In Defense of Divorce

House after  divorce

[Crossposted at Family Scholars Blog]

Marina Adshade, an economics professor with an interest in “sex and love,” writes:

Today we will take a few minutes to show a little appreciation for an important right in Western society – the right to divorce. […]

Economists Justine Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson, in a 2006 paper, showed that these legal changes had significant impacts on the quality of life of women. Taking advantage of in state-by-state variations in the time in which these laws were put into place they found that freer access to divorce brought with it an 8 –16% decline in female suicide, a 30% decline in domestic violence and 10% decline in the murder rate of women.

You may argue that these benefits to unilateral divorce laws come at significant costs – hardship for children and female poverty, just to name two – but that would only be true if the change in divorce laws increased the rate of divorce and that has not been proven. In fact, the best evidence suggests a very small positive effect on divorce rates only in the ten years after divorces became easier to obtain. And even then, that effect was only among those who were married before the laws were put in place.

The explanation for why easier access to divorce has not increased divorce rates is simple – men and women enter into marriage more cautiously when they know that divorce is easier to obtain. This is because while the laws may have made divorce easier from a legal standpoint, they have not made marital dissolution emotionally or economically painless.

It is this fact that explains why women marry later in life when it is easier to divorce.

A second explanation, which also explains the fall in domestic violence and suicide in states that support unilateral divorce, is just knowing that your spouse can divorce you without your consent encourages married individuals to treat each other better.

In the article, Adshade also argue that the use of “covenant” marriage agreements doesn’t actually make people less likely to divorce, but they do make the divorces harder on the people involved (“Anecdotal evidence suggests that even when abuse has been proven judges strictly enforce separation periods of up to two years.”). Those costs fall disproportionately on women:

The purpose of a covenant marriage is to increase the cost of divorce, significantly, and as a result give parties an incentive to stay in a failing marriage. If women are lower wage earners than men, or are out of the workforce all together, then the imposition of these costs falls disproportionally on women making it difficult for them to leave a bad marriage. That part of the arrangement is significant since in the majority of divorces it is the wife who wants the marriage to end.

I pretty much agree with Adshade on all of this. Married life was not a paradise in the 1950s, and the people I know who got divorced did so only after a lot of anguish and thought. Contrary to what the marriage-rescuers seem to believe, most Americans take marriage very seriously; trying to make it even harder to divorce is punitive, it is anti-liberty, and it will not actually improve anything.

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128 Responses to In Defense of Divorce

  1. 101
    Robert says:

    Elusis – she means “untrue” in the sense of being extremely unhelpful. Can any of these “typical moms” (the article/study said moms, not spouses) actually get some super-high-income person to hire them at that wage to provide that work? No, they can’t. It’s like me saying that my skills as a computer programmer are worth $200,000 a year – maybe they are in the sense that I wouldn’t work as a computer programmer for someone else for less than that – but nobody will pay me that, so that is not what my time is actually worth. Nobody will pay you or I $138k to be a SAHS, so being a SAHS is not worth that much.

    A professional full-time housekeeper/cook/nanny in Denver, Colorado, can expect to earn a reasonable five-figure income – but if s/he is a live-in, then the value of their housing and board should and would be deducted from that figure. And as others have said, the “executive function” type work is very difficult to economically valuate, both because it is vague and because it is often if not usually done as much for the satisfaction/preference of the executive, as for the benefit of the spouse who isn’t tracking birthdays and maintaining the bonds with the inlaws.

    And finally, a full-time employee housekeeper/etc. is of MORE economic value than a spouse performing the same work, because the spouse does not consider him or herself an employee, does not follow orders, will often prioritize their work differently than the “employer” would, cannot be readily fired, expects the “employer” to fill in gaps, expects the “employer” to provide support and continued “pay” even in the case of injury or disability, etc. The situations just aren’t very comparable.

    As for sex…assuming someone can’t find volunteers (unlikely in this day in age), well, in Colorado, scanning the “escort” ads (for RESEARCH PURPOSES) indicates that paid sex is gonna cost a man anywhere from $100 to $300. (Insufficient data to get a good handle on what it will cost a woman.) The average married couple has sex maybe twice a week? That’s gonna run a man about $40k to replicate the frequency of sex a typical married figures on, if he goes midscale in his choices. Half that if he doesn’t mind the bargain basement. Of course, he’ll have the terrible, terrible downside of getting having to be with a different woman every time. The humanity.

    So forty grand, to be generous, net for the housekeeping and another ten or twenty for the sex. The market can bring in a “wife” (as defined in this very reductive and offensive way) for well under half the survey’s estimate…and most people could get by with a lot less than full-time help in either department.

  2. 102
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Elusis says:
    January 30, 2012 at 5:16 am

    Wouldn’t it be helpful to know what the labor of a full-time stay-at-home parent would be worth if one had to contract for it on the open market? Wouldn’t it be nice if someone actually calculated that and issued a number?

    Apparently in 2007, it was about $138,000.

    Given what I’m willing to pay for two hours of housekeeping on Task Rabbit in order to keep back the worst of the entropy on weeks when I am working 60+ hours, I buy it.

    I don’t buy it.

    First, what Mythago said.
    Second, it’s full time. But pay declines logarithmically as work increases.

    Want me to work for you for two hours? Pay my hourly rate.
    Want me to work for you for 20 hours? You’ll probably get a bit of a discount.
    Want me to work for 200 hours? Guarantee five weeks of full time billing and I’ll cut my rate way down.
    Want to hire me to work 2000 hours/year? You can pay me less than 25% of my billable rate, and I’ll be happy.

    You may pay an assistant $40/hour to help you on demand. It doesn’t mean you’d pay them $80,000/year to work year-round, full-time.

    Third, it doesn’t reflect the level of work. I paint the trim, but not very well. It’s not reasonable to compare my work to a painter.

    Fourth and finally, it’s disproven by the market. Most obviously, if “stay-at-home-spouse work” was worth $100k/year, both my wife and I would be doing it :)

  3. 103
    chingona says:

    Ya know? I’m okay with researchers not assuming that I only have sex with my husband because it’s my job.

  4. 104
    Robert says:

    Indeed. Ideally sex should be a neutral factor in the relationship; you have sex with him because you want to, and vice-versa, so neither of you are doing the other any particular (net) service. It’s mutual.

    I was responding to Elusis’ “(Actually, I don’t think sexual services are included in that $138K estimate, probably because it would be “unseemly,” but I bloody well think they should be.)”

    And if we think of it in those terms, well, then at least in my neck of the woods it’s not all that pricey (at least for a man) to replicate the “sexual services” provided by a wife.

  5. 105
    Elusis says:

    Here’s how the number was generated:

    The mom pay wizard calculator at Salary.Com determined that the typical stay at home mother works 40 hours at base pay and 52 hours overtime for a total of 92 hours a week. Mothers perform ten jobs at home, namely:

    day care center teacher
    laundry machine operator
    van driver
    facilities manager
    computer operator
    chief executive officer


    So it’s for a lot more than housekeeping.

    This more recent post suggests the pay has declined to about $122,000 (probably because of so much competition for lower-wage service jobs) but mentions the work calculation was based on a survey of around 12,000 SAHMs about what they did and how much time they spent at each task.

    Here is’s current calculator.

    And I argue that sexual services should be figured in, because we’re speculating about a hypothetical – imagine if you suddenly had to hire someone to replace all the things your non-working partner contributes to your life. I would certainly say that for most people, a regular (if fluctuating) sexual relationship is one of the things they gain by being in a committed partnership or marriage, and if their spouse were suddenly (hit by lightning, taken to Gitmo, abducted by aliens, insert your absurd scenario here), it would be their choice whether to replace that benefit, but they would be deprived of it by the loss of the partner. There’s a reason that if someone maims or kills your partner, you can sue them in civil court for damages related to loss of conjugal rights – because the law says that has value.

  6. 106
    Robert says:

    So in other words they pulled it out of their ass. “CEO”, indeed. Really? Moms hire top management, report to a board of directors, are held personally responsible for the organization’s financial performance including revenue generation, and have – at minimum – a bachelor’s degree in a related field and an MBA?

    “Computer operator” is similarly a joke.

    “Psychologists” have – at minimum – a bachelor’s degree in a related field and a master’s degree in counseling, social work, and/or psychology, and very often a PhD in psychology. I believe that YOU have mentioned in the fact that you’re a counseling psychologist – are you saying that every mom out there is competent to do your job?

    Some of the jobs are less risible, though a few of them (janitor, laundry machine operator, “facilities manager” – another usually-graduate-degreed job, by the way) fold perfectly well into “housekeeper”.

    The time estimates is an obvious joke to anyone who has been a stay at home parent. 92 hours a week, eh? More than 13 hours a day of continuous unremitting toil without a break, seven days a week, 365 days a year. You know, it’s weird, but I’ve BEEN a SAHD doing primarily housework and childcare during periods of unemployment, and I think it would be a very fair estimate to say that it was a full-time job if done conscientiously. I’ve been a SAHD working from home, and in a position to closely observe a reasonably competent SAHM doing a reasonably conscientious job, and for her it was about 40 hours a week as well in most years. As a child I observed my SAHM for many years, and it seemed like she was working a full shift as well, but not more than that. I currently share a house with a SAHM (her son just left the home) who is absolutely OCD about cleanliness and order and maintenance, and I don’t think she gets to 40 hours a week – mostly because with only one kid, an older teen, and no husband making messes, there just isn’t as much to do. I think my ex and I worked harder than 40 hour a week when we had three kids in the house – probably closer to 50 or 60. But we were not putting in workweeks that would make a sweatshop owner hang his head in shame at what he was forcing people to do.

    To sum up: they get their figure by assigning job titles based on some similarity of work roles, but absolutely no similarity in credentials or actual expectations of performance, and assigning salary figures to the SAHS’ efforts in those departments based on what a skilled professional actually doing that job would get in the market. (In a few cases that is a valid procedure; my ex-wife actually is a skilled cook, and I actually am a skilled computer operator. But it’s mostly obvious rubbish.)

    Then they take this grossly inflated base salary figure, no doubt including time and a half for the MORE THAN A FULL-TIME JOB OF OVERTIME THEY IMPUTE, and apply it to a complete bullshit “time survey” that has every SAHS in America getting up at the crack of dawn and working nonstop for a day that would put most people into the hospital from exhaustion. And, surprise, they come up with a number that is quite clearly, as Mythago said, untrue.

    I yield to no one in my admiration for stay at home parents and the job they do; it can be demanding, it can be time-consuming, it can be unrewarding, and it is certainly underappreciated by our mass culture, and by many of its beneficiaries. It is critically important work, and the people who do it deserve (and get) my valorization and praise – and that V&P comes from someone who has done the job himself and is not just spouting puffery to keep the womenfolk happy by admiring how awesomely hard they work.

    That does not require me to check my bullshit detector at the door, however, and it is flashing big red lights and sounding klaxons and sparks are coming out of the panels and the chairs are rocking back and forth on the bridge.

  7. 107
    chingona says:

    I actually meant that in response to Elusis.

    Though, since you’ve bothered to price it out, I’m not sure how $20K – $40K a year isn’t “not all that pricey.” Certainly too rich for my blood. Or my husband’s. I might be changing my mind about how much support your ex is owed …

  8. 108
    chingona says:

    @ Elusis @105 … Sure, it has value. It has a lot of value. But most people replace that value by seeking out new relationships, not by paying for someone to provide that service, anymore than I’m going to pay someone to go hiking with me or go out to dinner. And okay, I understand that our society and many societies have monetized sex in a way we/they haven’t monetized simple companionship, but nonetheless …

  9. 109
    mythago says:

    Elusis: I know how the number was generated. And I’m not saying that homemaking and childcare is not “work”; of course it is, and of course it has value. I’m saying that attributing particular job skills to specialized professions (“facilities manager”? c’mon) is incorrect and is not how economists calculate the value of home services.

    Robert, then your issue is not so much with a presumption of support as how hard it is to rebut that presumption, and the adequacy of the law to address misuse of the marital assets.

  10. 110
    Robert says:

    “I’m not sure how $20K – $40K a year isn’t “not all that pricey.”

    Actually 10k to 30k.

    Easy way to test the hypothesis. Find a bunch of married people with average-range sex lives, with a representative range of incomes and life situations. Ask them if they would give up sex with one another (and anyone else) for a year, in exchange for a $10k, $20k, or $30k payment at the end of that year. How many people say yes? Of those who say yes, how many successfully abstain? (Assume a nonintrusive but perfect monitoring system.)

    Not many, and less, would be my guess. Ergo, that isn’t all that much to pay for sex.

  11. 111
    chingona says:

    Except when I’m paying for services on the market, the price isn’t determined by how much money it would take to get me not to do something.

    Is $1 million a year too much to pay a plumber? Let’s find 100 typical American households, ask them if they would accept a payment of $1 million in exchange for shitting in their yards and stealing their drinking water from a fire hydrant for a year. If most of them don’t accept, then it means a plumber is worth a $1 million!

  12. 112
    Robert says:

    “Except when I’m paying for services on the market, the price isn’t determined by how much money it would take to get me not to do something.”

    True, but we’re not trying to determine the price of sex. We’ve MEASURED the price of sex. We’re trying to determine what the general feeling in the population is about that price – does it seem like “a lot of money”, or not. As a general rule, people will do or refrain from doing things, if they are offered “a lot of money”. It’s not a razor-edge-precise type of measurement, but it provides a guideline as to what people value more: sex, or X dollars. We can’t measure the positive side of things very well (although the sheer number of ads for sex at that price would be at least circumstantial evidence that there is a market), but the negative side of things is pretty easy to measure, and gives insight.

    I think the flaws in your counter-example are obvious; for one thing, plumbers don’t charge $1 million. They charge $200 or $1000 or whatever your problem will cost, and – plumbing being legal unless you want a toilet that actually will flush a turd – it’s very easy to establish whether people think it’s worth it by asking them if any of the plumbing in their house is broken, and if it is remaining broken because the family doesn’t think it worth the money to have a plumber fix it. You can’t really do that with prostitution, because people lie about sex, prostitution is broadly considered shameful, and most people won’t confess to breaking the law.

  13. 113
    KellyK says:

    Okay, I agree that a full-time parent/homemaker isn’t doing 130k worth of work. Some of the job descriptions are definitely inflated and the level of skill is probably not up to that standard. However, for childcare, I think that a person who lives with the kid, knows them better than anyone, and loves them is going to provide much better care than someone for whom it’s just a job.

    I also think that Robert’s “would the other person give a shit” metric for the unacknowledged domestic tasks is a little flawed, because you can not ask for and not care about something and still benefit from it. Elusis’ husband complained about the 7 jars of tomato sauce, but he had someone making sure he got reasonably balanced meals–he never had to explain to his doctor how the flying hell he ended up with scurvy.

    Similarly, the relationship maintenance stuff, as Nancy (I think) pointed out, seems to be protective against depression. I can tell you that mild anxiety disorder (which has similar treatment costs to depression, right down to SSRIs being used for both) easily costs me a couple hundred bucks a month to treat. Not counting that I could go on a cheaper insurance plan if I didn’t have expensive meds. Also not counting quality of life or risks for other health issues, or any of that.

    An additional tangible benefit to relationships is having people who will help you move, or put in a good word for you if they know someone at a job you want, or come get you when your car dies at 3 AM.

    As much as the spouse/employer analogy is messed up, benefitting from someone’s work and then claiming you don’t give a shit, or didn’t ask for it and therefore it shouldn’t be considered a benefit to you, is much like an employer arguing that they clearly said they didn’t want to pay overtime, so the person who failed to cram 11 hours of work into an 8-hour shift just volunteered those other 3 hours. (Pretty much what Elusis said—there’s a difference between “I didn’t ask for that (and don’t care if you do it or not)” and “I didn’t ask for that because I just assumed it was your job.”)

  14. 114
    KellyK says:

    Also, like Chingona said, it is 100% reasonable to expect your ex-wife to get a job, and whatever I think about spousal support and the value of domestic work, Robert’s ex sounds like she’s gaming the system horribly. That’s wrong, and it sucks, especially when she’s not paying the freaking mortgage. Robert, I’m really sorry that she’s taking advantage of things like this. It’s very screwed up.

  15. 115
    KellyK says:

    While I’m being all commenty, I’d also like to point out that while I think the 130k figure is overgenerous, I don’t think you can accurately figure the benefit to a family of an SAHS by looking at what people pay for similar work. I think sexism and the general assumption of certain things as the wife’s job effects the perceived market value. It’s like asking college students in 2001 what they’d pay to download a song and assuming from that that the value of music is zero, without considering that, of course they’re going to say “free” when they’re getting free music from Napster.

    I also think that you miss a huge part of the value if you only treat things as valuable if they have monetary value. Reading to your kids doesn’t generate a penny, but a huge part of the point of having a parent stay home is that they can do those sorts of things more often, and more individually and attentively than a daycare might.

  16. 116
    Robert says:

    KellyK, I totally agree that the nonmonetary value of parental childrearing (assuming a non-psychotic parent who loves the child(ren)) is huge. I think, in fact, that it is that nonmonetary awesomeness that places like are trying to express with their inflated figures.

    “…you can not ask for and not care about something and still benefit from it. Elusis’ husband complained about the 7 jars of tomato sauce, but he had someone making sure he got reasonably balanced meals…”

    But the metric has to be your own valuation. It may be that Elusis’ husband is stressed out from a to-him-cluttered kitchen more than he benefits from having the sauce available on demand plus the monetary savings. Or it may not be the case. All utility is individual and personalized. It may be that the utility would be understood and internalized if explained – it sounds like Elusis explained to her husband why there was so much sauce and he thought “oh, cool” and went on with his life, happier and healthier. But if he thought “Jesus, crazy bargain lady, we live in 800 square feet and you’re buying a year’s supply of sauce to save $3″ then, even if his value judgment is wrong to Elusis or to you or me, he is less happy. This is a common point of contention in marriage and other LTRs; people assume that what they want must be what the other person wants as well. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t.

    Your points about the value of relationship maintenance are taken – and if the other person is in fact happier with those relationships maintained and their serotonin levels higher etc., then that work (even unasked for) is contributing value to the other person. But again, it might not. Maybe he actually hates his parents, or yours, and really wishes you would let the relationship quietly dwindle in importance. Maybe she kind of likes being ruggedly independent and doesn’t want the option of making a 3 AM call, preferring to think of herself as the person who can handle that situation no sweat. You are right that work which does good to you counts, even if you don’t ask for it, but again the good must be individual. To use your employer metaphor, yes, if my employer gives me 10 hours of must-do work to do and it takes me 10 hours, he does owe me that overtime – but if I spend two extra hours rearranging the shelves to make myself happy, and he doesn’t approve, it’s TS for me. On the other hand, you’re right that if he assumes it’s my job to arrange the shelves, then that counts as work – and in a personal rather than professional relationship, that is highly toxic.

    (Just for the record and to throw some deserved props to my ex, much if not all of her ‘extra’ work was in fact valuable; it took a big load off of me to not have to deal with my mother, for example. We were reciprocal in that kind of work; it was a big load off of her to have me available to deal with her ex and his harassing e-mails, etc.)

    Thanks for the sympathy, it is in fact appreciated. (But I’m not paying you.) My behavior during the marriage was highly suboptimal; her behavior in the divorce has been similar. Just five more months and probably another $20k in totally wasted legal fees to go! Shoot me.

  17. 117
    iiii says:

    What is the value of being on call? Firefighters don’t spend every minute they’re on the clock diligently laboring. They’re being paid to be standing ready to drop everything and rush off to do what the rest of us would recognize as “work.” What rate should a homemaker be credited with for on-call time?

    How about working split shifts? As I understand it, bus drivers in my city who are assigned to the commuter routes work 3 hours morning rush, 3 hours evening rush, and get paid for an 8-hour day. (I’m probably off on the details, there – I got this from chatting with drivers & I’ve never read their contract.) What premium should a homemaker be credited with for working both breakfast and the dinner rush?

    Are there any non-union, non-management jobs that usually include being permanently on call and/or split shifts? Seems like that sort of job is where we should be looking to get salary comps for homemakers, but I’m having trouble coming up with a profession where that sort of schedule is common.

  18. 118
    Robert says:

    Firefighters work when they are at work; they train, do continuing education, etc. They do have on-call periods where they’re sleeping in the firehouse, playing video games, reading, hanging out etc., but that’s their “down time” – they don’t pull their hourly wage for it. (Or if they do get a stipend for the overnight, it isn’t much.) Of course things might be different where you are; I’m going off of the elementary-school tour of the local fire department from a couple years back. ;)

    Why the “non-management” criterion? Both parents are (or should be) management. There is a management job that fits your description, and it’s “entrepreneur”. And entrepreneurs earn whatever they earn – much like a SAHS, in that regard, except the SAHS’ income comes from their (rightful) claim to the income/lifestyle produced by the WFPS. The SAHS does have considerably less (though not even close to zero) ability to influence the total earned than the entrepreneur does – although in their capacity as (usually) master of the domestic budget they do have quite a bit of flex in what the household net is.

  19. 119
    chingona says:

    I should have known that you would give me the break down on plumbing services. You are, of course, right that we consume them in hundred- and thousand-dollar increments. Which is how people who pay for sex consume it, as well.

    Someone who makes $35,000 a year is not going to spend even $10,000 to replace the loss of bi-weekly sex with his or her spouse and yet that same person might also not accept even $30,000 to abstain from sex with his or her spouse for a year.

    Sex/putting a monetary value on it just doesn’t work that way – not the way that you’ve framed it and not the way the fine folks at would frame it if they had included it.

  20. 120
    Grace Annam says:


    Are there any non-union, non-management jobs that usually include being permanently on call and/or split shifts?

    Sure. Most police departments are under 5 people, and in an emergency they routinely get called in, since you’re only going to have one person on duty, if that, at the start of the emergency. Most such departments don’t pay for on-call time, and may not actually require you to be available, but it’s understood that if you’re not available too often when you’re called, then thank you, but we don’t need you taking up a slot which could be filled with someone who will respond to emergencies.

    Crossing guards: you can’t make a living at it, but I know several retired folks who work morning, noon, and afternoon, one hour each, with time in between. And the others get called when one of them calls in sick (though they can say no, so maybe that’s not properly “on call”).

    I’m sure there are others.


  21. 121
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Don’t a lot of tech support/programming jobs include being on call?

  22. 122
    Grace Annam says:

    Nancy Lebovitz:

    Don’t a lot of tech support/programming jobs include being on call?

    Ooh, good catch! I just called one of our tech guys in for a possible problem a few weeks ago. Also, janitors sometimes get called in for building HVAC, plumbing, etc. issues. Or know that they’re expected to shovel during and after snowstorms, and salt the sidewalks, and whatnot.

    Plow truck operators, of course, work the length of the storm and afterward, unless it goes on so long that they start to stagger their 16-hour shifts. They can get called in if the temperature dips past the freezing point unexpectedly. That’s happened a lot around this area this year.


  23. 123
    mythago says:

    Robert: perhaps I should have more accurately said “notice and/or care.” I’ve found it’s amazing how much people start to care about many silly, insignificant, never-asked-you-to tasks when the other person stops doing them. (It’s particularly entertaining when it gets expressed in code, like ‘too bad nobody did X’ or ‘this place is a mess’ rather than ‘how come you stopped doing all the cleaning?’.) For super advanced bonus points, the “I don’t care/care less than you” task ought to be one that impacts the other person such they are forced to invest in it. For example, if my job is doing the dishes and his job is cooking, he can’t really do his job very well if I don’t do mine. So, conveniently, if I take the position that I only care about doing dishes every other day, of necessity he will be forced to do some of my share of the work just so he can cook, and then I can whine that he never ASKED me to do more dishes and/or it’s not FAIR to hold me to a higher standard of cleanliness.

  24. 124
    Schala says:

    My father probably works on-call too. If there was a flood or some big problem, they called him there. He didn’t necessarily fix it himself, but he was the goto guy if stuff went bad, it was his task to manage the problems like that. He was on-call and had a company cellphone specially for that. His on-call time was not paid for, but his time was if he had to go. His position was maintenance foreman or something like that, but his domain is electromechanics.

  25. 125
    Robert says:

    I worked for a couple months as a tech at a Microsoft facility in Issaquah, and we had a rotating on-call person who had to carry a beeper. If the server went down at night, the beeper carrier got to drive in and reset it. (The first time it happened on my night, I mentioned the next day that “the fucking beeper went off” and my coworkers high-fived each other. In response to my mystified inquiries they said “we always celebrate new cases of ‘beeper mouth’.” Apparently everyone called it the “fucking beeper” after the first interrupted date, good night’s sleep, basketball game, etc.)

    We didn’t get paid for being on call but we did get to bill for the drive time, up to 20 minutes each way, and naturally for the time spent in the facility resetting the damn machine. The $50 or so was so not worth the interruption.

  26. 126
    Jake Squid says:

    As a nearly career-long IT’er (programmer, data center manager, IT Director/guy who takes care of all post-1932 technology), I have always been on call 24/7 – vacations included. That’s part of why I get paid what I get paid.

  27. 127
    KellyK says:

    I think the on-call time may be part of the reasoning for the really inflated hours in the “what’s a SAHM worth” survey. I’d wager that a lot of at-home parents are “on call” almost every waking hour.

    It’s not like you’re constantly doing stuff, but your ability to go places, or sleep, or work on hobbies, is really constrained. (At least when kids are young. Teenagers can be told to entertain themselves, and don’t really want to hang out with you anyway.)

  28. 128
    KellyK says:

    Robert, you’re right about people getting to define what actually counts as “utility” for them. The problem is, we’re not asking them to define it until there’s a problem with the relationship. Either a minor “why didn’t you do the dishes?” kerfuffle or a major one that involves lawyers and splitting up property. And in that situation, people will often have negative attitudes toward their partners.

    What someone honestly finds benefit in and what they may say they find benefit in if asked on a bad day are different things.

    Or what they say they find benefit in when they’re annoyed over something else. My guess is that Elusis’ husband didn’t want her to *not* cut coupons and budget and plan and prepare meals that he would eat–he just wanted her to do it in a way that didn’t create clutter. (Like when Dilbert tells his boss he only has time for Project A or Project B, and PHB says, “If I really have to pick…do both of them.”)

    The other thing that I think complicates it is that the SAHS is *not* the employee of the wage-earning spouse (WES because I’m getting sick of typing that out). (I particularly find it irritating when men talk about their SAHM wives like they’re their employees, because it adds on a big layer of sexism.)

    It’s more accurate to view the family as an economic unit, and both partners as working for that unit. So an SAHS isn’t working for the WES. They’re working for an organization that they own half of. So it’s totally right and reasonable that they have a 50% say as far as their priorities and responsibilities.

    I’d argue that if the work that they do benefits the family unit as a whole, it “counts,” whether it benefits the WES personally or not.

    Obviously, if it benefits only the SAHS, then I’ve created a ridiculous scenario where I can stay home and play the Star Wars MMO, knit, and read smutty fanfic and claim that I’m being a good homemaker. But if it benefits the SAHS a lot and the WES a little, or the SAHS and the kids, it’s still of overall benefit to the family unit.

    But maybe it’s too complicated to get a definition of the value a SAHS provides, and we should just assume that unless they were sitting on their butt eating bon-bons, they were providing some value, and spousal support should be based on paying them back the opportunity cost they lost from leaving the workforce for however long they were out of it. Since there are studies on how much women who leave the workforce and return lose out compared to those who don’t leave, that should be a much easier number to figure out.

    That’s not perfect either, because it assumes a mutual decision to have an SAHS, rather than a unilateral decision on one person’s part to stay home, or a spouse in the current crappy economy going, “Well I can’t find a job, I guess I better make myself useful around the house.