Married parent demographics

A thread I put together on twitter during COVID, lightly edited into a blog post follows below. Just a roundup of the implications of demographic change beyond just income stuff.

Many believe married parents of children under 18 are mostly Repubs and make “middle class” 50-60k a year and work for small businesses and that college parents are a small % of all married parents. Here’s the reality.

The median household income for married parents is about 100k (~104k as of 2019 ACS) from current ACS data. The BOTTOM QUARTILE starts around 65k and below. Yes, making 5k/month puts you at the “top of the bottom” 25% of married parents. 4k/month, the top of the bottom 15% (only 1/6 married parent households make that much or less per year).

As for educational background, at this point a MAJORITY of married parents are college educated. Around half of ALL parents have a BA+. Mass college education has certain effects the right appears to be totally blind to. So the average married parent household is a six figure one, and at least one parent finished a BA or more.

Whatever that is, it’s not a recipe for traditional Republican political dominance among married people. And go figure, they’re starting to lose married folks.

Now let’s think about employment status. What are married parents doing to earn enough to have such a high, six-figure median income, where 50k isn’t even bottom 20%? Honestly they’re mostly working in STEM+education+government, in roughly that order.

This is why I’ve been pushy/testy about “muh small biz” stuff going around. They are important, very much so, but married parents are all-in on too big to fail institutions. Because we need the money/(illusion of) security. Millions of married parents get paid in stock grants and equity stakes. 100s of 1000s of married parents were the government workers making lists of essential businesses and are college administrators and public school teachers and administrators. The interests of the married parent class are, yes, in conflict to some degree with the interests of, well, all the rest of y’all. I don’t know how to square this circle terribly well, myself. We’ve broken civic life badly to pit our baby-havers against all others this way.

Speaking of baby-havers, married mothers do work full time, but not as often or in the ways that you think. Where they work full-time, it’s increasingly flex hours and getting to bring their babies. Why SAHM if you can get that sweet a deal? Much of the increase in married mother employment has been under conditions that don’t resemble what married fathers put up with. And they STILL are 50%! part-time or SAHM. The top half (100k+ households) are like 65% p/t and SAHM. Married fathers are workhorses. They continue to have 90% type workforce participation while married mothers were already retreating from their 90s peaks. They have never gone back to that in nearly 30 years. Bet you didn’t know that!

The point of this post is that married parents are college educated heavily, all-in on STEM and globalism allowing them flex jobs, high wages and retirement funds/pensions. Marriage isn’t conservative. Our children aren’t being raised traditionally despite high SAHM rates. Most married mothers who SAHM use daycare/preschool. Bet you didn’t know that! MOST. It is frequently part-time, but a lot of moms were chafing that they can’t put their toddlers in 3 day Montessori. I think right wing populism is best and that we should have a more production oriented, regional economy in America. I don’t think we can get there via the right pretending no major demographic shifts have happened regarding marriage itself and the kind of people who marry now.

The fundamentalist 1970s back to the land movement was funded with food stamps and welfare

This was also true of the more left-wing hippies.  There was an interesting confluence during this time of far left and far right starting “self-sufficiency” communal living experiments with the help of welfare.  I didn’t read a book for this one, although you can find little allusions in memoirs about some of this, and the very occasional one-off reference.  Mostly you can find out what happened by looking up the history of the food stamp/SNAP/WIC nutrition support programs on wikipedia.  During the 1970s, some changes were made to what was then still called “food stamps” to permit seeds, gardening equipment and some other tools to be purchased with the stamps instead of money.  A fascinating side effect was that a number of fundamentalist groups/cults/etc. decided to leave the cities and go try to live out in the country off the land.

What I find really interesting about this is that the right wing appears to have no history for this.  The entire Crunchy Con, fundie-hippie, prepper/survivalist, homesteading subset of conservatives finds its Ur-model in the Back to the Land movement.  And this movement that was all about surviving off the grid self-sufficiently away from The (Liberal) Man was jumpstarted by food stamps and cash welfare.  Yet as far as I can tell, it might as well be knowledge hidden under a rock to the modern conservative equivalents.

Practical Definitions: Conservatives and Multi-Level Marketing aka MLM

MLM is short for “Multi-Level Marketing“.  This is a form of sales in which the majority of the income is earned by signing other people up and receiving a portion of their sales (and the sales of those they sign up).  This is a variation of a pyramid scheme.  Conservatives tend to fall prey to MLM scams because the veneer of capitalism appeals to conservatives tricked into monetizing their relationships.  With liberals, the scam tendency is towards self-help, self-improvement and spiritual awakening cons, in which the veneer is monetizing friendships and relationships for “spiritual growth”.  Liberal scams cater to self-focus and individual autonomy.  Conservative scams cater, with their more pseudo-democratic pyramid structures, to the idea of community while horrifyingly undermining it in (ineffective) pursuit of money.

While both conservative men and women tend to fall prey to such schemes, the reason for this post is what I have observed among conservative housewives on and off the internet.  There are an astonishing number of schemes designed for them far beyond the kind of stereotypical makeup and cookware MLM businesses.

Three in particular that one runs into are book sales, essential oils (this one is health-risking as well, since they are not designed for internal use and yet that is part of the con), and even a bolting-on of MLM to real estate brokering.

There is nothing about books, essential oils or real estate sales or anything else that requires an MLM component and yet over and over I find “conservative”, “homeschool”, “Biblical”, etc. “work at home opportunities” seem to have MLM tacked on no matter what the supposed product or service for sale is.

If you’re discouraged from just selling the product or service without signing other people up, it’s probably MLM and you should walk away before you sink too much cash into startup costs (which MLM usually has more of than other at-home business opportunities).

The following conservative Christian SAHM, who is an excellent blogger in many respects, has written some insightful posts detailing the problems with MLM.

http://thecommonroomblog.com/2014/08/of-mlms-truth-and-beauty.html

http://thecommonroomblog.com/2013/09/essential-oils-and-mlms.html

http://thecommonroomblog.com/2013/07/mlm-some-of-my-concerns.html

Each of her posts is longer than this one and worth the read, she delves into the problems of monetizing your relationships with friends and family.  She also unpacks the flaws of MLMs as a business model, and most importantly covers the spiritual pitfalls of these terrible schemes.

This post is just an introduction and overview, a lot of conservative people truly don’t understand that business structures don’t have to look like Amway or any of the other MLMs I’ve linked to because all the stuff they see and pass around does look that way.  But no, these are a bad deal and should be avoided.

When you can’t afford to be frugal, or unexamined assumptions conservatives have about frugal tips

Frugality and being a good steward of the household income are not impossible goals.  However, what “frugal tips” are available to housewives these days rely on a bevy of unexamined assumptions that don’t apply to an average SAHM these days.

It is possible to make your own curtains, to store meat in small portions, to bake your own bread, to make your own household cleaning products and to keep a price book, to name some fairly typical tips one will run across on the old intertubes with a quick google.  But frugality of these types is generally not compatible with the current domestic setups of most American housewives.  They have no spare capital for a deep freezer, or to buy meat in bulk quantities to take advantage of sales or direct-purchase opportunities.  They don’t have domestic help even on an occasional basis, so whatever they do has to be compatible with kids underfoot.  And of course kids aren’t young forever, but how can good habits be established when it’s full-tilt survival mode when they are young?  Teaching little kids to be useful or even to consider other people and obey adult rules about where and when to talk/run/etc. takes focused effort and isn’t readily done with a casual phrase here and there.  That can be the way of it only after the habitual behaviors are in place.

Thus you have a pretty major obstacle to frugality early on, even if you are “saving money on daycare”.  The other obstacle is pregnancy.  A lot of frugal tips involve large amounts of ongoing physical labor that is difficult to manage during pregnancies.  If you haven’t spent your years growing up doing that kind of labor, you are unprepared for the extent of it later in life.  You’re also out of luck if pregnancy is hard on your body.  And some women never get back to pre-pregnancy fitness/endurance levels whether it’s one kid or seven.

I come back a lot to the physical stuff because there’s a parallel unexamined assumption among conservatives (not just the male ones) that modern technology means no real physical labor is necessary for a housewife to expend.  Pregnancy is always easy and quick to recover from, barely a speed bump, nursing is also no big, not even requiring extra food or effort (except of course many women switch to formula with “many” kids precisely because they can hand a bottle off and let the older kids feed baby so they can get stuff done).  And even if all that stuff is a little bit difficult, KIDS R FREE.  There’s a weird fixation on the infant and toddler years as being super-cheap by default among conservatives and this is used to extrapolate that children are extremely cheap to raise to 18-21 years because somehow breastmilk production costs nothing (not even calories, it’s like magic) and you can just rely on an infinite supply of thrift stores with appropriate clothing and insert all the rest of the stuff you hear from conservatives about how totally cheap it is to raise infants/toddlers, so therefore have eight.  I guess they’re supposed to drink breastmilk and wear cloth diapers until they marry at 18 somehow?  It’s a quirk I never really noticed until a recent clickbait article about tradeoffs appeared on some home decor site and conservatives tore into the writer of the article for being selfish and stupid, didn’t she understand kids aren’t expensive because BREASTFEEDING and CLOTH DIAPERS?

So, let’s recap some of the unexamined assumptions conservatives dump on housewives regarding frugality:

  • Assumption of “traditional” domestic economy skills that actually date from the middle of the 20th century and rely on a pretty vast industrial infrastructure (including exploited labor by women and children in foreign lands) to be feasible as “economizing” at all.
  • Minimizing the physical risks and stresses of childbearing and nursing, as well as the physical labor that is still necessary to run an “economized” household.
  • Fixation on the early years as being so cheap that there are no real expenses added by having more and more children
  • Parallel dismissal of the importance of child spacing or domestic support in being able to have children doing chores effectively at young ages.
  • Dismissal of chaotic early years as a major obstacle to domestic tranquility and structure, while assuming that such structure is there (no need for a sitter while homeschooling, for example, because infants and toddlers and young kids will just play quietly while you instruct older children…somehow, or alternatively that older children will not resent the play of younger children who aren’t ready for academics partying in front of them because no big kid ever envied a little kid getting to play instead of write an essay or do math problems).  Without structure, frugality is hard to consistently achieve.
  • Assumption that the average housewife was educated in domestic skills by her mother, and if she was not, that she can instantly acquire these skills in a few days’ time via youtube and blogs and immediately apply them effectively.

Feel free to toss more into the comments.  The core issue with having all these assumptions is that without them, it’s nearly impossible to economize systematically.  And that means rebuying things, buying more expensive versions of whatever because you don’t have the skills or time to go with cheaper approaches, and stress spending.  But to help people who need to be more frugal, the assumptions have to be dropped and conservatives have to start looking at the actual conditions people are living under, not the idealized conditions a small percentage of conservatives manage to live under.  Here’s hoping!

We really are under a Labor vs. Capital divide.

The problem is that a big chunk of it is college-educated knowledge workers having their wages driven downwards and not understanding that they have class interests.  Instead, many of them buy into titles-over-pay and are happy to receive lower pay over time adjusted for inflation so long as they earn just a bit more than non-college workers.  And it is “just a bit” after you’ve bothered to adjust for the costs of the education ratchet and the fact that increasingly these knowledge workers are talking themselves into 2-3 degrees before getting that first job.

It doesn’t have to be this way, they could demand to be paid in money rather than ego-boost of making a few pennies more than those despised not-college types who probably don’t even have decent politics.  But it would mean they’d been bad at being smart and were instead talked into, er, voting against their own interests.

This is, by the way, misleadingly represented on the fringe socialist left as “professional managerial class” or “pmc”.

Conservatives act like 1970s black Americans about male provision

Let me count the ways…

  1. Emphasis on self-employment because the (liberal) Man is prejudiced against their kind, without providing any meaningful reserve or protection against the volatility of this choice.
  2. De-emphasis correspondingly on male provision as an important part of being a husband, including discouraging men who want to do that as cavemen or delusional.
  3. Both overt and covert encouragement of women to produce the primary income in a marriage, either by openly promoting an egalitarian view that women can and do earn as much as men as sole or primary providers, or by defining the SAHM life as incomplete or lazy/leisured if there’s no income-generating going on.
  4. Related, but its own thing, pushing a “working homemaker” ideal where even if you do work full time or close to it, you are still expected to home-make at effectively a full time level too.
  5. Defending the extremely rare stay at home father as a paragon of manliness and as perfectly common and therefore something women should be expected to take seriously as a possible path in their marriages.
  6. Declaring any woman who talks about the importance of financial provision within marriage by the husband as a gold digger or money obsessed or not bringing a supportive and Godly spirit to marriage, etc.
  7. Raising daughters and loving sons.  This means encouraging girls to pursue practical options with education and prepare to earn a living while telling young men to follow their bliss and/or pursue self-employment and encourage this by not expecting them to work.
  8. Video games and pornography are heroin and crack.

With immediately post-Civil Rights Act black Americans, some of this was not surprising and they did still have to face actual race prejudice making male employment riskier and more fragile even within marriage.  They also were looking at affirmative action preferences quickly shifting towards favoring black women over black men due to killing two birds with one stone (another reason straight quotas would have been less poisonous).

Conservatives, though, are doing a lot of this for ideological and unstated class reasons.  Many and probably most conservatives are not middle class but rely on declaring themselves such as a major part of their subculture’s cohesiveness.  But these are not middle class behaviors now that most of the people promoting them have college educations, which is the major difference between white conservatives and 1970s black Americans.

Money does matter

I don’t think poor people shouldn’t have kids, but I talk about a high household income earned mostly by Dad because money does matter in a world where people are always running away from their duties and obligations to people outside their immediate nuclear family.  Obviously yes, even in America you can totally raise six kids to adulthood on 20 thousand bucks a year.  But the big conservative lie around this is that it’s a middle class upbringing.

Further, refusal to accept that individualistic, disconnected society really does have high financial costs attached keeps a lot of families dancing without a net over a ravine.

Take the often promoted “telecommute in the boonies!” plan.  Well, where’s the internet to do that?  In most of rural America outside of city limits, high-speed, telecommuting-friendly internet is several hundred dollars a month, not fifty.  In practice, people “telecommuting” this way are either defining “suburb with large backyards” as “rural” or they are commuting the old fashioned way.

And if you live rurally, it is easier to let the kids scamper around while mom stays home with no other adults nearby doing stuff around the house.  But eventually the kids need to go places, and now mom is on the commute-train too.  Even the very rural homeschool types can’t actually sit at home all day every day and never leave until the youngest of nine is 18.

Having no money, and no ability to earn a large income leave the entire household vulnerable all the time.  Dad’s car breaks.  It’s a fix requiring shop access (car lift).  Those kinds of homes exist in rural areas, but they’re not the cheap ones you could afford because “how dare you suggest we not have mom stay home when dad’s earning capacity maxes out at 40k a year!”  A lot of people get forced into really tough positions a lot faster.  It can get really ugly really unexpectedly.

Like romanticizing herb lore because you can’t afford doctor visits for chronic ailments.  Or buying the kids off with cheap filling food because you aren’t really rural, but exurban and there’s nowhere safe for them to play (busy streets, no way to walk to the nearest open play area, and you’re a one-car household).

Money would matter less if everyone was aggressive about using the interwebs to maintain clannish-style community ties to keep people matched up if they were far-flung.  Or if living twenty to a 2000 square foot house was normal mode in America right now.

In America 75+ years ago, homes used to be built with very small sleeping areas and larger shared spaces.  Shirley Jackson’s family moved into a home not much bigger than the 2500 square feet places of now, but it was split into four completely separate apartments, with very tiny sleeping areas, almost no built-in closet space and bigger social and cooking areas.  But large homes aren’t built or even modified this way anymore.

Money also wouldn’t matter if people accepted that leaving everything in the hands of one woman on the baby having and raising front will lead to fewer children if she’s really struggling and even if she personally isn’t because it always has and it’s even more the case with reliable contraception and sterilization and delaying marriage for those who take the other two options off the table.

This one’s pretty open for discussion.

Why very low income and very high income SAHMs often treat frugality as a very part-time job

With the very low income, they have to because there’s no room for error and low enough on the income tree, it’s a real financial loss plus massive stressor to have two workers maxing out at 43k or so.

For the very high income (in W2 income terms anyhow), it’s related.  If your husband makes 400k, you get the same benefit spending 10 hours a week or even month finding an extra 25k in the budget as you would working a 50k/yr job because you only end up with a little more and you have to work 40 hours a week to get it.  You have to crack six figures yourself before the extra money is harder to find via frugality than just working a job for it.

This isn’t to say that frugality is pointless unless you only make under 40k or over 400k, but that at the extreme ends of wage income (as reflected in both extremes having the highest rates of SAHMs), it’s mostly going to be easier to conserve cash rather than earn marginally more cash.

The math is different closer to the median married income, which is partly why the median is rising.  The reason is that people who are willing to marry when both incomes are likely to be about even set up their finances differently and as a result losing one income doesn’t create the space to segue into conserving the remaining one.

Of course, another reason the median married income is rising is that if you weren’t taught household management and homemaking skills, which is a very large number of marriageable women these days, it is terrifying to figure out how to get along on a low income and marrying a higher earning man sounds like it will be safer/easier.

Nuclear family plus servants doesn’t equal nuclear family plus appliances

Below is a tantalizing excerpt of an essay by Peter Laslett (link is paywalled), who researched the structure of the Western European (particularly English) family for decades.  He’s one of the reasons I talk about the domestic help aspect of family formation, even as righties of all types ignore that when declaiming about how the nuclear family is a staple of certain kinds of white people.  I’d put Laslett’s more exhaustive work on the back burner, but I have moved it up in the old queue. Below I’ve reposted the excerpt with the important bit at the end highlighted.

Characteristics of the Western European Family

Peter Laslett

By ‘family structure’ many things may be intended. I shall take it here in two senses. First, in the sense of composition of the co-resident domestic group, as the historical sociologists call it. This means the knot of persons who live together, man, wife and sometimes, but by no means always, their children, their relatives, if any, along with their servants, now excessively rare. Such is the family which the wage-earner leaves when he catches his bus in the morning to go to work, and which he returns to in the evening. It is also the assemblage of possessions which the bachelor girl or the solitary widower or divorcee calls a home, along with himself or herself. A modest array of this kind is the constitution of the family for very large numbers of Western Europeans in the 1980s. The family in the second sense is the extended family of cousins, aunts, uncles and so on who are recognised, and sometimes associated with, but do not live together in the same place.

I am concerned here with family in both these senses, historically, over time. This is not only because of the interest people have in their family history: but also because it has now been shown that unless we have some knowledge of the history of the family, the family of today, of our own personal experience, can be profoundly misunderstood. For the fact is that in the matter of the family we have suffered, and still suffer, from a series of persistent, deceptive, obfuscating misbeliefs which can only be shown up and corrected by a knowledge of the past.

This self-deception about the history of the family has particularly affected Western Europeans. Frenchmen, Germans or Englishmen, unless they have come across the work of recent historical sociologists, are likely to believe the following. That the co-resident familial group in the past, at least up to the point of industrialisation, was large and complicated, with several generations living together. Furthermore, that this comfortable, kin-enfolding, welfare-providing family group not only nurtured the young, but took in their spouses when they married, and also provided them with shelter and succour when they became old or suffered other misfortunes. That the family in the sense of extended kin was a further source of welfare. It seems to be supposed that before the days of the Welfare State it was the family and kin which rescued social casualties. Now all this has turned out to be untrue.

Untrue, that is to say, in a literal sense and for the particular part of Western Europe which first became industrialised and which has given what might be called industrial culture to the rest of the world. By this North-West Europe, especially the British Isles, Northern France, the Low Countries and Scandinavia, is meant. In this cultural region family groups had been simple in composition and quite modest in size for many centuries before industrialisation. Married children only seldom lived with their parents, and two couples in one family household were quite unusual. It is true that the family group has become much smaller in the 20th century, servants have disappeared, and solitary living has grown enormously in our own day: but this did not happen during the process of industrialisation as ‘traditional society’ gave way to ‘modern society’ and cannot be called a transition to the ‘nuclear family’. The ‘nuclear family’ was there already.

The kin composition of the English family group was much as it is today in the 16th century, and had been so since the 1300s, the 1200s or even earlier, but with one very important structural difference. Servants lived in large numbers of families, and the presence of servants made the family groups of the rich large, and the family groups of the poor correspondingly small. In this area of the West, moreover, welfare never flowed along lines of kinship. The casualties of the system, the widows, the orphans, the poverty-stricken, were supported by the collectivity rather than the family.

The implications, needless to say, are pretty major. I originally heard about this from someone with a subscription to the periodical, whose interest was in Laslett’s discussions of high servant turnover, and that the lifelong servant was less common than it appears in literary portrayals.  This is kindasorta true.  Laslett’s work is more nuanced, in point of fact.

Relatedly, due to labor shortage and some other historical quirks, the longtime or lifelong servant did exist in various forms in America and Canada all the way into the first half of the 20th century.  Likewise, the nuclear family in its frontier-isolated and later suburban form could not exist without the Industrial Revolution’s massive infusions of radical new technology and mass production.  So on the one hand, “the nuclear family has always been part of Western Europe”, but on the other hand, the people who came to America transmuted it along radical lines that were not reflected in the old country’s version of it.

And more to the point, as my title for this post notes, it’s not the same to say that appliances are your servants, even if they were devised as a replacement.  They are not a true replacement for all that.