The Case for Having Both Parents Work

Reuters columnist Linda Stern says that middle-income parents usually struggle with the idea of having both parents work, because one salary (usually the mother’s) is often dedicated solely to paying for childcare:

If she earns $50,000, they are left with $28,500 from which to pay for childcare (deduct an average of $11,666 a year, according to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies), commuting and all of the other costs of holding a job, from business attire to buying colleagues’ kids’ wrapping paper at fundraising time.

It’s no wonder that a random bad day will trigger the quit response in struggling parents. Someone gets sent home from school sick, a playdate is missed, the family is frenzied and at least one of the parents feels out of control. “I’m bringing home $200 a week for this?” comes the question that often results in the family downsizing to one income.

But Stern points out that there is a very good argument for having both parents work, one of which has to do with “the four Ds”: disability, death, downturns, and divorce (recall the story of Adina Jones in the L.A. Times).

“A woman’s ability to earn a decent salary is the most comprehensive insurance policy she can have,” two advisors recently wrote in the latest issue of the Journal of Financial Planning.

In addition, once the kids grow up, the parent at home sometimes has a desire to get back into the workforce, and it’s tougher to do if she or he has been out of the job market for a few years. Stern’s advice: “To overcome that, stay in your career, even if you don’t have a full-time job.”

Photo: Mike Babiarz

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5 Comments / Post A Comment

readyornot (#816)

I can think of two other reasons for both parents to stay in the workforce: 1) raises in salary are cumulative, so when an individual drops out for a number of years, he or she is on a permanently lower trajectory, and 2) one can only make contributions to employer-sponsored retirement savings from earned income.

And the comments on that article are really rage-inducing! As if you can’t give your child a loving home and really excellent care even if you have some help. Ugh.

E$ (#1,636)

@readyornot oof, you weren’t kidding about the comments! I forgot that working moms only work so they can eat out and go on vacation, not because they have to!

Ah THIS. I’m almost four months pregnant and going through a period of time where I hate my job and I am very very very tempted to quit when maternity leave begins, since 50% of my pre-take home pay will be going to childcare once I pop this kid out and all of my leave is unpaid any way.

This article is articulating exactly why I know I SHOULDN’T drop out for awhile to take care of the baby, but on a shitty day at work it sounds like an amazing idea.

Karebot (#5,803)

Another factor to consider is the social toll of opting out of the workforce– maybe you’re not friends with your coworkers, but you are getting out of the house and interacting with other people. I’m a stay at home mom because I don’t have access to quality childcare where I live, and honestly I worry about the hit my brain has taken by not being challenged enough. It seems like my words are… disappeared? Absent. I feel like there’s a more accurate phrase for this. Words gone from mind grapes. Brain dumb.

If you really want to be a stay at home parent and can stay truly *active* in your community somehow, good for you. It’s a pretty isolating lifestyle though, especially with an infant.

theballgirl (#1,546)

Annual cost of childcare in my state is over $16k.

Again, a lot of the strife over this would be removed if this country mandated longer and paid maternity leave. Like, for example, every other developed or semi-developed nation in the entire world.

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