I am Shirley Jackson and Shirley Jackson is me

As T.W.O. would put it, that’s overegging the pudding a tadge.  I’ll never publish the most notorious and universal short story in American history.  More intimately, my husband is not a Kavorka Man.

But she and I both are housewives with strong intellectual drives living in whitopias where household help is only for weird inferior women who can’t manage entirely on their own or micromanage the bleep out of that poor cousin they did have come by a few days a week.  She couldn’t get nice college girls because mother’s helping was beneath them in 1950 and non-college girls were from families that hadn’t moved in 50-100 years and so they didn’t have anyone “strange” come help.  People tend to think college towns are all the same, but they operate along a continuum.  And Jackson was not in a college town where the degree was a MRS.

She also put her kids in preschool, which was called “community nursery school” and which 10-20% of women used back then.  Exact data is had to come by because of terminology and lack of collecting data issues.  And even back then it was the middle and up stay at home mothers who used it part-time and the smaller pool of working mothers using it full time.

I have her sense of anxiety and frustration, but not her pretty solid domestic skills. Our children find us odd but loving.  There is a sort of weirdly beautiful e-drama online somewhere where one of Stanley Jackson’s coed affairs is bragging about it on salon or something similar and Shirley’s kids post comments defending their mother and whaling on the smarmy coed selling the only interesting thing about herself. I was touched by the love her kids (one of which I think was a grandparent by now) had for her and their respect for her hard work keeping their home so it could be an entertainment vehicle for dad.

Stanley Jackson was a literary critic and professor who tomcatted around and expected his wife to produce both domestically and intellectually, but was jealous of her ability to get thousands of dollars for a handful of stories about women and children and often the domestic sphere.

I 100% do not think I can compete with the mad literary skills of Mrs. Jackson, but it’s reassuring in a strange way to know that this literary ninja had some of the same struggles I, a much more ordinary housewife, have sixty or so years later.

It also brings me back to wanting to smash conservatives in the face for chronically declaring that there was no widespread frustration among average women in the 1950s and during the WWII era and that anyone talking about it was just a loser who was unhaaaaappppy or a communist.  Shirley Jackson wrote for Good Housekeeping, for pity’s sake.  She was not writing some edgy scandal stuff like Peyton Place.  And yet there remain in both sets of writing much the same sort of struggles of women trying to adapt to the rapid shifts in technology, social roles and relationships with men.

One of the anecdotes in her domestic memoirs is about a pregnant woman she meets at the hospital when she has her third baby who is running late on delivering and is relieved and happy to be free of household tasks for what in the anecdote is about two weeks and heading into a third.  General audiences of women wouldn’t have wanted to read about stuff like that if it didn’t seem real.  They were very quick to write letters where they believed something to be unrealistic in its slicing of life.

Anyway I’ve only just begun reading her domestic memoirs and that sensation of being drawn close in time to a writer across so many seismic changes in daily life is dizzying.

Boomers denied Gen X help and Gen X is shelling out on Millennials.

This is a note to self post to put up the relevant files when I have some actual free time, but it appears that the narrative around Boomers coddling Millennial children isn’t necessarily so.  It appears to mostly be older Gen Xers and not that many younger Boomers paying 20something rents and bills and backstopping their kids financially into advanced ages.  Boomers (and Silents) heavily and overtly didn’t support the oldest Gen Xers and the very youngest Boomers.

So now the cohorts that didn’t get much support and did work and school together now pay their kids to not work and focus only on school, which under current trends isn’t adding up to stronger earnings patterns or career trajectories, as would have been predicted by models around education completion.

American women born from about 1915-1925 jumped on birth control pills with both hands and a foot

Women who were in their late 30s and early 40s in 1960 when the Pill came along rushed out to keep from having a third-order or higher child.  The drops happened within less than five years of the Pill’s appearance and were especially sharp for the women avoiding a 6th, 7th and 8th+ (all births after 8th are in one category of 8 or more) birth.  The births of third and fourth children recovered a little and flattened out briefly as younger cohorts of women aged into that 35-44 age range, but then continued the drop even more steeply.  The CDC graphed the declines in page 5 of their 1975 National Vital Statistics Report.

The early 1960s were pre-internet, household goods productions still sometimes was competitive with store-made goods,  and food was still pretty expensive.  But once women born in the wake of World War I had the chance to not keep having babies up until menopause, they jumped on it, despite living in what was in many ways still a more “authentic” lifestyle by the standards of many modern conservatives with rose colored memories or film-only knowledge of the era.  There was a lot of stuff going on in the 1960s and 1970s politically and socially, but average people weren’t political then, just as they are not now.  And if so many women who already had large families were jumping on the chance to not have yet another baby, it’s important to understand why and that the why was probably not for politicized reasons.

Dear Conservatives, setting things up so all housewives are drudges is anti-natalist and untraditional

Bullying women into staying home obviously doesn’t work, and yet it appears to make up the whole of the conservative argument for women staying home.  This is one of the core problems with American conservative Christian culture.  It leads to conservative Christian SAHMs putting kids into preschool as soon as the children age into it for breaks because “well, it’s not daycare now, it’s school!” It also leads to those women having fewer and fewer children.  Three is the new five and two is the new three.

Take cooking, as one example. Making stock takes time.  Sure, you don’t have to stand right over the pot, but you have to be in the general vicinity of the kitchen for 3-5 hours for relatively modest amounts of stock.  Now, this is the sort of homemade staple that we SAHMs are supposed to just have handy at all times, but it takes time to make it, and it takes even more time to make huge batches that you then freeze.  That’s a day or two or three you aren’t doing much else.  And I’ve already covered laundry.

As for childcare, we can’t all have lump babies that stay put wherever you plop them and we can’t all have children who hear an instruction to play quietly when they are older and do so for hours on end (this is actually fairly rare).  And the current status quo of spinning the childcare out to public school or preschool is not tenable, because it limits fertility and the false idol of homeschool robs a lot of communities of the stability they desperately need to have a functional school system.

There is no argument against homeschooling on a family level. Parents have the right and duty to educate our children as we see fit, and a state that interferes with this is acting unjustly. On a larger level, however, homeschooling as a movement is extremely uncharitable and antisocial.

Not everyone can homeschool.

As a society, we need schools and other collective institutions to spread the burden of childcare and primary education and to properly civilize and educate young people. But if you saddle enough individual families with the total burden of the care and education of their own children, you ensure that those families will have no surplus to support any such institutions. And this is in fact exactly what has happened. Everyone blames this on the homeschooling families themselves, because when you’re talking about homeschooling families you’re really talking about homeschooling mothers and no one ever passes up an opportunity to blame mom for everything, but individual families are just doing our best in impossible situations.

But people who can’t homeschool are left entirely at the mercy of the world all the homeschooling families have retreated from. There’s no civil society to join run by homeschooling mothers because we’re all too tired. Homeschooling mothers generally don’t even help each other out.

There are studies suggesting that being there when the kids are little is worth a lot less if the SAHM isn’t relatively rested most of the time.  And there is an argument (though not one I would advocate or consider pro-woman) for working while they are little and then, when they need the intensive parenting in teenagerhood, being available then as a SAHM.

This is why it’s insane to set things up so all women are drudges, it’s not Christian or functionally patriarchal. A lot of personality disordered people are able to hide out in “traditional womanhood” because there is an irreducible amount of domestic work and right now, that burden is going to fall on women. People can fantasize about it being different but right now, that’s how it is. Moreover, very few people can make more money than their labor is worth at home and very few couples can split the work effectively, for exactly the same reasons jobsharing doesn’t work, which is that you need a manager.

Much of femininity and marriage is socially constructed but you can socially construct it well or you can socially construct it stupidly and marriage and patriarchy are BETTER so who cares if they’re natural plus, Christian patriarchy is the only society that supports female liberation so stop sawing the branch you’re sitting on.

Lastly, women used to produce concrete results in their domestic work.  The industrial age was a rapid process of removing those concrete accomplishments from the domestic sphere and replacing them with vague repetitive tasks like driving the kids to activities (which goes all the way back in America to the 1920s!) and endless cleaning up kid messes and of course our dear friend laundry.  Those things are not terrible or wrong for mothers to do, but the conservative approach to the whole thing is to lie to women that they never had any other aspects to their domestic work and that they should delight in the abstract repetitive slog with no clear results at the end of each day.  Women then run to “crafts” in a flight to concrete accomplishment, and then are mocked for the crafts not being sufficiently useful or practical.  It’s a vicious trap.

Anyway this is all just random notes accumulated over time so if it doesn’t read like an essay, well, it’s not. I don’t know how to help women get the concrete aspects back for domestic labor when it’s simply not essential to survival anymore.  Our household has lived a pretty agrarian lifestyle and we ended up back in upscale suburbia.  And that’s pretty much the core of the problem.  The concrete accomplishments of my agrarian living helped alleviate the stresses of the worst of modern housewiving, but it couldn’t actually work long-term, which is why “be agrarian LARPers” is not a general solution to a general problem.  Even if people keep proposing it as one every 15 years or so like clockwork for the last century and a half.

Wage Compression is Real, Household Income Edition

For 2020 (2019 earnings), rounded to the nearest thousand. And these are household incomes, not individual earnings or family incomes, so this includes all your single-os living by themselves or unrelated folks living with a bunch of roommates (a remarkably tiny % for the amount of press and attention it gets, but people would wonder so I thought I’d mention it).

Top 1% starts right at 531k.

Top 2% starts at 387k.

Top 3% starts at 329k.

Top 4% starts at 296k.

Top 5% starts at 270k.

I’ll just drop some knowledge here: most of the over 6 million households in the top 5% do NOT have doctors or lawyers or MBAs in them. In fact, the percentage you’re guessing is probably the percentage that are from a tech background. It’s diverse career-wise in this rare air, but the spin is that more education yields more bucks.  This is where it breaks down. Tech breaks things, especially returns to education.  This has been true for closing in on 30 years.

You can also see the drop-off happens pretty rapidly.  Each percentage point represents a bit more than 1 million households (about 1.25 million, give or take). But wait, it gets worse!

Top 6-10% starts at 201k (top 10%) and ends at 251k (top 6%). We’ve gone from a single percentage point drop representing tens of thousands less income to each percent representing a roughly 10k drop.

So anyway household income of 200k lands you right at the edge of the top 10% of households in 2020.  And we’re still raining married tech papas all over the place. And here’s where I drop some more knowledge: high earning men aren’t marrying high earning women for the most part.  What happens in DC pretty much has stayed there, and that’s a few thousand couples.  We’re also bringing in more administrative jobs. The tales of 200-300k superintendents obscure that those levels of earning are just a handful of administrative jobs.

Anyway this is the top 10%. Let’s look at the bottom of the top 25%.

Top 10-25% starts at 124k (top 25%) and ends at 201k. This is where a lot of what normal people would call “middle class” is. This is two pretty good jobs, one very good job and one part-time or low-paying one, or one very good job, etc. The top 25% of households is about 31-32 million strong in 2020, somewhere around there. There’s plenty more in the second quartile, but at the same time the bottom of the top quartile (75th to 94th percentiles) has a wage range spanning barely 100k. From 124k to 251k covers MOST of America’s highest earning households, nearly 26 million of them. This is just a few thousand dollars’ difference in each percentile.

And then we come to the second highest quartile.
Top 25-50% starts at around 68k (50th percentile) and ends at 124k. In 2020, this quartile, which ends at the median household income, doesn’t even span 60k across two dozen percentiles! 31-32 million households with just a couple thousand separating any given percentile. This is what wage compression looks like. When you consider the sheer amount of education demanded but incomes remain cramped in such a narrow little range, it’s appalling.

What this does is leaves people in a position where they can’t easily just ask for more money or fewer hours. That’s why wage compression is a problem.

And while 68k is still the median household income, we’re a year or so away, if that, from it not being as high as the 25th percentile for married parent households. We’re very close to 75k being the top of the BOTTOM quartile among the very group producing the overwhelming majority of the children.

numbers from https://dqydj.com/household-income-percentile-calculator/

What average salary should men and women be making to get married?

Apparently the answer is “20k more than the woman you plan to wife up”.

The gap between married women and married men’s average earnings is about 20k regardless of actual earnings until men are in their 30s, when married men’s average goes up into 40k more than the married women average through their 30s.

So guys who are married in their early 20s average 30k, but girls married in their early 20s average 10k.  Mid20s, 50k/30k, respectively.  Mid30s, 70k/50k.

Another way to look at it is that single men never boost their earnings out of the range they share with married women (for both single men and married women, average income peaks around 50k/yr through 30s and 40s).  Men who want to marry all start out higher earning, even among men who marry by 20.

So the single guys who remain at each stage of average income are the ones who just aren’t making the financial leaps upward.  Single women have it even worse, they don’t hit that 50k peak until their 50s, and are down in the 40k range through most of their working years, below married women and single men.

One interesting set of interpretations is that married women on average expect married men to be the ones to take income over benefits and generous leave while they expect to not have to choose and thus don’t.  And men who want to marry won’t if they aren’t pretty confident they can decisively earn 60% or more of the household income.

Data reference is from here, covering people who were born in the 1990s as the youngest end of the spectrum.

Poking at the large family myth bubble.

As anyone reading along in this blog or the broader American right wing knows, there is a loud contingent of people who assert that in America, large families used to be common as dirt and women loved having them too.

This is not, strictly speaking, accurate.

The Vital Statistics folks (originally at the Census, and now with the CDC) stopped making a new column for births past #17 in 1959. The next year, in 1960, while still in what came to be called the Baby Boom, they stopped doing new columns for births above #8. And the Vital Statistics people are very conservative about these things. They were cheerfully making columns for 312 16th births for years. But 312 out of 4 million or so births a year is a really tiny number and eventually even they just started mushing all those ten and twelfth and seventeenth births together.

The point being that thousands of double digit births can still be happening, but still also be not common as dirt. Pesky math.

The other poke at the bubble for now is that as soon as American women got birth control access, they mysteriously rushed as far away from double digit family sizes as they could. Eight was very much enough, thanks, and keeping births down to six or less was nicer still, as far as white American women were concerned. There is some amusing (for a personal value of amusing) commentary in many of the annual bulletins expressing statistician puzzlement at the plunge in 8 and up births among white women about twenty seconds after the first shipload of diaphragms washed ashore. And while access came decades later for black women, they behaved exactly the same and kablooey went the higher order black birth numbers too.

This is not the behavior of women who looooooved having ten or fifteen kids. It’s also not really much to do with feminists or feminism except that they felt the solution to male sexual incontinence was to have women end run around it with birth control of ever-increasing reliability.

50% of SAHMs are in 75k+ households in 2020 (with bonus birth-dearth update!)

This is pre-COVID, effectively. Nearly 4 in 10 SAHMs are in 100k+ households. This increase is partly because we have fewer families, especially married families. People aren’t having babies as much, so (particularly married) families are themselves composed more and more heavily of non-infant, non-toddler children plus middle-aged parents.

In the next decade we seriously face the possibility of being millions of babies “in the hole” against population predictions. They assumed a steady decline and…at some point 10 or 20 years from now people would just start up again and the babies would increase. They didn’t assume negative 300k+ for the next 5 years though, more like negative 30-50k per year for 10 or 15 years. And they sure didn’t assume a not-unlikely scenario of minus 500k+ for the next decade. There is no demographic model in government use that assumes 60-65m children in 2030, or 50m in 2050.

Take some time, think about what it would mean, especially with the current desire among those who rule us to have extremely high rates of immigration. And then think about the fact that these are reasonable estimates with a moderate chance of happening.

Have a nice day!

Women on the Pill had 20% more sex than women not on it.

There was a lot of research done on the Pill when it was first made available to American women on a mass scale in the early 1960s.  The big takeaway, relevant since use was primarily restricted to already-married women, is that women on the Pill had a higher “coital frequency” than women not on the Pill and that pre-Pill, women were in fact having less sex with their husbands over time to avoid pregnancy.   Marrying young was resulting in not as much sex after the first ten years, due to desire for limiting fertility rather than lack of interest according to separate surveys of husbands and wives.

But once the Pill was introduced, women who went on it had more sex and of course had fewer children.  It sure seemed like cake was being had and eaten too.  This is particularly interesting given that decades later research on women taking the Pill showed it to be heavily correlated with reduced sex interest in women and lower libido.  Thus we have the origin story for the mythical housewife who wasn’t that into it but just trying to keep her man satisfied.

The other thing I just remembered about this is that the Pill was the only contraceptive with a substantial increase in sex-having vs non-Pill users.  Sterilizations on either male or female side, condoms, jellies, and the like never showed people utilizing them to have more sex than people avoiding contraceptive use.

The American woman has always been and will always be a contradiction

When I first started blogging here, I had a misinformed idea that there was a lot more pro-mother tendency in American women before roughly the 1960s.  But that isn’t the case.  What is the case is that from the pre-America colonial days up until now in the Age of Devices,  American women have always been the definition of Hegelian contradiction, pulling in opposite directions.

Unusually even among European cultures, American women have always had a contingent that privileged the mother-child dyad so extremely that nobody else was supposed to provide care or upbringing of the child(ren).  This remains shocking to me and something I’m still trying to accept.  But even when women mostly had to have other women around, American women have had a subset that was very loud and pushy about how they could or ought to go it alone and rear their children without any other humans involved, even dad.

The conservative flavor has brought us the sorts of people who believe mother-only childcare and child rearing is universal, historical and natural on the conservative or right-wing side.  A different flavor, call it liberal though it crosses many political lines, has brought us the ultimately damaging attachment parenting model.  A lot of the mommy wars are American women singing their usual Hegelian song.

The Puritan factory model of child rearing, in which many people got a crack at rearing the child and the mother-child dyad was not privileged as such is the other side of this coin.  There’s also always been a contingent of American women who believed children to be fungible, and thus it was merely a matter of applying the right systems to a child by any adult who’d mastered those systems.

There were a lot of women, often mothers, behind the drives for daycare, systematized mass education and other attempts to genericize child care and child rearing.

I don’t have the energy to make a separate post, but the Little Golden Books were a combination child psychology experiment and mass kid-marketing experiment done by a working mother who believed more “authentic” children’s tales would be useful in improving the educational level of young urban children.  She herself was a major promoter in the early 20th century of the right of women to combine having a family and having a productive, fulfilling career.

Meanwhile, one of my favorite American writers, Gene Stratton-Porter, was a massive promoter of mother-care as the only real care in her fiction and some of her non-fiction writing.  She combined this, in that contradictory way of American women, with explicit commentary about how it was acceptable to have relatives, governesses or tutors though.

So the American project, distaff side, has always been contradictory and oxymoronic.  The American woman is a social creature, but yet anti-social.  Maternal, sometimes cloyingly so, yet dismissive of maternal love.

I’ve been looking into women’s history around the world and American women are Just Different compared to other women when it comes to all these things.  They have always had massive personal freedom, even many enslaved women during those eras.  But they’ve also had a sometimes bizarre interpretation of the life domestic compared to historical norms, even ones concurrent to their own for a given point in American history.

The American woman is, was and will be fried ice and its promoter as long as there is an America.