible jobs – what she calls the “last chapter” in “gender convergence.”

          • Bostonian
            Bostonian says:

            I sent in another comment, but I think it got hung in the filters because it had links (to articles by and interviews of Goldin). But I wanted to drop a quick addendum: while I was talking with my kids about her ideas my wife went through the kitchen for more coffee on her way to work (she doesn’t go to Zurich until tomorrow), and she said:

            “I took maternity leave for DD at exactly the wrong time; I missed out on a promotion cycle. That would have involved a raise of about 100K.”

            So back to the idea of non-linear financial penalties for work flexibility: it cost our family more than a million dollars in income to have our second child.

            And that, largely, is why we don’t have three kids, or four kids. And why I am very supportive of the “tradwife” movement. This is a way in which it would be better for our family if I were the woman and able to have kids, and if she were the man, and able to keep working right through it. I thought when I started being a stay-at-home dad that I’d be hanging out with all the other stay-at-home dads, but guys who are actually happy doing this are rare as hens’ teeth. Women happy doing what my wife does (crushing it in the international corporate workplace) are rare but made even more so because if they want to have kids they have to find one of us. The flexibility to do anything family-related, even so simple as taking maternity leave, comes at a massive cost in the most remunerative professions.

  3. Carmen
    Carmen says:

    Thank you for all your blog posts over the years explaining what it’s really like. I do not read the research but everything you write is true. In my next life, I will do everything differently. Work is meaningless. Any greedy job is going to have greedy coworkers who make the most enriching work feel like wading through a snake pit. I’d rather be home helping my kids with their homework. With their kids, women get to be the number-one influencer in the world and they don’t even need to log into a device or brush their hair. I see that people who ignore their kids when they are young end up spending a lot of time with them in their 20s carting those same kids to rehab.

    Reply
  4. harris497
    harris497 says:

    Penny,

    My wife is a veterinarian who did not practice for 20 years, so she could home-school our 6 children, K thru 12. She did some relief work for local veterinarians when it was possible, but this was for a week or so, three or four times a year. This kept her hands in the game.
    It was her choice because I worked two jobs and we made ends meet. This wasn’t ideal, but yet it was for us. Our kids are great and love coming home to visit and they call constantly. Not everyone can do this, because it is not thought to be an option or because some people are not psychologically able to do it. This takes a true partnership with the children’s well being as the focus.
    Having said this, the stay at home person does need enriching activities, adult interaction, and a sense of fulfillment. I feel that each couple has to muddle through this and come to their own stasis. But, it must be voluntary for it to work. Also, the working partner must be mentally present when at home. This is tough. The family is the focus, not the self.

    It worked for us, now my wife is practicing at two clinics, doing relief work for others and is having the time of her life.

    Reply
    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      I think this is an arrogant comment. I think everyone is psychologically able to have a strong partnership. Everyone is able to have adult conversations away from their kids. Everyone can feel fulfilled living for their children. We have been doing this for millions of years. When we start talking about “I had a good life but I’m special” that doesn’t help anyone.

      Penelope

      Reply
      • Kate
        Kate says:

        I think it is arrogant to say that every woman can feel fulfilled living for their children. I have not at all observed that to be true. I love my kids and was home with them (my husband had the greedy job), but I also sought out “enriching activities, adult interaction, and a sense of fulfillment”. Often the enriching activities were informed by being a parent e.g. lobbying for school board policy changes or environmental activism, but they were with other adults and often I’d be ignoring the kids while I worked on them from the computer desk in the kitchen.

        Yes, we’ve been doing this for millions of years, BUT, children used to run feral more while adults did other things. And lots of women were either unhappy or delegated raising children to staff. Very young children are overwhelming and understimulating, and older children are often off doing their own thing.

        I agree 100% that one can pick at most 2 out of 3: Strong marriage, being there for your kids, parents having two demanding jobs. But that doesn’t mean that one can ignore that adult women have needs that are not met by childrearing.

        Reply
      • Minami
        Minami says:

        I think that they are saying that they basically did your recommendation and that it worked for them: the mom didn’t work while raising their kids, and now the kids are grown and in good relationship with the parent.

        And they are making a true point that not everybody has a strong partnership or has their kids’ well-being as the focus – which is a different thing from whether everybody CAN do those things. Because whether they can or not, many just don’t.

        They ARE being kind of arrogant/bragging about it, though. :)

        Reply
      • eh
        eh says:

        This feels like a paleo-diet argument. “It’s the way humans were meant to be”… except in paleo days humans died at 30. There’s no way to know if, generally speaking, humans of the ages felt fulfilled living for their children, or if generally humans even ‘lived for their children’ at all. And… humans have only existed for 300k years. Just FYI, good factoid you can store for the next time you’re making paleo arguments.

        Reply
    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      I don’t think your comment is arrogant! This is pretty much how I lived my life with my husband of now 50 years and raising our two children, as well as being foster parents.

      Our “kids” are now middle-aged and doing great. Our daughter decided, with her husband, to not have children due to their time-consuming careers.

      Our son is expecting his second child with his wife. She works from home completely (finance work) and he works at home 2-3 days a week (engineer).

      Reply
    • Sue
      Sue says:

      Isn’t it rewarding when your children are grown (mine are 47 & 45) and want to spend time with you? Our daughter is planning a family trip to Palm Springs now.

      When we get around the dinner table, we laugh so hard at some of my “antics” when raising them and homeschooling.

      My husband took them every Saturday to do fun trips. I went along on some, but other times I needed the break.

      Congrats on the happy family. It is not easy to achieve.

      Reply
    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      I’m reconsidering my comment about it being arrogant. I can’t actually remember my own rationale. But I can remember the feeling of being so uptight about this whole topic that I can’t think straight sometimes. So I”m sorry about that.

      Penelope

      Reply
      • harris497
        harris497 says:

        Penny,
        Perspective is influenced by a large number of variables, and these change from moment to moment. I do not believe my comments were arrogant, and while they may be construed as a little boastful, (thanks for the heads up Minami) that was not my intent. Nobody here knows who I am :) or cares. There is no point to boasting…
        I intended to convey that it was okay to do things differently, and that while we chose one path, for others it may not be a viable option. Yes, everyone can feel fulfilled living for their children,but not everyone can make real, enhance and therefore actualize that fulfillment in the same way. That is
        Mytwocentsworth,
        D.
        I love you much :)

        Reply
  5. Linda J. Mortazavi
    Linda J. Mortazavi says:

    I worked for a Cardiology practice. My husband worked in a hospital Cardiology lab. With our call hours, we worked about 24/7 especially my husband who worked in Invasive Cardiology. When there was an opening for a physician, the male doctors would always remark that it would be ridiculous to fill the vacancy with a female Cardiologist because females always left medicine to be home with their kids. It sounded bad like they should not say it, but every time they hired a female after about three years, she would leave the practice to stay home with her kids. In my 25 years, no male Cardiologist ever left the firm to stay home with his kids. My husband and I had greedy jobs, and we were pretty shitty parents. We had caregivers and our parents raising our kids. We did not want to spend less , so we worked at more hospitals by taking more call on our time off. Sometimes we paid a back up sitter just in case. I did not want to stay home with my kids, and my husband never felt that he wanted to either. Luckily, he understood that about me because my friends and parents thought I should stay home. For me, I know Goldin’s research is correct.

    Reply
    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      Thank you so much for writing this comment. The only way individual women will believe Claudia’s research is for people you to back it up. I wish I could put fireworks next to your comment.

      Penelope

      Reply
      • Ann
        Ann says:

        Hi Linda,
        Thank you sharing your experience. Genuine question,is it bad if the main care givers are Grandparents?I work with a woman that got pregnant and married 3 days before her 17th birthday. She was an only child,her husband one of 11.He moved into her parents house.Her parents did most of the childcare ( they went on to have two more) .She used her money from work to buy stuff for them.She inherited a fair and built a house.Her eldest got the Grandparents house.Another friend spoke about working on a cruise ship.Often she had Philipino co workers.They tried to time their babies off season and often left them with Grandparents while they worked.

        Reply
          • Ann
            Ann says:

            Hi Linda,
            I have read if children have a few people in their lives( nor just parents ) who care fir and about them it has a positive impact.Dr Gabor Mate talks about raising kids in small multigenerational groups.We don’t really do that now.Maybe you did with Grandparents and babysitters? I don’t really know what the right answer is.It seems to be harder now

  6. Blandy Fisher
    Blandy Fisher says:

    One thing no one tells us: life is long. I was a stay at home mom for ten years. When my youngest when to school, I went back to school. Grad school was relatively easy to manage with children and a little help in the afternoons. When I finally went back into the work force I had been out for fifteen years. Now my children are in their 30s, I’ve had a terrific (and demanding) career for almost 20 years, and I’m in law school at night after working all day. I have not sacrificed my personal life to do this. We can have it all, just not all at the same time.

    Reply
    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      This is really, really true. Being at Harvard now, I am not using ANYTHING I gained from being in the workforce when my kids were ages 0-15. Really. I could have just stayed home.

      Penelope

      Reply
      • Blandy Fisher
        Blandy Fisher says:

        I will add, the trick to staying home and not losing one’s mind is finding a balance of kid stuff and adult stuff. I spent every free penny at parents’ day out / play school, and it was worth it. The kids made a lot of friends, were engaged and well cared for several hours/week, and I had time for some brain-demanding volunteer gigs and personal pursuits. All of that said — it was scary to know if anything happened to my spouse or if our marriage went south, I was in big financial trouble. We took out life insurance for the first issue. Grad school was my insurance policy for the second. Now, I would ask for a prenup.

        Reply
        • A
          A says:

          Hi Blandy Fischer-Dieskau
          That’s the thing .Staying home with kids is great but financially it is scary if you don’t have savings.One way ( and it won’t work in every country) is if you use all kinds of state help.In Ireland now they have allowed stay at home to have a tax credit.This means they have enough contributions for a state pension.There probably are other ways like taking students/ renting a room on Airbnb to make money and still be with your kids.But then you have to comfortably with strangers in your house.I’m sure others have better suggestions .I’m really curious as to how to around this.Would it be to for the working spouse to put money into an account for the stay at home parent?Not sure if that would work for everyone either.if income is low and expenses high.it’s an interesting question

          Reply
      • Jaya
        Jaya says:

        These are actual questions, not arguments disguised as questions. I don’t know the point by point trajectory of your career.

        1) “I’m not using ANYTHING I gained…” – would Harvard have brought you on if you didn’t have a successful platform and a long history of publicly-available interesting thinking?

        2) Would the platform have been at the place where it was when Harvard brought you on if you hadn’t been in the workforce for 15 years? In other words, what was built within that 15 years?

        3) Would your own thinking have been in the same place if you hadn’t spent time working? This is not an insulting question – caregivers spend an enormous amount of time thinking, growing, and developing, I’m asking about different inputs of info simply leading to different outputs. There is tangible benefit to physically spending time writing and articulating thoughts that you can build upon and reference later, and devoting time to that practice. If you hadn’t devoted time to whatever practices you undertook, would you have been in a place where you knew you wanted to go to Harvard and do the work you’re doing? Would your mind have been captured by other questions and problems?

        Again, all earnest questions. You might have a narrow definition of what ‘using’ means, and I might have a broader one. Just curious to hear more.

        Separately, I haven’t had a chance to read the research as extensively as you, so I’ll be curious to find if the question of “what happens when the primary breadwinner dies, leaving the person with few to no workforce ties without a current income” has come up and has been answered by data.

        Reply
        • Penelope
          Penelope says:

          You don’t need research for your last question: Educated, middle class families have some sort of life insurance on their breadwinner. You’re always balancing the sacrifice your kids make for the second partner to work vs the benefits of the work to the family. You know for sure the kids will suffer if the second parent works. The odds of the breadwinner dying without life insurance is something you can control. The odds of the breadwinner becoming incapacitated is very unlikely. Sacraficing the kids definite benefits for some unlikely benefit of a second parent working makes no sense at all.

          I think a lot about your questions about how I got the position at Harvard. I got the position because I was doing obsessive research about autism for the last 10 years, and the last 7 included about 40 journal articles a week. It was a crazy amount of research for someone who was not in academia. Also, I am doing research on a condition that my whole family has, so I know a lot about it already.

          My blog is usually a liability. People have no context for someone who writes about their life like I do online. And it’s been 20 years, which is very unforgiving. I really appreciate that the people I’m working with could overlook the blog — and the places all over the internet where people are saying that I’m crazy.

          As with all things that look high achieving, the amount of work it takes to get there is insane. And the money I’ve made comes out to like ten cents an hour. If I were coaching me I’d tell myself I should have been parenting, or earning money. There is no good reason for me to be indulging in my obsession except that I am autistic and can’t stop when something interests me.

          Penelope

          Reply
    • A
      A says:

      Thanks for sharing.It sounds like you were happy to have the kids then the career.Whereas people seem to be told have the career and then the children.I don’t what the answer is but I liked hearing how you did things.I’m 40 and don’t see myself having a career just part time jobs.I do courses online( don’t always use the experience after) and read this blog for my brain.I love my kids but sometimes relations and and domesticity can be boring

      Reply
  7. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Society has shifted from demonizing working moms as uncaring workaholics, to assuming that stay-at-home moms are boring, unfulfilled and unmotivated. There is also a growing sentiment that a non-wage-earner is not contributing their share to the family or society. Eventually the pendulum will settle in the middle, when people accept that a full-time parent makes life less hectic for the entire family. Hopefully there will eventually be more acceptance of men who want this role. I’ve also noticed a trend of gaslighting about the past, to imply that career women were common through all past generations. If this were true, the Rosie the Riveter campaign would not have been needed to convince them to join the workforce! Reading a recent article about the struggles of two-income families, every other comment was “our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers did it, so we can too!” Some fields have been traditionally female, such as teaching, for many years and women have always worked in family businesses, nursing, housekeeping, etc. but the idea of a full-time and demanding career expected of ALL women was new in the 1970’s. My grandmother had to work in a factory to support herself because she was divorced, but that was very unusual at the time for her generation. No other grandmothers I knew worked, and many mothers didn’t. But today, every mom I know has a job of some kind. People have also decided that high divorce rates for career women are only because those women have financial options…not because of the increased stress of arguing out a workload balance in a two income family.

    Reply
    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      Jennifer, I expect that the younguns today don’t know that back in days of yore a female teacher or secretary was expected – sometimes required – to stop working if she got married. “Marriage bars” persisted until the sixties, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

      Reply
    • Ann
      Ann says:

      Hi Jennifer,
      I don’t think you are wrong about the divorce rates not just because women have their own money.Its often the dissatisfaction at the load being put on them.Sometimes it seems easier to be on your own with the kids instead of managing the emotional load for a husband/ boyfriend.

      Reply
  8. Sister wolf
    Sister wolf says:

    Does anyone else appreciate the irony of Goldin’s work, in that she herself IS NOT A MOTHER??

    Don’t @ me; telling readers they are laughable idiots is not a discussion. They took the time to respond and deserve respect even when you disagree.

    Joanne x

    Reply
    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      Yeah. I completely agree. I mean, it’s really just incredible to me that the natural next step to Goldin’s research is that it looks desperate and out of control to think you have to work long hours while you raise kids. This is why gen y is being stay at home
      Girlfriends. This discussion is too much for everyone though. So they pretend it’s not the natural outcome of her research

      Reply
  9. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Yes, and if women didn’t lose their jobs when marrying back then, they certainly lost them when having children. So, I don’t see where this notion is coming from that many past generations of women have juggled careers and families, so the present one should be able to. It’s really a fairly recent development.

    Reply
  10. Maria
    Maria says:

    I come from a culture where children are nurtured not only by their parents, but also their grandparents and extended family. My dad, who was my main caregiver growing up, moved in when my son was born. My mom is here about 1/3 of the time, and my in-laws visit often. With this much support, it’s been easy to balance parenting with two “greedy” jobs. I have time to take language classes, go to the gym, and participate in a book club, all while earning 2x more than my husband. Yes, the mental load can get overwhelming (nannies, parents, etc all want to go through me for everything), and sometimes we fight about chores — but when it comes to caring for our son, my husband pulls his weight and more. We also have lots of parent friends who live in the neighborhood, and who we see nearly every week. Unlike a lot of American parents, we have a “village” — and I’m very grateful that we do. I would never trade what we have to stay home with my son full time.

    Reply
    • Ann
      Ann says:

      Hi Maire,
      That’s sounds lovely and you have a great relationship with your parents.Everything I read seems to point to having a main care giver with lots of help as being the ideal.The mental load is an issue even if you are neurotypical

      Reply
  11. lizzy
    lizzy says:

    Emily Oster’s first book is not called Crib Sheet; it is called Expecting Better. You say that Emily Oster cites a study in Crib Sheet saying that the second parent shouldn’t work. I checked both Crib Sheet and Expecting better and couldn’t find anything like this. What study are you referring to?

    I also couldn’t find anything in any of her books that sounded anything like, as you say, “she knows the research and she doesn’t care.”

    Can you point us to the specific parts of Oster’s book that you’re referencing here?

    Reply
    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      Yeah, you’re right. It’s not her first book. But I’m talking about Crib Sheet, chapter 9. It’s about how to decide if the mom should stay home or work outside the home. You’d think the decision about staying home or not would be a huge chapter, but it’s one of her shortest chapters. She summarizes a famous study from economist Christopher Rhum. This study says that two parents working has “uniformly harmful consequences for advantaged adolescents.”

      In the next paragraph Oster argues with Rhum’s study and declares that it should be ignored. She cites zero studies in her argument. (For those of you keeping score at home, Rhum’s study has been replicated in 140 different permutations since 2008.) By chapter’s end Oster decides, “…the weight of the evidence suggests the net effect of of working on child development is small to zero.”

      She says, “We shouldn’t have to say we are staying home for our children’s optimal development.” If it seems surprising not to optimize for child development, consider that Oster explains that she’s optimizing for her own happiness: “I’ve figured out that my happiness-maximizing allocation is something like eight hours of work and three hours of kids a day. Kids are exhausting. The first hour with them is amazing, the second less good, and by hour four I’m ready for a glass of wine or, even better, some time with my research.”

      This is the scariest line in any of her books. Because she’s asking here, How much happiness can the kids give me? And, when the can’t provide enough happiness to her, she leaves to do something else.

      Newsflash: It is your job to make your kids feel important and loved. Kids don’t feel that way if they need to make you happy in order to be in your presence.

      In fact, the DSM calls Oster’s behavior parentification and it’s a form of neglect. A parentified child realizes they cannot depend on their parent, and instead, the parent relies on them.  This behavior is often generational. Adults who were parentified compensate for their lost childhood by looking to their own children to fill emotional needs. I don’t know what Oster’s childhood was like, but I can guess: her father was a professor at Yale and her mother was the first female dean of Yale’s business school.

      The Nobel committee just shined a light on a lifetime of research that shows that parents who have two careers like Emily Oster’s parents are not parenting. Claudia Goldin has shown in no uncertain terms that it is impossible to be a parent and have the jobs that Emily Oster’s parents had.

      Why is this a comment? Why isn’t this in an op-ed in the NYT? Still, I continue.

      Look, women don’t have to stay home with kids, but if you want kids, and you want to work full-time, marry someone who wants to stay home with the kids.

      We make decisions like this all the time. You didn’t let yourself have kids with someone who wanted to raise them in Antarctica. You didn’t let yourself have kids with someone who already had ten kids of their own. We all make strategic decisions so we can have a fulfilling family life. One of those decisions is acknowledging that families need to make children a priority. One person earns money and one person takes care of children. Or, if you want to have two terrible careers, and a chaotic household, you could have two people working part-time and two people taking care of children part-time.

      Here’s what’s really true: if your parents did not make you feel like the most important thing in their life, you are likely to grow up and try to be the most important thing in your adult life. Which makes you very limited as a parent. And neglect is passed down from generation to generation. If you can see it, though, you can stop it.

      Penelope

      Reply
      • lizzy
        lizzy says:

        I don’t think it’s accurate to say that Oster “ignores” the study’s findings. She notes that the study found that the effect of two parents working is actually positive for kids from poorer families, and then says that “Researchers tend to interpret this as saying that in poor households, the income from working is important for child outcomes. Whereas in richer households, the lost time doing ‘enriching’ things with a parent is more important. This is possible, although since these estimate are still just correlations, it is challenging to read so much into the data. And even if we do admit this interpretation, it highlights the importance of the child’s activities, not the parent leave configuration.”

        I find the critique about correlation vs causation convincing, since families where two parents work are different from families where one parent works, in a way that’s probably impossible to fully control for (and you can replicate a flawed study design as many times as you want, but it doesn’t make confounders go away). 

        It’s not fair to paint Oster’s position as: “I know that all the studies say it’s better for both parents to stay home, but I hate staying home, so I’m going to ignore those studies.” You might disagree with her reading of the studies, but don’t misrepresent her argument. 

        Reply
  12. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    A few things: The whole: Women can do it all really backfired on all of us. Now, men expect you to work. They don’t want the pressure of being the sole breadwinner. This ideal has been pounded into us, men and women, for decades so much so that now its: You’re a selfish women if you expect your husband to bear the burden of bring home if not 100% of the income, then at least enough to pay for groceries, gas,and a few other things. Penelope pointed this out years ago: One of the most important things you can do in life is pick the right person to have kids with. You have to know your true self and what you REALLY want in a husband and kids, not what you THINK you should want or have.

    There’s a book called ‘Why beautiful people have more daughters’ the book is scorned for its stark theories on why humans do what they do especially around sex, relationships and family. and it stated something that really jarred me: Women secretly want to have children with one type of man but want a completely different type of man to raise them. I didn’t believe it until I started looking around at some of my friends that remarried. They had their kids with a man that was typical alpha male, then after a few years, they divorced them and married beta males. This is not true in every circumstance but It happed enough in my life that made me think that there may be some truth to it.

    Reply
    • Ann
      Ann says:

      Hi Jenn,
      If we still were hunter / gatherers or small bands of closely bonded people we could do this.Get pregnant by the who you fancy but who likes to off on adventures and raise them within the community with the more stable man.

      Reply
  13. GenerationXpert
    GenerationXpert says:

    These are just my observations. My kids are now grown (22 and 19 years old). When my husband and i started our careers we were rockstars at what we did. But then I had a baby. I was able to get a job in my field working part time (director level). My husband lost out on a promotion because he took a 4-week paternity leave after my maternity leave ended. We had another baby and we both kind of were in holding patterns until they were in school. They went to daycare three days a week. I dropped them off at 9, he picked them up at 4. Then I got a job working remotely. Eventually he did too. We never returned to rockstar status, but we have a good life and the kids had a really great childhood.

    My BFF had her first kid 10 weeks after I did. She always worked fulltime and was go-go-go. I think she missed out on a lot by trying to have it all. But she also didn’t have a partner like I do who was all in. Parent first, professional second.

    I don’t think I would of been a great stay at home mom, but I was great at balance. And my kids are doing great.

    Reply
    • Maggie
      Maggie says:

      Thank you for this comment! I work from home and have a full-time job, but I am also present for my son, who I have a great bond with. He’s five now and I’ve had to work since he was born (I took 12 weeks maternity leave). However, because I worked from home, I was able to exclusively breasfteed and do other typical “at home” mom things. Now, I drop him and pick him up from school (he just started school a month ago). I spend a LOT of time with him. I feel privleged to have the space and time to do this, but I am also the primary earner in the family. I feel like there is something in between either working 80+ hours or staying at home, and I can’t be the only one doing it!

      Reply
  14. Anon
    Anon says:

    Another way to stay home with kids is to be on Social Welfare/ Benefits.This is easier in some countries.I’m not sure it would work in the US.I was for a time.I moved back home from the UK after a relationship broke up.Penelope talks about closing to have kids with people. I didn’t actively chose.I got pregnant after a year together. We lasted until she was two.He had a similar pattern with his eldest daughter.I was in Germany at the time I got pregnant. I found out at 7 weeks.You can have an abortion up to 12 weeks there.I said I wanted the baby ,he said it too but told me about the 12 weeks thing.I wonder now if he said he wanted me not to keep the baby would I have done it?Would I have gone back to college and finished and would the relationship have finished anyway ( like would we have bothered long distance?).
    I don’t regret my daughter but I do regret some circumstances happening around her.My Dad developed an incurable neurological condition. My mental health wasn’t great and it was better for me to be available. I was advised to go on the Lone Parent Allowance.I had never been involved with the system before.It kept my head above water for a few years. Now I have a baby after a big gap.I work a seasonal very part time job and another very part time cleaning job.His Dad minds him while I work.I still receive some state help but I also put up a ‘stamp’ for pensions.I’m scared to earn over a level for now .I pay taxes but do get more back for it than middle earners.
    Not for everyone but it can be a way around things until your children are older.

    Reply
  15. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    This paragraph from your previous post (Lessons from the bottom rung of academia) – “I’m in a lab run by a professor who is the best manager I’ve ever worked under. I want to put her name here, but shockingly, not everyone thinks it’s an honor to have their name on my blog. She is amazing at motivating and inspiring people to do the work she wants to do. And she’s organized. She published an incredible number of papers while she had kids and I’m always asking questions that are too personal to figure out how she manages her life. I wonder if anyone has written their dissertation on their advisor’s life skills?” – makes perfect sense to me in the context of this post. I think there are always exceptions to the rule of how people organize and manage their lives and resulting outcomes. There are also tradeoffs as you note. Having it all is a utopia.
    If you’d like an editor for the headlines of your posts, I’ll volunteer. I would title this post – I told you so! ;)

    Reply
  16. Margot
    Margot says:

    I feel like it would be helpful if more stay at home moms were like, hey this role kind of sucks a lot of the time, but I’m not doing it because it’s so deeply personally fulfilling but because it’s best for my kid. A lot of the time I feel isolated, bored, or overwhelmed. It is a thankless “job” and my husband doesn’t appreciate my contribution (he doesn’t give me a hard time but I know he’d prefer if I was working too) and family members are somewhat helpful but don’t offer much praise or encouragement. I do love that I get to watch my girl grow up, to know how she spends her time, what she is thinking and feeling most of the day, and to fill her up with love and encourage her to play and learn.

    That being said, Penelope do you have any advice for how to be a better stay at home parent? Maybe you could do a post on that. For us moms who have already drunk the stay at home koolaid but now our stomachs hurt lol.

    I have such a hard time not losing patience with my daughter. She’s 3 and a half. I slip up and yell almost every day. I go to bed almost every night and feel like I’ve done a terrible job at the only thing that matters. I believe a lot of my irritability and overwhelm comes from my anxiety. I try to do what I can to stem it- journal, exercise, occasionally spend time with friends, etc. But it’s so hard when I just want some peace and to not have to negotiate/cajole/plead for cooperation with each activity, or have to make everything into a game so she’ll go along with it. Sometimes I fear I’m just not very good at this, and that despite how much I love my daughter I’m doing her a disservice because of my anxious and irritable behavior. I worry she would have been better off in daycare than with me. She does go to pre-school now 3 hrs day/ 3 days a week and this has been helpful.

    Reply
    • MK
      MK says:

      Hey, I see that you wrote this a couple weeks ago and no one has responded. I just wanted you to know that you’re not alone, feeling this way. Especially the part about just wanting peace, and the exhaustion of having to manipulate/plead/cajole someone into cooperating with all the good things that you are doing for their wellbeing. I can completely relate! I quit my profession to raise my strong-willed son. There are times I’ve felt like I’m dragging a 100-pound stone uphill while wading through waist-deep molasses in January… just to get him ready for bed each night.

      Penelope has said some really good stuff about what it takes to be a good parent: attention, being present, being available, letting your kids see that they are your priority. An easy way not to lose your temper with your kid is just not to care. The fact that you care, and feel overwhelmed, and have a meltdown, and stick it out anyway–this is actually what good parenting sometimes looks like. I’m not encouraging people to lose their tempers with their kids: I’m saying that I’m suspicious of people who never, ever do because it implies they aren’t emotionally invested in the enterprise. I think you are learning to give yourself some grace as you grow as a parent. You don’t have to be the valedictorian of raising kids in order to be the mom your daughter needs.

      (btw, I love the kid’s book “My No No No Day” because it so accurately captures the absurd difficulties of preschoolers.)

      Reply
  17. Karey
    Karey says:

    I am a sometimes reader from way back – I think I found your blog in 2013 when I began homeschooling my oldest. I like your straightforward style and all your enneagram 8-ness.

    I basically did what you argue women should do. I was raised in a fundamentalist church and was taught that my greatest (and only acceptable) contribution to the world was raising my children. I prickled against that a bit, but ultimately never started on any big career – just a few random jobs, got married at 25, had four children over the next 10 years, and now at 41, the youngest is off to public school and I am in grad school (just one class at a time, because who has the time?!). I see them off in the morning and I welcome them home in the afternoon. They are the center of my world in every possible way, and they have certainly benefitted from that. My husband has been free to have his big career – a time consuming but not lucrative position in government. We have moved around the world and I have been the unpaid international moving coordinator, starting from scratch in each country to figure out kids’ doctors, schools, the recycling system, grocery shopping, etc. This frees my husband up to do what he wants to do. Everyone has thrived in this situation. Except me. I’m an ENFP. I crave freedom, but I don’t do well without a little imposed structure. Motherhood for me has been 15 years of floundering with very little structure and lots of “freedom” but very little freedom, if you know what I mean. There is always someone who needs me, always someone interrupting, always a fight to break up, and I spend what little free time I have trying to recover from the demands of motherhood rather than making progress on my own goals. I realize that my own lack of boundaries contributes here.

    I think everyone has some regret about their lives, and I wonder if your regret and mine are the same. I’m not sure, have you ever had a time when you weren’t working? My impression of you is that you’ve always had a lot going on, a lot of irons in the fire. You strike me as a person who wouldn’t feel fulfilled if you didn’t. I have always wished I could figure out how to get my own stuff going at the same time that I am doing all the mom stuff. I have neglected my own preferences and dreams, and I regret that. I want my kids to know they are loved, and also to know that Mom is a human being too, one with her own needs and goals, and that she deserves love and care and time, just like they do.

    Another thought I’m having is that this argument about women staying home to raise their kids neglects to consider what happens to the world when we say only men should have jobs. The men are, uh, not doing great out there. We need women in board rooms, committee meetings, houses of legislature, doctors offices, universities, etc. The world is a better place when we include the contributions of women, and I would go so far as to say that those contributions are necessary. Would you say that those positions should go only to childless women?

    Reply
    • Joe E
      Joe E says:

      this was beautifully written. I understand entirely what you are saying. I also loved the questions you posed. I hope there’s a conversation in the comments about them.

      Reply
    • jen
      jen says:

      I’m a homeschooling stay-at-home-mom and so in comparison it sounds to me like you have loads of structured freedom, with your youngest in school which enables you enough time to take an outside class! lol. Are you wishing for a career instead of children? BTW I salute you for your sacrifices in being there for your children – mothers like you should be held up as shining examples!

      Reply
    • Sarah
      Sarah says:

      “Mom is a human being too, one with her own needs and goals, and that she deserves love and care and time, just like they do.”

      This, essentially, is the empathy I am missing from Penelope’s analysis.

      If we say that the goal should be to optimize clearly and 1000% for a child’s benefit, then I can see how Penelope arrives at the conclusion that there should be a stay at home parent (at least, in a typical American household that isn’t intergenerational- as another commenter has pointed out, grandparents who live with you and take care of the kids is pretty common in non-White families).

      If I concede that point to Penelope, I do wonder- why does she feel so strongly about not offering any empathy or solutions for the dreams and desires of moms? Is it truly a zero-sum game- children are fucked if their mom takes any time for herself? Granted, it is *harder* undoubtedly. But I come from a long line of stay at home mothers who rue the fact that they didn’t have outlets for their self-expression beyond motherhood.

      If Penelope had perhaps added, “Hey, I know it’s a sacrifice to give up your intellectual stimulation from work- when the kids are a bit older, there’s a rich and beautiful world available to create communities with other stay at home moms, to volunteer, to start working part time, and here’s what that looks like”- maybe I would be more convinced by this argument. But the antagonism towards working moms in this piece makes me wonder if she’s trying more to make them feel bad or win some sort of intellectual argument, than to truly coach women who are at this crossroads.

      Reply
  18. April
    April says:

    Hey Penelope and friends. I have read this blog, on and off over the last 15 years, after hearing you at a Women in Government forum in Madison, when I was in my early 20s. A few years later, I did have one coaching call with you before leaving Chicago (and my career) for Appleton, WI about five years ago. You told me to be a stay at home mom. I am in the thick of it with 4 young kids, (and still saying no to offers- like my last job’s CEO begging me to be her Chief of Staff), and still don’t know if you were right. I guess I won’t know until my kids are raised.(*obvi you were not the only factor on this decision, but that’s a whole lot of other baggage we don’t need*). Generally, I keep reading you at random times because you’ve made me feel smarter and pissed me off. That’s a compliment.

    I read Goldin’s Career and Family (right before she won the Nobel, thanks to you). Here are a few half-baked thoughts on the subject.
    1). Parenting is a greedy job.
    2). People will tell you to your face (re: staying at home) “there’s no shame in that game” but lets be real- it damages your ego, rather than defining your identity. Capitalism / ambitious achiever culture doesn’t value (reward) nurturing the next gen
    3). Every single decision in your day has preposterous amounts of weight/ importance, because your constantly toggling between the immediate and the future (macro/ micro implications?). This is amplified against the backdrop of rampant consumerism/ marketing designed to make you overthink everything and think you are failing. The unfortunate soundscape of this world is a constant cacaphony of screening/ shrieking/ laughing/ fighting from irrational, demanding creatures that are literally the things you value above all else, including yourself.
    4). SELF AWARENESS WARNING: That is a SWEEPING GENERALIZATION: *In the context of the 1%, privileged, educated, elite, relatively healthy, financially secure*, you don’t have actual problems you turn to resenting/hating/ blaming your working spouse for leaving you to do this ‘job’ of your family, when you intellectually recognize that working people compartmentalize ‘family” and “work”, and therefore get more enjoyment from family time than the spouse who has had to turn “family’ into ‘work’ and only wants to get the F&CK OUT every chance you can.

    Fin…..P.S. thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.

    Reply
    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      This is great commentary on the issue. I really appreciate your insight. It’s the stigma. I mean, there’s so much stigma around this topic that really, Claudia couldn’t even talk about it. They could barely award the Nobel.They literally awarded her for something she wrote about in 2005 because we are so squirmy about the data she is finding.

      Penelope

      Reply
      • April
        April says:

        Yes! And more. Its value. Parenting is not valued- or even really accounted for, at the societal level anyway. Goldin points this out in Family and Career- when they came up with the GDP (the “Ancient” pushing for including raising children). And the equation for choosing whether to leave the workforce is not simply
        Paycheck < Childcare Costs

        Reply
  19. Ann
    Ann says:

    So whats the solution?Is it make money and save it before you have kids? Is it pick a man who wants you at home and stick it out until the kids are grown? Do you need to have them early then and have a support network so you don’t expect your husband to be everything to you? Or is marry rich?Then you can outsource lots of the stuff you don’t want to do?

    Reply
    • HiThere
      HiThere says:

      If you want to work:
      Pick a husband who has/wants a prestige job where the prestige is not dependent on the money he makes, have kids young, make your husband work from home, throw shit-tons of money at childcare and try to hire older neurotypical women, cut corners at work in all the typically female tasks (the women will notice and might resent it, but the men are the ones promoting you), leverage sexual harassment as Penelope said, although really these days too crass sexual harassment is often a sign of a DUMB boss who doesn’t realise the times have nominally changed; get away from that boss by leveraging the harassment not because the harassment is annoying but because you want a powerful boss who likes you; in order to do the necessary mum-networking for your kids at their nurseries, do not send your husband. It won’t work. But you can cut down the work by making friends with one other ambitious (probably also autistic) woman who is bored out of her mind as a SAHM and spends all her analytical energy on leveraging opportunities for her kid. Befriend the kids and befriend the mom. Make her feel appreciated and smart about what she is doing. She is feeling unseen because she misses the men in her career. See her and then she will tell you most of what you need to do about how to lobby for your kid, and she will lobby for your kid also because you are keeping her sane and because your kids are now friends. Your husband will hate her because she is rude and opinionated but it doesn’t matter. She is as focused as you, just on a different subject, so it won’t be hard to find common ground. Bribe slightly harder than everyone else so your house is a good place to be for the kids and their friends. Do a few things that signal homeliness (decorate bought cookies) to reassure the other mums. The other rest of practical parenting you can leave to the husband. At work, be always fun. Everyone is a little tired and everyone is terrified the women are going to complain about work life balance. Don’t. If someone above your boss, who is watching you because your boss loves you, comments about how you manage a big job (with small kids), say “It never really matters that it’s a lot of work when it’s interesting.” Then you smile and add “and I have a great boss, that helps”. Then he gets credit and the person above them realises if they work with you, you will also make them look good. Last thing: have regular sex with your husband. Seriously. It’s not that hard, okay, and you are not that tired. The glow you’ll have the following day at work will let you get away with cutting more corners.

      Reply
  20. architect
    architect says:

    As my post-name indicates, I’m an architect in a large city, a woman, and yes, a mom of one adult son.

    It’s a sort-of “married to the job” profession which requires near-total personal commitment, and then still often without significant financial reward or major career recognition outside of the several self-awarding architectural professional organizations which largely self-promote their most-active participant-members.

    “Architect” as a job-title and employment function has been immensely “greedy”. Not uncommon to have 12 hour, even 16 hour days, even frequent “all-nighters”, at large firms cranking-out large projects. Pay is often disproportionately low for a profession which requires a 5-year or 4+2 year degree program, plus 3 to 5+ years to obtain licensing. Some smaller firms historically pay mandatory state minimum hourly-wages, and some celebrity architects are notorious for expecting “free labor” before the minimal wages kick-in. Many architects find themselves in exploitive “captive consultant” employment gigs where job is structured to evade state employment laws and put full burden of unemployment insurance, SS insurance and health insurance on mislabeled def-facto employees disguised as “independent consultants”.

    These often terrible working conditions are rarely known by people outside of architectural profession. For many years, there were relatively few women architects, relatively few women partners at major architectural firms, or women-owners of celebrity-architect firms. Many women architects never married, or never had kids, or had one kid – period, in their late-30s or early 40s, and certainly paid significant price careerwise.

    Goldin got it right. Many credentialed traditionally-male professions aren’t really “open” to women unless major sacrifices/compromises are made, at expense of family, marriage, and children (if any).

    Yes, it’s a sad state of affairs. Unfortunately, media focuses on “The Stars”, and ignores the ugly truths of many professions.

    Ever meet a truly happy corporate attorney who’s a nice person, good parent, and supportive spouse? Nope, didn’t think so.

    Reply
    • Ann
      Ann says:

      My brother tried architecture but didn’t like it.His girlfriend qualified as one.She is in Scotland on a work placement. I heard her talk about staying late to finish projects.I must ask her more about it.She already was good at art.Her Mother is an artist and her Aunt a Glass Artist.My brother ended up doing a sports course.Similar to physio.I’m not sure if it’s as extreme in Ireland/ UK as it is in America. My brother and his girlfriend are in their twenties with no kids.

      Reply
    • MJS
      MJS says:

      I was a corporate attorney in big firms for 10-ish years. I am a nice person, with hobbies. I hated every f#&%ing day of corporate law – not the “law” but the workplace and work culture. You are supposed to want to become a partner, and work more and generate more and rise higher and higher, and I found the people on that ladder so miserable and unenjoyable to be with that I wanted no part of it. I have a very good job as a lawyer inside a company now, but at less $$ than law firm corporate lawyers (much less than big East Coast firms) and that is JUST FINE WITH ME. I haven’t met anyone on that treadmill who is happy, and sane, and mentally healthy, and not abusing a substance/medicated. The men seem miserable too (or toxic, or insane) but they seem to believe that they aren’t allowed a change, which is sad.

      Reply
  21. RW
    RW says:

    You’ve been my Claudia Goldin for 20 years! You and Claudia have unknowingly helped me navigate my career and make life decisions. I distinctly remember your POV as the first time women were honest instead of the “we can have it all” BS I was being told everywhere else. To see the build up and dismantling of the “Lean In” BS has been a wild ride. (and I am still mad at Shery Sandberg for that load of crap.) I remember being in my late twenties working full time and thinking of the prospect of adding parenting to my already hectic and exhausted life. I knew myself enough that I didn’t want to “do it all” and no one really can. You helped me to not feel bad about it and I wanted you to know I appreciate all your research and writing.

    Reply
  22. Brian Smith
    Brian Smith says:

    I’m not sure what your obsession with being a “high performer” at work is or why that would be desirable for anyone. Climbing the corporate ladder, becoming a CEO of a startup, all of that is kind of bullshit anyways and I don’t think it’s very fulfilling for most people who aren’t sociopaths, regardless of whether they have kids. What’s wrong with a 2 parent household where both parents have decent, middle-wage jobs (50-70k) that provide great benefits and flexibility, allowing both to have time to be good parents and have a combined salary that is equal to the salary of one parent who is a high performer?

    Reply
    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      This is a great question. What’s wrong with it is that there is no job security for either of those parents because at the level they are at they end up competing against people 15 years younger with no kids who are on their way up the ladder. Which is to say that parents coasting in good jobs doesn’t happen. People who aren’t coasting get the good jobs.

      So parents who have middle-wage jobs and “great benefits” are short-changing the kids. The second job has unnecessary benefits and the wage pushes the family into a higher tax bracket. That, coupled with extra childcare costs, makes the second job not a net benefit to the family. The second job is just because none of the adults wants to be home with kids.

      It’s much more efficient for the family if one parent works and one stays home. That is, the kids don’t bear the cost of the second parent going to work. Rather, the kids benefit from parents who divide the labor efficiently.

      Penelope

      Reply
      • Dana
        Dana says:

        @P I’m 47, my husband is 49. He’s an engineer for the state, I work for a tech company from home. Our kids are 12, 16, 19. I’m content with how we are raising / have raised them. We’ve had years where things were a little hairy, but I never felt like the kids were short changed.

        We live in a small town not far from some big urban areas when we need them. My parents are close by, we have a great village of parent friends. Some would say our schools aren’t good, but not having private school fees or lost income due to homeschooling allowed us to travel extensively, immerse our kids in stuff like 4-H, etc, and my daughter wound up with a 1540 on her SATs and goes to Georgia Tech. Our son has a bunch of 5s on his AP tests so far, and our youngest is doing just fine so far. I’m not trying to brag per se (I mean I am proud no doubt) but it is possible to raise sharp, educated kids in rural public schools.

        My husband likes his job and probably wouldn’t have gone for a “greedy” (your words) private sector engineering job (or engineering adjacent leadership role) if I had been a stay at home parent. Over the course of our parenting life, he’s made between $65k to now about $110K. I am also an engineer, work for a tech company. Over the course of our parenting life, I’ve made between $65K to now about $225K. We had discussions over the years about him staying at home, but he really didn’t want to nor did he see the point. I work from home, he has lots of flexible time, my parents are nearby, we had decent childcare support. I’ve had a year or two here or there were I was pursuing a certain skillset or promotion because it was interesting or increased my salary, but I have never been a hardcore go-getter or do I have any interest in the corporate ladder. I have never managed people at any job, ever. Not interested.

        So while we could have certainly gotten by on his salary, because I found a way to work, we now have twice as much 401K money, the farmette we wanted, the ability to travel, the ability to pay full retail to selective universities thanks to our savings.

        At this point, if I get pushed out of my corporate job by some career-savvy youngster, that’s totally fine with me. I have enough skills and contacts that I can figure out a way to freelance, or find something else fun to do.

        Reply
      • Brian Smith
        Brian Smith says:

        I’m going to have to disagree with you on a few of those points. While I agree that in the bubbly tech and startup space, older workers do have a tendancy to get pushed out (I was previously a plaintiff’s employment attorney, age discrimination is real), there are plenty of sectors and parts of the country (I live in St. Paul, MN) where there isn’t a relentless rush for growth and a constant threat of layoffs. I’ve worked at the same company for close to 10 years, many of my coworkers have been with the company 20-30 years, almost all of them have kids. We all make between 60-110k, virtually no one gets fired. The same is true for many of my friends and family, many work for the same company or the state for long periods of time in decently paying jobs. This may be more of a midwest thing, it seems more volatile on the coasts.

        Another thing to consider is that perhaps neither parent has the skill or education to get a 100k+ job. Even if they strived hard, they might cap out at 80k. And high paying jobs are much more likely to get cut during layoffs, its way easier to cut a useless director making 140k than 2 employees making 70k that actually make the business function.

        When it comes to childcare costs, even with really expensive child care (20k a year in my area), it would only make sense for the second parent to quit if they make 30k or less. If their making 60k, its much better financially for them to work as well. All benefits aren’t always wasted, some benefits are doubled, like employer 401k match, fertility/adoption reimbusement, HSA contributions, and free college for your kids (my wife works at a university)

        I also think its a broad generalization the neither parent wants to be with the kids if they both work. In many cases, its just not feasible. And even if it is feasible, the kids will be going to school after they turn five anyways, unless you homeschool them. I don’t really agree that kids are shortchanged by going to day care. I think you can still meaningfully bond with them and work, as well as maintain some sense of identity outside of your children, which I think they benefit from. There’s a lot of the hand-wringing over providing the absolute best possible experience and upbringing so that they go to the best schools, get the best jobs when they become an adult, it seems overblown. As long as you provide a loving and stable (I would think having 2 income sources would be more stable than 1 highly paid spouse that could get laid off or have their business fail at any point), I’m sure the kids will turn out great.

        Reply
        • Dana
          Dana says:

          Hi Brian- yes this. I would never argue that the research on child outcomes is wrong, just that maybe they are using a collecting of outcomes that don’t line up with my thoughts on what constitutes a well-raised human.

          Reply
    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      This is such a great comment to help me focus. There is a whole cohort of Gen Z that is fetishizing being a stay-at-home wife. So I don’t think not having kids is a Gen Z thing. My kids talk about there are zoomers and doomers. If kids are boomers then everything seems pointless — jobs and kids. But eventually those kids will have to care about something because it’s too boring to not care about something. And caring about people you love is way more interesting than caring about work.

      I have another theory, though, and I wonder what you think of this. I think kids who grow up hearing parents say “having kids is the most important thing I did in my life and I Love being with you” then grow up wanting to have kids. And kids who grow up hearing parents say everyone should strive to achieve great things that do not involve family then have kids who grow up not wanting to have kids because kids are obviously impediments to achieving great things that are not family.

      What do you think of that?

      Penelope

      Reply
      • Dana
        Dana says:

        Interesting thoughts on our messaging to kids. The words out of my mother’s mouth led me to believe that having children was a tremendous burden, yet I also knew that she loved us. She was glad when we all moved away for school but I also knew she missed us. She didn’t enjoy her time as a SAHM when we were small, but I also knew the logistics of being a working mom, even as a schoolteacher with “mother’s hours” was extremely hard. My Dad was about as involved as Dads in the 80s would get- nothing like today’s young Dads but he changed diapers, coached little league, drove carpools, took us to the zoo on saturdays so mom could nap. He was present. He hugged us. Our childhood wasn’t perfect but it was perfectly fine.

        They didn’t tell us to be high achievers I guess but they made it clear I should have a career, I should want more than they had. When I considered being a SAHM or changing from my current career to something less lucrative I certainly did take into account the amount of money they spent on my college tuition and how I might be letting down my independent woman ideals. (I am over this now.)

        Yet, despite all of this, I knew absolutely for sure that I wanted kids. A lot of them. We settled for 3.

        I have no idea if my Gen Z daughter will want a family, but after reading “Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids” by Bryan Caplan, I started explicitly telling my kids that I was so glad I had them, that they bring me joy, and that if they choose to have their own families that I will do everything I can to help them with the hard stuff. My husband and I try hard to model for my boys what (mostly) egalitarian parenting looks like. We talk about the hard stuff honestly but make it clear that they are worth it, we love them, and enjoyed the journey of raising them.

        My daughter is also studying engineering and I explicitly told her that I absolutely do not care if she changes her mind at any point. The day after graduation if she decides to be an artist or a surf bum or whatever- that is OK with me. She wants to be a SAHM? Amazing. Just enter into things consciously and thoughtfully and do the homework. I also started her a custodial IRA when she was 16 so that maybe that helps take the stress off of future decisions in fear of not having a nest egg.

        Reply
  23. Dana
    Dana says:

    My husband and I both work and are decent at our jobs but neither one of us would be considered a high-performing-go-getter. We’ve had years of moderate go-getting but never at the same time. We could probably get by on one of our incomes and let the working spouse have the “greedy” job but neither one of us cares that much. We both like parenting. Our division of labor is not perfect, but it’s reasonable. I work from home, he works about 10 mins away. I don’t think we’re that unusual. I certainly know people who relish the climb, but most people I work with, most of my local friends and acquaintances, most of my family members, etc. like their careers fine but aren’t interested in “killing it.” I think where I struggle with your POV is that it isn’t worth working if you aren’t in a position to “kill it” when not many of us actually care that much.

    Reply
    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      This is not my point of view. It’s the research.

      Of course you and your husband both like having a job and you both like parenting. Of course everyone likes doing a little bit of everything. That’s the best.

      The research says it’s not good for the kids. Goldin and 20 years of other research shows why this is not good for the kids. Bad outcomes for kids. Because obviously when parents choose to work instead of take care of kids because work is more interesting that is not good for kids. Clear division of labor is best for kids because they get a parent who is totally focused on them.

      I can’t stand going over the research again because I know you’ve read it here. You don’t like it.

      This is not my opinion. You dismiss the research by saying it’s my opinion. I didn’t even live this way. I’m just the messenger.

      Penelope

      Reply
      • Dana
        Dana says:

        Hi Penelope

        Fair enough. And perhaps it is too early to tell if my own kids would have a “bad outcome” and even if they don’t it would be anecdotal of course.

        I am curious to take another looks at the research with some of these questions in mind.

        Is there a such thing as undistracted parenting? Perhaps not working just means you are less likely to be distracted.

        What about the balance of other factors? Parents together in a reasonably happy marriage, sense of community and belonging, appropriate education and enrichment, etc etc against both parents working? Nightly family dinner? Loving grandparents in their lives?

        Am I trying to justify my own choices? Probably. We all are.

        Through my parenting journey, I read a lot of Christine Carter (Raising Happiness) and similar to try to incorporate those principles in our lives. I also read stuff like Bryan Caplan’s research compilations about parents not having as much influence as we think they do.

        I am also influenced by the fact that my mother hated being a SAHM for the years she was and was generally distracted from
        being a good parent by the fact that she hated being a SAHM. She probably didn’t love being a working mom much more but I think our personal family outcome was better bc she went back to work.

        I’ll take another look at Goldwin.

        Reply
      • Katy
        Katy says:

        The attempt to optimize childhood through a series of data points is reductive – there are so many unknowns about life experience, happenstance, and things that are generally out of our control, that even in the best circumstances there is no such thing as a perfect childhood. Kids can have amazing outcomes even if they grow up in tough households, and kids can have terrible outcomes even if they grow up in stable households.

        As long as each generation does better than the previous generation in parenting their kids, it’s a good thing. Millennial dads are better than boomer dads because they grew up with boomer dads who were largely absent…because they were out being the breadwinner so mom could stay home (back when it was possible to build generational wealth that way…certainly much harder to do that now). Men who don’t want to accept the binary of being out of the house so much they can’t spend time meaningful time with their families are rejecting that idea because they realize they deserve to be emotionally fulfilled just as women deserve to be fulfilled by a career if they want.

        The problem with this view and any kind of binary assessment about men and women and children is that it doesn’t take into account how people evolve throughout each generation, and that a “perfect childhood,” as defined by the 1950s standards is not at all what a “perfect childhood,” looks like for kids in 2024. And society is a hell of a lot different now, too…even compared to 2005. As long as kids feel loved and secure and aren’t worrying about grownup problems, who the cares what the data says? Family units can be measured as a collective when they are distilled down into data points, but people live whole complex lives that can never be truly represented by a numerical scale.

        Reply
        • Penelope
          Penelope says:

          I’m sorry to tell you that childhood is not unknown. Childhood OUTCOMES are largely genetic unless a kid is in foster care or in a war. Read Bryan Caplan’s book “The Argument for Having More Children” It’s a terrible title but he’s an economist listing the reams of data showing parents don’t influence outcomes.

          Childhood MEMORIES are not genetic. They are reliant on parents being engaged, which means being present and caring, which is a function of time and energy. And we carry childhood memories with us forever. If they are good it’s nice that we carry them, if they are bad, it’s sad that we carry them.

          Also, you are commenting on a blog post about a Nobel Prize winner. This woman has devoted HER ENTIRE CAREER to quantifying the stuff that you are saying in your comment is too difficult to quantify. Ridiculous.

          Penelope

          Reply
  24. Angela Hume
    Angela Hume says:

    Such an interesting read, thank you.
    We are asking women to, look after their kids, manage their marriage, maintain their health, and work outside of the home. Throw in some neurodiversity for them and/or their kids and they’re fucked. At best they can manage 2.5 of those 4 things.

    I don’t have a solution, I had to work to pay for a lot of my kids health issues that weren’t funded due to our immigration status.
    Now I’ve got three kids and not working just isn’t a viable if we want a house to live in.

    I do know being permanently exhausted isn’t an option either. I think woman are paying for this with their lives and female life expectancy is going to be impacted.

    Reply
  25. Laimonas
    Laimonas says:

    Wow! Penelope is still writing!!! Crazy, I come back a decade later and here she is, mixing it up as strong as ever! Nicely done!

    Reply

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