The story of the transformation of the”housewife” into the “stay at home mother” providing “mother-care, not DAYCARE” in American society in the wake of the Pill and Roe v. Wade is an interesting one and there’s not much information on the internet about it because the idea that there was a transition (and that this transition destroyed a substantial amount of soft power among married women) is not compatible with either right wing or left wing narratives about the topic.
We didn’t really have the term before motherhood could be conceivably viewed as entirely intentional/optional, even within marriage. And nobody seems to ask why it bloomed so suddenly and took over, when by its nature it explicitly separates motherhood from marriage, while housewife emphasizes, well, property benefits of marriage for women foremost. Homemaker, it’s worth noting, has begun to turn up as a transition away from stay at home mother, but it lacks that wilful connecting of property with marriage and in fact shifts the domestic world to something a woman must make/build, rather than something she is inherently part of and maintaining/managing.
Since this is just thinky thoughts, I will close with the little data point that over half of American SAHMs use center-based daycare for children aged 0-4 and that we hit that point about 10 years ago and this is in every region of the country, not concentrated in one place, it’s about half everywhere. Employed or not, it’s 80% for BA or higher-possessing mothers.
This is something that is not immediately obvious to many conservative commentators, including far right ones, because the acceptable fringe subcultures who are anti-college but still married with kids are very loud and are in fact massively overrepresented in conservative media. There’s also demographic lag, since the true culmination of college as guaranteed path to motherhood in the married class didn’t really hit until the internet era and there’s a lot of women who had babies in the 80s and 90s whose experiences 20+ years ago as non-college married mothers are also overrepresented.
Conservatives are in a real bind by relying on college as the baby factory, though. The number of first births is declining year after year and is not in fact being offset by increases in third and higher births by women who are already mothers. The conversion of middle class parenting and childrearing into a college-microcosm, where all interactions are mediated by a credentialed array of third parties (you don’t teach your kid domestic skills informally, they go to cooking and sweeping and mopping classes) and there is, simply, no organic social interaction (you have to join groups that meet at specific times for specific kinds of “play-based movement”) has been fertility inhibiting and it’s getting more and more so each year.
Even meal preparation has taken on college norms, consisting of carefully measured meal kits to be prepared according to precise and “scientific” instructions, or literal cafeteria-style eating in a upscale grocery store’s deli section. Same chairs and tables and general set up as a college campus, only the food’s a little more expensive.
Obviously a lot of college moms love this brave new world where they never have to give up the mentality and practices of their college years once they graduate. But it’s driving women who don’t want to live such a tightly structured life just to be moms away from motherhood entirely.
Liberals are in a bind, too, but progressive views don’t include a substantial pro-family ideological component, so the fertility shredding effects of motherhood turning more and more into the world’s longest advanced college degree don’t affect their group norms the same way. Conservatives, though, do have that pro-family ideological aspect and if they don’t figure out how to baby factory some other way, then in the long run there will be a small, extremely rigid hard core having the same 2-4 kids, and this raises wider social questions about how we can ever hope to have normal sex roles when those people are completely pushed out of the reproductive race.
Some quick tidbits about twin birth because it’s yet another factor in the current birth trends and relative robustness of fertility in college moms.
- Twin birth was around 10 per thousand births for white women and 12 per thousand for black women in 1940 and this was relatively unchanged through 1960. The relatively higher number for black women appears to be almost entirely from black women getting pregnant a lot more often.
- Current twin births are more than triple those rates of a mere half-century ago. But the “twin gap” has shrunk, with non-Hispanic whites at around 36 per thousand births and non-Hispanic blacks around 39 per thousand births. This kind of puts a pin in the notion that it’s substantially genetic in black women. Maybe, but the rapid changes and closing of the gap suggest environmental factors are the major driver.
- As recently as 1985, the total twin rate for all races was around 20 per thousand births.
- Twin births among (white, non-Hispanic) college moms are typically above the national average of around 3%. They are more like 4-5% in many states, with a lot of it happening in regions where I found third children to be born above the national baseline for third births.
- Twin births these days are more likely to be second births than first. I don’t know if that would be the case pre-birth control and pre-ART, it’s hard to find birth order data because live twins were so much rarer until quite recently.
That people doing it don’t feel that way doesn’t matter, the practical effects are nearly the same as if they did (and plenty do feel there’s a political aspect.)
The problem with this being the way right wing people respond to mass social changes that are detrimental is that it’s expensive on a collective level and a personal level. The costs are so high that right wing people engaging in this type of activism are almost entirely cut off from any other kind of activism.
In contrast, the left wing just sprinkles political dust on their lifestyle and keeps on moving. The left doesn’t promote marriage as the optimal vehicle for private retreat. It doesn’t promote private retreat at all. The right overwhelmingly does. It’s not that the right does no explicit activism, it’s that the default setting is to hide away privately and replicate lost social goods within the nuclear family regardless of whether it’s desirable, feasible or possible within the limitations of a nuclear family.
This breaks women. Women are yelled at for not being able to replicate the social goods of an entire city, town or village, and also yelled at for desiring those goods and also yelled at for not taking on additional community-wide functions as more and more of society breaks down into atomization and isolated individuality.
It also breaks men, but in a more subtle way in which they are told there’s no serious obstacles to their masculine expression or nature except their own will, which is an immensely damaging falsehood. This is as true of the mainstream right wing media as it is of numerous far right blogs.
I’d expand on this more, like perhaps delving into the trades myth that many in the right cling to but make sure to never put their kids into, or how the conservative stack for women doesn’t (that is, the pieces don’t work with each other and reinforce each other; homeschooling comes at the expense of a clean house, as a very typical example). But our private retreat means I don’t have another woman or young girl around to keep my youngest from melting down about getting a small spot of soup on one sleeve. So I have to go deal with that.
The money doesn’t go to the parents, though. But it’s the main path to the married class. A fundamental error is the view that college is a net financial loss for middle class women. But this dismisses the reality that the college “bride price” is how those women display their marriageability and secure marriage to a man who can lead them into firm footing in the married class. The fringe notion that college is for harlotry is nearly the opposite of the reality that’s led to a supermajority of children being born to college-educated mothers and a majority being born to college-completing mothers (BA and beyond).
Women were taking 40% of the BAs in 1970. Those women’s daughters have come to completely dominate married motherhood, so of course college for girls Just Makes Sense. When your daughter is going to marry a guy who’s already graduated a couple years earlier and who’s already making 70k while she’s walking into 40k starting, suddenly the 15k or 25k in student loans doesn’t seem like such a big deal.
It could be more or less formalized, but training young women in the domestic, homemaking arts and giving them practical experience in childcare would be amazingly useful.
There are a number of avenues by which this could conceivably be enabled, not least as part of a general program of supporting women in their women’s work.
A model to start with would taking the system of the current international au pair program, and figuring out how to adapt it to the needs of young women who’d like to be keepers of hearth and home for their families and future husbands and families who could use the help of energetic girls in their late teens and early 20s.
We have a woman here whose life is so easy and uncomplicated, but yet whose faith is so brittle that *loading a dishwasher* is untenable without a saint’s image to pray to. O-kay!
The evil here is that a woman in the life religious is not the same as a mother of young, closely spaced children. Such a mother ostentatiously and vaingloriously holding herself out as equivalent to a cloistered nun (who, incidentally had a pretty interesting and short life, but one that didn’t feature much in the way of dishwashing or linen folding) is morally and spiritually dangerous. In the life religious, the twenty or thirty tasks that make up a baseline of homemaking are split among many women rather than just one. And this is partly so that the beauty of the small things in domestic upkeep for a group can be understood and comprehended more completely.
Birthing human small things with souls and hearts and chasing them around and then feeling aggrieved about loading a dishwasher is not a sign of spiritual discontent. It’s simple and normal and human. But as usual, the bar is set at “housewives, if you’re not performing at the level of VIRGIN SAINTS YOU NEED TO STEP IT UP LIKE MEEEEEEEEE”.
This is far more of a problem than the Lori Alexanders of the world.