Tuesday, May 22, 2007

It's All About The Benjamins

On my walk to work today, I cataloged what workers I saw. Some caveats: I arrive at my office rather early and, obviously, I only observe outside workers.

I saw:
A streetsweeper
A landscape crew
Several coffee vendors
3 newspaper hawkers
4 police officers
A number of taxi drivers
A bevy of limo drivers
2 window washers
A sign painter
at least a dozen construction workers
3 folk cleaning/sweeping the sidewalk
A jackhammer operator
and innumerable office workers scurrying to and from various Starbucks outlets.

You know where I am going with this, don't you.

Yes, of the workers I saw: one newspaper "greeter" was a woman, about two thirds of the coffee vendors were women, and about half of the scurrying office workers were women.

Here's the weird part: I would *prefer* the life of a window washer or sign painter (or, more demonstrably, of a soldier and, more likely, of a hobby farmer). Why, then, do I work in my office? I think Willie Sutton put it best, "'Cause that's where the money is."

All those men, maximizing their incomes, taking stock of themselves and their prospects and doing whatever it takes to earn mo' money, mo' money, mo' money. And, yes, while my little walk-o-observation is a limited sample, I believe statistics back me up: women tend to cluster in "office jobs" with regular hours, known obstacles, free coffee, and heat.

YES there are exceptions--even modal exceptions--and there are men who crave the same comforts. But enough of each group have different focuses to skew the stats, i.e., enough men pursue the dollars (even in the office setting) and enough women pursue the comfort (sometimes in favor of bigger dollars) to make, dare I say it, an apparent "gender wage gap."

Is it really sexism that keeps women from dangling outside skyscrapers washing windows? Is it sexism that keeps female cops off the beat? Or is it that significant numbers of women simply like the comfort and security of the office setting? I dunno, you tell me: where do women cluster and why?

Supply. Demand. Supply of labor up, wages down. As I've said before, society takes advantage of men's general stupidity, underpaying them for the most dangerous jobs out their, death professions such as window washer, policeman, coal miner, crab fisherman; or dirty professions such as streetsweeper, pig farmer, garbageman, oil derrick worker; or lonely professions such as limo driver, forest ranger, arctic scientist. (Ironically, were I able to transfer my earnings onto several of those jobs, I would give them a try! Arctic scientist, you say? Bring it on! Lobsterman? That sounds like fun for a while, sure!)

I was thinking about Joan Nesbitt's complaint about being out of the workforce for 10 years--and it is a valid complaint (i.e., that she forewent significant opportunities to raise her children). But I wonder whether she would feel the same way if her marriage had survived.

My wife view's my income as an extension of her own or, more accurately, she views my income as one element of the family's resources--and she remains darn happy that it is *I* that must shoulder that burden. I asked her again last night if she worried about all the opportunities she has given up and she replied that the workplace wasn't all it's cracked up to be (this from a successful consultant, mind you, i.e., a woman with not just a yob but a career). I asked her about the risk she was taking putting all her earnings and retirement eggs in one basket and she asked, "what risk?" I reminded her that many marriages fail, that many men die, that some men run off with the dreaded "younger woman." She asked whether I had paid my life insurance premiums, asked if our coverage was enough (no, not really, but I am making the bet that I won't croak), and whether I was planning to run off with someone and what exactly was I trying to say...

Then she went on to say, of the whiners,
Don't get married if you don't want to be in a marriage; no problem.
Don't have children if you don't want to sustain workplace "losses"; no problem.

As for the marriage thing, she and I agree that divorce is too easy. My wife has looked into Covenant Marriage, but is pretty ticked off that simple "marriage" no longer suffices (diluted as it is with assaults from a variety of sources).

I have long stated that were our marriage to fail that, were I still alive (an iffy proposition, depending on the circumstances), I would simply deliver everything into her hands. Might be time to put that in writing. All assets since the house are, indeed, in her name already; not sure how to assign retirement benefits in this way (but I have no doubt a lawyer could figger it out for a "modest" fee), and I may put the house in some kind of trust anyway. Gotta get the lawyers on this. ("How nice for you," I can hear my mother, "that you can afford a lawyer." Yeah, yeah.)


joan said...

I am not whining.
I must say it's easy to leave a career you don't much like and stay home with children you DO love. That's a no-brainer.

What if your wife actually LOVED the job she gave up? That, my friend, is a horse of a different color.

Anonymous Bosh said...

I dunno. I have given much thought to your posting (and I do not think you were whining), but I do not really have any answers. I certainly do not believe that "a woman's place is in the kitchen," and had my wife wanted to continue working, that would have been fine (well, maybe not; I would more likely have argued for delaying children indefinitely).

Tough call. First off, maybe the answer is to delay or skip having children. Or maybe people should assess their situation realistically. My neighbor has a strong family; his children are watched by their mother, her mother, his mother, his father, his sister, his brother, and her brother, depending. Sometimes they "share" child-rearing/watching by moving the various passels from house to house. I do not think their children suffer. Most ppl do not have that "luxury" (although they should).

As for leaving a loved job: I "gave up" my honest-to-Y-hweh, lifelong absolute dream career(there is no way to convey how I had for so long considered the opportunity to be a "dream," then, one day, I was given the opportunity to come aboard); why? Because it was not in the best interests of my family (long periods away, lower pay, personal risk, etc.). Should I complain? Should I wear it on my sleeve or carry a chip on my shoulder? Hell no--it's done, it's past, move on, look forward.

Sunk cost, say economists, is "water under the bridge," i.e., fuggeddaboudit. Exploit your CURRENT opportunities and don't worry about those "foregone" (indeed, focus rather on the benefits and joys that drove you to forego the opportunity for which you pine).

I am still thinking about your post, considering your views and opinions to have more weight, somehow, than a run-of-the-mill rant. I will re-read and re-post when time allows.

joan said...

I, too, have been thinking a lot about your post - especially this recent comment. I don't believe that pondering societal trends and speaking aloud the big secret (mothers, MANY of them, at home leading lives of quiet desperation) reveals any chip on my shoulder. I honestly love my life and the path I have chosen - yes, chosen - but as a coach of MOMS in seejanerun (a running group for moms only) I have learned a LOT over the last 7 years about what these women have sacrificed to be home. I am NOT discounting the sacrifices of men/fathers; its just that I know women and mothers better and I feel I can - and WILL - speak for all of us who are mulling this over. Don't tell me you believe, as my 50's father did, that if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all?!
This kind of repression/suppression is what makes pharmaceutical companies MILLIONS in anti-depressants.

Do fathers you know ever speak of how hard it is?

Anonymous Bosh said...

I have given thought to whether I live in a bubble (which, undoubtedly, I do, but the extent is as of yet undetermined).

As for fathers -- no, we do not speak of "how hard it is"; commiserating of that sort is fairly rare. Mostly we talk about opportunity (oh, do you know so-and-so?; hey, can you get me on the list for xyz?) and cars and business. When we speak of parenting or children, it is mostly in amazement and praise--of the wives, the children, etc. If there is a complaint, some have general anecdotes about reduced physical affection, how parenting takes away from that...

That said, I know no men that actually "complain" about their wives; indeed, I know of no impending divorces or troubles of any kind--and with the exception of one idiot, I know no man who has divorced his wife (and I am talking a fairly big circle and at least 10 years in my current town).

As for the mothers I know, their insights into their husbands are quite useful--and most of them, too, talk with great pride of their children and their children's accomplishments. The "working" mothers I know complain about self-doubt (I will not TOUCH the topic in a professional setting) or whether they are doing the "right thing"; NONE of the full-time mothers I know have similar concerns. As for my own wife, she finds the whole question absurd.

Lastly--I am by no measure a 50s type (to include "if you have nothing to say..."), BUT I *am* a believer in the power of marriage, as well as its importance when it comes to children.

Summary beliefs:
No shame in not getting married; no shame in not having chilren BUT children SHOULD be conceived within a stable marriage and once children are introduced as a familial element all resources should be devoted to maintaining the marriage (mostly "inner" resources, but whatever it takes: counseling, church--if that's your thing, fincial intertwining, etc.).

But then again--I live in a bubble (and am very, very lucky).

Lastly: if you knew me as a young'un, you would have difficulty reconciling this stance with my free-thinking, free-wheeling youth; my conclusions, which appear "traditional" and/or "conservative," are the result of analysis, experience, and compromise. Marriage has made me happy and successful in unimagined ways, and I am grateful to my wife to no end; marriage and child-rearing satisfies her in some way unattainable in "professional" life (and she definitely had one of the better careers), and she appears thankful for her lot.