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What’s a Homemaker Really Worth?

May 14th, 2012 | 6 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Editor’s note:  This is a guest post by Chris Marlink, Social Media Director for the Family Research Council.  

Remember the media prattle about a conservative “war on women?” It would seem that meme has come to an abrupt end thanks largely to DNC strategist and frequent White House visitor, Hilary Rosen, and her less than charitable view of homemakers.

Rosen infamously opined that Ann Romney (a homemaker) “has never worked a day in her life. She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of women in this country are facing.” While Rosen was undoubtedly making a dig at the Romney family’s relative wealth, she was also diminishing the real value that a homemaker brings to the family.

Political operatives on both sides of the aisle quickly distanced themselves from her remarks, and Rosen offered an apology to Romney and the many women (homemakers and not) she offended.  But as Cathy Ruse points out, “Wasn’t [Rosen] just being honest, saying what everyone around her really thinks?”

Not Esteemed

Rosen’s comments aren’t an aberration, and Cathy correctly lays much of the blame at the feet of the modern feminist movement. The narrative, as Cathy notes, has been “careers optimum, husbands optional, conception avoided and the unplanned products thereof aborted.”

The reality is that our culture has little esteem for homemakers. Consider for a moment the conspicuous lack of homemakers in our sitcoms and entertainment today. Our protagonists don’t do diapers. (With the exception, perhaps, of Will Arnett.

It’s not surprising then that our tax policy rewards families where both parents work outside the home by providing credits for childcare, while offering no similar benefit for families who choose to forgo one income by having a parent remain at home.  Our law reinforces the ideal of a two income home by facilitating childcare, and exposes our belief that homemaking has little value. I’ll return to tax policy a little later, but allow me to suggest two simple reasons why homemaking isn’t esteemed by our culture. First, there is a general ignorance of what homemaking entails. And second, more importantly, we don’t value children.

Homemaking is Work

According the New York Times, 70 percent of married women over the age of 25 with children work outside the home. If this wasn’t the model they received, it was certainly the model reinforced in school and pop-culture. With so few families choosing the homemaking route, it should come as no surprise that homemaking is so poorly understood. Only someone with no experience in homemaking would dare suggest that it isn’t work, or that home economics are disconnected from the broader economy.

In a recent study by Investopedia researchers tallied the market value of the various services that a homemaker provides for the family. The list in itself is informative for those unfamiliar with a day in the life of a homemaker: cooking, cleaning, childcare, driver, laundry, home maintenance, etc. The market value of these combined tasks totals over $96,000.

It’s an impressive amount, but looking at the list of services the firm included, I can think of a handful they missed: personal shopper, interior designer, event planner, family counselor, first responder, private tutor, and accountant. Trying to list the intangible benefits would undoubtedly turn this blog post into a novela. So let’s leave it there for now.*

When presented with the Investopedia numbers, Rosen would likely agree that these tasks represent real work, or more likely, drudgery. After all, who’d want to be cooped up at home playing nursemaid and laundress for children? The “uneducated.” That’s who.

In profiling the modern homemaker, the Times couldn’t resist quoting the CensusBureau’s 40-year review, “Those with the least education are now the most likely to stay out of the labor force as stay-at-home mothers.” While this may in fact be true, it obfuscates several important realities.

The absence of a college degree does not imply an inability to obtain one. For many women, and some men, homemaking is a vocational choice. They’re not stuck due to a lack of education; these homemakers are doing precisely what they want to do—what they believe they’re called to do. According tosociologist Bradford Wilcox, an astounding 74 percent of married mothers who work full time would prefer to work fewer hours or not at all. For these women and the families they represent, homemaking represents anaspirational choice. And why shouldn’t it?

Because we don’t value children. Or, as my friend Josh Bishop observed, we eschew the self-sacrifice and “drudgery” that children entail more than we value children. Which is, I believe, all of a piece.

It is quite true that Rosen and many others would argue that they provide all the services Investopedia has tallied and work outside the home. I tip my hat to them. This was the case in my family growing up. But talk to any homemaker and you’ll find they place an emphasis on the relationships being nurtured in the home, not on the responsibilities of maintaining a home.

Valuing Children

Any discussion about the value of children must begin by acknowledging that our law persists in denying the humanity of the unborn child until the moment of birth. And the law is a teacher. We have enshrined the belief that the wellbeing, nay, the existence, of children is less important than the happiness of adults.

Mother, homemaker and author Rachel Jankovic captures this well:

The truth is that years ago, before this generation of mothers was even born, our society decided where children rank in the list of important things. When abortion was legalized, we wrote it into law.

Children rank way below college. Below world travel for sure. Below the ability to go out at night at your leisure. Below honing your body at the gym. Below any job you may have or hope to get. In fact, children rate below your desire to sit around and pick your toes, if that is what you want to do. Below everything. Children are the last thing you should ever spend your time doing.

Set aside the platitudes about children being our greatest resource. We don’t believe it. Author Anthony Esolen poignantly observes, “if we loved children, then we’d have a few.” But Americans aren’t having many children. In fact, if you were to take away population growth due to immigration, we’d be a shrinking nation. Our nation’s fertility rate is just hanging on around replacement level, considered to be 2.1 births per woman.

Undoubtedly, our policy of abortion on demand and the 50 million lives lost to abortion over the last four decades play a role in suppressing fertility and reshaping our view of children. But consider again how even our tax code plays its dubious part.

During a lecture at FRC, Ramesh Ponnurupointed out that the child tax credit, (whichFRC crafted a decade ago) would need to be increased to about $4,000 per child just to make our tax code “child neutral.” Ponnuru noted that those raising children are not only paying into safety net programs to fund current beneficiaries, they are also investing in the next generation of those who will pay into the system. It’s a form of “double taxation” that their childless peers do not face. So while Roe undercuts the humanity of our children, the tax code places a disproportionately heavy burden on families with children.

A Christian Response

So how ought Christians to respond to a culture which has little esteem for homemaking and places so little value on children? It seems to me that opportunities to live a curious, countercultural lifestyle abound.  But before we get there, I’d rather hear from you:

How have you seen the Church influence culture either through valuing children or validating homemaking? How do you see the Church being influenced by our culture in these areas?

Does the idea of promoting contraception to sexually active Christian singles, debated vigorously here at Mere-O, signal agreement with culture about the value of children?

* In full disclosure, my own wife is a homemaker and when I spell her for a day or two at home, I’m reminded all over again how much energy goes into the formation of  little people and into maintaining the forward momentum of our family. Needless to say, I’m somewhat relieved when she’s home and I can return to… ahem, “work.”