Volume > Issue > The Sovietization of American Women

The Sovietization of American Women

"NYET," SAY THE POPES

By Rupert J. Ederer | May 1999
Rupert J. Ederer is Professor Emeritus of Economics at Buffalo State College in New York and the author of Economics as if God Matters.

Being retired, I regularly have the pleasure of accompanying my wife on trips to the grocery store. There I am sometimes treated to the sight of young, modern women handling with aplomb one of the toughest assignments in a challenging but rewarding vocation: They are mothers pushing shopping carts through the aisles with a baby sitting onboard and a toddler or two tagging along. It is heartening to see mothers with their children and children with their mothers; I’m reassured to know that there are still some stay-at-home moms.

But such sightings are growing rarer. Statistics from 1996 show that, of American mothers who have husbands and who have children under 18 years of age, 70 percent work outside the home (up from 45 percent in 1975). Of such mothers with children under six years old, the proportion who go away from home to work is a full 62 percent (up from 37 percent in 1975). We are creating a breed of demi-orphans housed in daycare centers and semi-mothers walled off from their offspring in offices and factories.

There will always be some mothers who have no choice but to take employment outside the home — widows, victims of abandonment and divorce, and wives whose husbands for one reason or another are unable to work at gainful employment. Given the much-publicized abuses of the present welfare system, it appears unlikely that our society will come to appreciate that in the long run it would be better to enable such mothers to stay at home and care for their children. My focus here is on the woman with a husband present, a husband willing and able to work to support his family. Even with a loyal breadwinner present, many mothers feel compelled to enter the labor market, given the present state of our economy. We all know, or should know by now, what the attempt to restore so-called free market capitalism has brought in its wake. Fragments of the old “iron law of wages” still operate; but it is not rising birthrates (because they are not rising) that bring wages down toward subsistence. Doubling the labor supply eventually makes it possible for profit-maximizing employers to hire both husbands and their wives for what approximates one living wage.

We face problems like those to which Pope Leo XIII responded more than a century ago in his historic encyclical On the Condition of Labor (Rerum Novarum). Conservative thinking had become inured to 19th-century Scrooge-and-Marley economics, and the Calvinistic vestiges in our culture had helped to secure approval of a capitalist-employer class able to work its will on the mass of the non-elect. To a world accustomed to plenty of talk about political rights — including the right to vote for people they knew little about — but conveniently ignorant of economic rights, the great Pope spoke out on the right of workers to organize in order to secure, among other things, a just family wage.

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