Why two jobs?
January 23, 2013, 8:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

On the ‘manosphere’ question of women working. No it does not generally make sense, biologically or financially. Biologically, duh.

Financially? Perhaps there was once a meaningful bump to be gained by having a second income, when few others did. But over time all of our laws and taxes have adjusted to the new expected reality in which both parents work. Hey, you’re both working, great, you can be squeezed more!

Now throw in the situation with child care. This is where the whole equation really breaks down. Mathematically, the whole second-job really only makes sense if one can pay for a full-time nanny (a whole ‘nother person’s salary!) completely out of the after-tax, after-commute-cost, etc. portion of only the lower-earning spouse’s income, and still have some money left over. How much money? Well, how much ‘extra money for the family’ is worth being away for your kids 9 hours per day versus not. Would you make that trade for an extra $2k a year? Huh? No. It would have to be an amount sufficient to give you a meaningful bump in lifestyle, at least 10x that for example (and even then…).

Basically, reverse out that math and it seems to me that unless the second spouse is making at least $100k or so, there’s really no point at all. Depending on where you live (New York) the might-make-sense breakeven for spouse #2 is probably higher – say $150k. And that’s if you can hire a nanny for $20-25k (out of pocket) or so – which you’re not supposed to be able to do of course, given minimum-wage laws and the fact that they’re supposed to be a citizen, and you’re of course paying all taxes, health care, and so on. (Ahem.) Now – wait. What sort of citizen will take 50+ hour/week a job as your nanny for like $16k a year after-tax?

It just doesn’t work.

There is one argument for the second spouse to have a job however, and I think deep down it’s probably often the one that’s really operative: Divorce Insurance. If you get divorced somewhere down the road, and the second spouse hadn’t worked for 10+ years, they’ll be largely unemployable at anything reasonable. Oops. Let’s say it’s the wife; this is bad for her. But it’s ALSO bad for the husband who will end up paying a bunch of alimony.

So basically, all those two-earner families keeping two jobs might be rational, if they’re all doing it on the off chance they get divorced. There’s your happy thought for the day, and you’re welcome.

10 Comments so far
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Laws? Taxes? How about, “supply and demand”? If people are trading capital access for labor, and you suddenly double the supply of the latter, it doesn’t take an economist to tell you what direction the exchange rate is going to move in.

Comment by roystgnr


Comment by The Crimson Reach

Once the kids get to the “free” daycare of elementary school it changes the equation. This means one can’t sacrifice their career in the child’s formative years. Plus, not working is for losers (even among women).

Comment by josh

Elementary school = no good as day care since it ends at 3-3:30. So you still need to pay for at least a part-time nanny, or ‘after-school programs’. This is less of a cost, so maybe reduces the breakeven from $100k, but still. And of course, the equation is only really ‘changed’ for that period of time if you have exactly one kid, or maybe two who are very close together; if you’re stringing together multiple kids you’re either paying for multiple ‘after-schools’ or there’s just a 10-year-stretch where >=1 is always too young and needs daycare/nanny. So again you should either quit your job or be sure you’re making $100k+.

But yeah, not-working is for losers even among women.

Comment by The Crimson Reach

Tending the hestia is work. To keep things very simple, the ‘two jobs’ thing is a false equation. SAHMs until extremely recently didn’t have such a high degree of isolation from adult life, and one of the ways people are diverted from this is by the presentation of women’s options as ‘work outside home, daycare or nanny for kids’ OR ‘stay home, no daycare or nanny for kids’. Little children are always work, more so when you have society-wide delayed childbearing and aren’t 19 and easily able to get by on 3 hours a night with a cranky infant.

Once we had a critical mass of labor saving devices, everyone just forgot about the social and community aspects of SAHMing and left them high and dry and told them if they wanted even a little social support, they needed to go work outside the home.

The default non-rich SAHM is chronically sleep deprived, told she isn’t really working and thus denied even the smallest respite/break and she is completely alone unless she uses the interwebs.

TLDR; a woman staying at home needs at least part-time nanny and/or maid service, so talking about how women are stupid to work outside the home because, childcare costs is an inaccurate view of the situation as women need the childcare whether they stay home or go out of the home to work. Not acknowledging this has been disastrous in America and done a fair bit towards undermining the choice to marry and start a family in wedlock.

Comment by A Lady

Good points all.

Lower taxes and minimum wage might help more people at the margin to afford part-time nanny and/or maid service on one income. As things are though, those are luxuries.

Comment by The Crimson Reach

A lot of jobs now will allow flex hours, so a husband and wife could conceivably stagger their work times to cover both before and after school. I’ve thought about doing this when my wife and I have kids. I would actually prefer that my wife just stay home full time, but as josh said, not working is for losers. That prejudice is arguably one of the strongest we have today.

I’m surprised we haven’t actually gotten pre-pre-school to extend the ‘free childcare’ all the way back to 6 months or something. Maybe that’s why Head Start keeps receiving funding increases despite demonstrably achieving nothing.

Comment by Matt

I love the idea that ‘not working is for losers’ causes parents to think they should go work in, like, HR somewhere.

Astute observation about Head Start. That probably does explain the fact-impervious support for it among Smart People; really what they are grasping for is an intellectual-sounding reason to just get government to provide them child care, earlier. Which…understandable.

Comment by The Crimson Reach

My wife recently stopped working. She was making making more than me (she cleared $200). We figured the breakeven with two little kids was ~$120 in DC.

Your analysis generally seems right, but it leaves out a couple things.

You really only need to pay for full time day care for 3-5 years/kid. After that, school takes over. There’s a real cost to dropping out of the work force for 7-8 years (assuming two kids). For some women, it may be more costly over the long term to stop working and start again after a long time off. If you don’t have a big family, raising kids isn’t a life-long career. It really depends on what sort of job a woman can get. Some are clearly better than the alternative at various stages of life, while others are not. I’m super happy my wife’s home with the kids now, but if she’s doing nothing in 15 years, it’ll be sort of weird.

Comment by Foseti

[…] a married couple having 2 (decent) jobs, even if it makes no economic sense on its own, acts as divorce insurance, as it ameliorates some of that math (from one side’s […]

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