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Should women be paid for housework? Without money, there is no freedom

(GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)

(GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)


January 10, 2024   5 mins

At a conference in 2015, I got talking to a man who had worked as an engineer for the Scottish Electricity Board in the Seventies. He told me that during that time, working-class women sometimes used their home electricity meters as a “bank”. These women would stockpile coins at the start of the month in their electricity meters, and, later, call out one of the company’s engineers to issue them with a refund. We stood there clutching our Styrofoam cups of coffee, an Irish woman and a Scottish man, pondering silently why this might have been the case. What compelled these women to lock away wages where they couldn’t be spent? The answer hung unspoken between us.

The Scottish savings meters evoke a 20th-century practice known colloquially in Ireland as “the manage”, where working-class women budgeted for their families by separating cash into envelopes and jars earmarked for special purposes — one for Christmas, one for electricity bills, another for new shoes. In poorer households, while men brought home most of the money, managing that money and making it meet the demands of a household was women’s work. It was often an impossible task, somehow making two plus two add up to seven.

This is the kind of social practice that fascinates the Princeton economic sociologist, Viviana Zelizer. Her work focuses on the points where the business of money meets the not so business-like subjects of intimacy, community and the sacred; money when it mixes with sex, with parenting, and with romantic love. She is particularly insightful on the difficulties of negotiating the transfer of domestic money from a husband to his wife.

Women’s money in the 20th century was distinct from everyday cash, which implied a level of patriarchal freedom. Instead, ordinary cash was transformed into tokens with strings attached: “pocket money”, “pin money” and “dole”. But defining the terms of that transition was always difficult. Should women’s money be a payment, an entitlement, or a gift? Framing it as something she was due, Zelizer writes, conferred a dangerous level of entitlement. And yet a payment implies something a little too close to a working transaction: demanding a wage undermined the assumption that some kinds of work — such as childcare or homemaking — were natural to women. If you were paid, it was no longer a “labour of love”. In fact, as feminists involved in the “Wages for Housework” campaign in the Seventies pointed out, getting paid for housework might be the first step in refusing to do that work entirely. The notion of this money as a gift, however, implied layers of subordination and precarity, being subject to some man’s whims and inclinations. There was no such thing as a perfect transaction.

While working-class women struggled to make ends meet, women in upper and middle-class households rarely handled cash at all. Instead, Zelizer writes, they “relied almost entirely on ‘invisible’ dollars”, and had to resort to “asking and cajoling and begging” for addi­tional cash. If this failed, there were always other “underground” tactics, from “home pocket-picking” to “padding bills” — which usually involved asking a dressmaker to send a bill for an inflated sum and pocketing the excess.

This image of the angel in the house “begging” or scouring her husband’s pockets for loose change while he shaved in the morning is jarring. And Zelizer realised that there were more important questions to ask than just whether or not a woman had money. The middle-class women that Zelizer studied were, by all classical economic measurements, comfortable and well-off. Their husbands provided for their every material need. And yet, they had no money of their own and, as a consequence, no real freedom.

I remember having an awkward conversation about household budgets with my own mother, who was married in 1966, three weeks after her 20th birthday. “Your father decided that £5 a week would do it,” she said. “That was to pay for my food Monday to Friday.” And what about clothes? “Well, sometimes he was paid in postal orders and he would give them over to me to cash in. Those were for clothes and children’s toys, days out, treats, that kind of thing.” The conversation hitches and stalls, as it often does with money and family. It feels intrusive. It feels too on-the-nose. By asking about money, I’m asking her to sketch out the power dynamics in her early marriage. But what if you just wanted something? I hedge. “Your Dad was always very generous,” she doesn’t quite answer. “He always bought me things to make life easier for me.” She recites the Sixties housewife’s ultimate wish list: “I had a dishwasher before any of my friends, a hostess trolley, a microwave, a tumble dryer
 Wait! — I nearly forgot the fur coat.”

The weight of our conversation would not be lost on Zelizer. Before she came along, much of the sociology of money, from Karl Marx to Georg Simmel, took the view that money reduced every human exchange to a transaction and every “thing” it touched to its price. In their eyes, money was cold, hard and calculating. Zelizer, by contrast, shows in her book, The Social Meaning of Money (2017) that money is a deeply social technology. She points to all the ways in which things that aren’t meant to be for sale are routinely exchanged: engagement rings for brides-to-be, complex treat economies for courting couples, settlements in the event of the accidental death of a child. She also shows how money can be used, not just to buy things, but to express morality, norms and social values. There’s a reason, for instance, that the poor are offered alms or food stamps rather than cash, which has long been seen as a dangerous form of relief.

We might believe that there is a vast gulf between the legitimate transactions that underscore romantic rituals — the treats, meals out, and jewellery — and the illegitimate ones, such as paying a stranger cash for sex. But Zelizer argues that it all depends on how the meaning of money is transformed through a transaction. By attaching values to money, we can make dirty money clean and clean money dirty. We can communicate power, obligation and vulnerability. For women in the 20th century, money communicated ideas about their place in the home. Unlike cash, the “invisible dollars” of pin money and housewives’ allowances not only made the work women did in the home invisible; they also hid a range of financial constraints and chokepoints — even financial abuse, where one partner takes control of bank accounts and forces the other to account for how every penny has been spent.

In 2024, it’s tempting to think we are worlds apart from Zelizer’s accounts of gender-based financial dependence. But women still earn 85p for every pound earned by men. This tends to make women more reliant on their male partners if they choose to enter into traditional romantic partnerships or have children. And contrary to the tropes of gold-digging ex-wives cleaning up in the divorce courts, women are far more likely to lose out in the aftermath of a marital breakdown, with men typically holding 2.5 times the wealth of their female partners and women’s household income falling by 41% following a divorce.

Furthermore, women continue on average to give up more of their time and income to look after children than their male partners. In the United States, the number of women describing themselves as stay-at-home mothers gradually decreased in the latter half of the 20th century, falling from 49% in 1960 to 23% in 1999. But by 2012, the number had risen once more to 29%, with women citing childcare costs and income stagnation as the motivating factor for returning to the home. The same is true in the United Kingdom, where, for the first time in decades, the number of women not returning to work after having children is on the rise. This leads us to question whether, in heteronormative relationships, women can ever fully escape their economic dependency on wage-earning men. For many women, the financial problems identified by Zelizer have never truly disappeared.


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Mike Downing
Mike Downing
4 months ago

Fact: in many working class households, the working husband handed his wage over to his wife and she gave him ‘spending money’ for the week and kept the rest.

Fact: being the wage earner and having to keep doing some job to keep money coming in can be every bit as ‘soul destroying ‘ as staying at home with the kids.

Fact: having a job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Fact: all the detritus from failed marriages I see are men, not women. All the people on the streets are men, not women. I personally know of many men whose wives have locked them out of their houses and taken the vast majority of their assets by playing a system that seems to be weighted automatically in women’s favour not men’s.

Fact: there is no such thing as a heteronormative relationship, and even if you buy into that twaddle, any relationship between any two individuals will involve imbalances of all sorts. These are best approached in a spirit of compromise and humility, recognising that nobody has all the answers. A mindset based on a reductive grievance agenda may prove to be unsuccessful.

Fact: money can buy you a certain amount of independence but only so much, and it can just as easily prove a trap and a terrible preoccupation which blinds you to many of the truly fulfilling things in life, like a family or kids.

Fact: in my experience, children who have a mother in the home appear far more balanced and well-adjusted than those who don’t.

Fact: everybody has to make choices in life, even women and nobody can have everything at the end of the day.

Fafa Fafa
Fafa Fafa
4 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Looks like you are speaking from experience. Godspeed.

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
4 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

In Japan at least it remains the standard model that the wife gives the husband spending money, but otherwise controls the household finances, especially where the husband is a salaried worker, and the wife isn’t working, or isn’t working full time.

Flibberti Gibbet
Flibberti Gibbet
4 months ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

We humans are still engineered to be neolithic hunter gatherers and happiest when this is acknowledged in a modern context.
The Japanese management of household finances seems to follow the age-old adage “Men produce, Women distribute” or “Men provide and Women divide (household resources)”.
This is how tribal society worked 30 thousand years ago. Men dragged home the fresh carcass of an elk then got drunk on mead telling tall stories of the woolly mammoth that got away, while the women folk cooked and distributed food.
As Professor Jordan Peterson observes, even in Nordic countries with the longest running progressive social experiments, women still gravitate to caring professions while men favour engineering or physically tough jobs.
Western Society will continue down its dark path towards further social disorder until the fundamental differences between men and women are acknowledged, these distinctive traits are baked into our chromosomes and brain neurons at birth.

Jon Barrow
Jon Barrow
4 months ago

Actually J. Peterson goes further than that: he says in societies like the Nordics, where huge attempts have been made to remove gender barriers, men and women self-sort even more eg teaching has historically been an attractive vocation for women but in the past men tended to dominate in say Maths, Science teaching. Now women dominate in all subjects. In the past most builders were men but women got involved too by force of circs (when work was a family affair, as you still see in farming and in much work in poorer countries – my gran used to labour on bldg jobs for my grandad). I’ve worked on/off for 20 yrs as a builder and never come across a female bricklayer, roofer, stonemason, tree surgeon, groundworker (I know there are a few in the physically easier trades eg electricians, bricklayers, but none in say dressing sandstone in quarries).

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
4 months ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

Re: the wife ‘isn’t working or working full time’ – clearly, you have never run a household. Whoever stays home usually manages the home life including, planning meals, shopping, cooking, cleaning, purchasing for the house, gardening (schedule lawn maintenance), keeping accounts, managing inventory (getting rid of stuff), organizing trash removal (recycling), tending to the car (registration & maintenance), planning vacations and social life (decorating, buying gifts, sending cards), taking care of pets – and oh, if there are children: feeding, dressing, scheduling school and extra-curriculars, overseeing their emotional & mental health, etc.

Staying ‘at home’ is a job if done right.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
4 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

Indeed. When done right, this is a high-level job, the kind of thing that in the sphere of paid work would require a degree or a master’s.

Jules Anjim
Jules Anjim
4 months ago

The absence of a degree or masters, I think you mean

Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
4 months ago

It’s essentially a management role. The stay at home person (almost always the wife/mother) manages the home. They have the added pleasure of waking up at work and going to sleep at work and being on call all night.
Management of the home is made simpler by the role played by the working partner, in terms of how much income they bring in and whether or not they are able and willing to help out with some of the home tasks.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
4 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

Depending on the household and the particular input of the husband ( I recognise a lot of what you list as things I have done as a husband even when I was working full time) being a housewife involves quite a bit of work and any sensible man recognises it.

Where conflict sometimes arises is that women will often seek to maintain things at a higher standard than the husband would be content with and then claim martyr status for all the work she puts in. Often the extra work involved is actually the choice of the wife not a patriarchal demand of the husband.

Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
4 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

Only three things are certain in life: death, taxes and a never ending supply of bl**dy laundry.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
4 months ago
Reply to  Caty Gonzales

My wife would certainly agree in that sentiment. The problem is we have two sons still living with us who seem to change their clothes three times a day. As a man I say let them do their own laundry and they might cut down on some of the changes. Let them do the ironing and they might want fewer things ironed. I give only a little help with the laundry but I generate a lot less by wearing my clothes a lot longer than my sons – but I’m retired and don’t go to the gym so that is easier for me than for them.

Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
4 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

That is the way forward. You also have to learn to tolerate their notion of ‘putting away’ laundry, which seems to consist of tossing it into an overflowing cupboard or wardrobe area. Job’s a good’un.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
4 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Good grief that sounds awful. You’re saying your sons don’t pull their weight.

Jon Barrow
Jon Barrow
4 months ago
Reply to  Caty Gonzales

From a man who has cared for kids and a demanding elderly mother: constantly churning out cooked meals.

Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
4 months ago
Reply to  Jon Barrow

I hear you. Oh my.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
4 months ago
Reply to  Caty Gonzales

Chores in general.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
4 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

Full-time work if there are two or more kids involved maybe. Otherwise, none of those chores are very taxing and the other partner can easily do some of the work on cars, accounts etc

William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
4 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

Yes, properly done, it’s a full-time job, especially if there are young children to look after too.

jane baker
jane baker
4 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

And good husbands /male partners respect and admire that. An efficient well run home enables the man to work to full capacity thus increasing the prosperity of both and their children. I can see how after WW1 with a generation of capable and attractive women doomed to a life of Spinsterhood in marital terms they needed workplace and money rights,that was sensible feminism,but by the 1970s I now think it had been subverted like so much now,to evil ends. The faux feminism of that era has impoverished women,children, families and brought misery and division.

Ida March
Ida March
4 months ago
Reply to  jane baker

“The faux feminism of that era has impoverished women, children, families and brought misery and division.”
Exactly, and pity the poor children with mothers who complain about having to spend more time with them than their husbands do.
Feminism is a power grab and also seems to have resulted in endless disputes over who earns the most money.
It’s good news that more women in the UK are choosing not to return to work after having a child. Why be a wage slave?
Economic necessity? Of course. The economy has been rearranged, and women are now trapped in wage slavery. When joint mortgages were introduced so that a wife’s wages could be taken into account, the result was that house prices instantly doubled.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
4 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

Exactly!

B M
B M
4 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

You should write an article. Also the old 85p to ÂŁ1 wage gap fallacy trotted out again.

Daniel P
Daniel P
4 months ago
Reply to  B M

Agreed, that number is just SO bogus.

It makes ZERO allowance for career choices.

As I said, you show me a comparison of male and female surgeon’s working in the same hospital in the same city and then do that for every job and then show me the numbers.

But do not treat me like an idiot and put a North Sea oil worker in with a first grade teacher in Texas. Do not put electric linemen in with women who do nails for a living or roofers in with store clerks.That is just bogus.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
4 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Indeed, there are no perfect solutions to the financial decisions in life merely trade offs.

My wife and I sometimes play the “what if” alternatives of having taken different decisions and choices over getting married and having children.. She can point to unmarried female friends who have worked and not got married and have more money to spend the way they want untrammelled by a husband’s choices and I can point out what a rich playboy life I could enjoy without the cost of supporting a wife and children. But we both recognise, sometimes perhaps in a slightly aggrieved manner if a recent decision on how to spend our money has not seemed to favour our own particular preference, that we have enjoyed our life together in a way that others we know who have not married may not have. Even if we are wrong in this we have made our choices and need to live by them in a positive spirit.

I count myself fortunate that I have been able to earn enough to support my wife and children without her having to work. She worked at a job she enjoyed when I married her. But a time came when she decided when changes in the job and her boss made it more attractive to her to retire and have children and rely on my wage. Her choice which I agreed to and the consequence was she became a housewife and mother dependant on my earnings. I would have been content had she continued in work but while collectively we would have had more money we would have had the time constraints that two working parents suffer. Our choices, which would not suit others, our consequences. Neither of us are victims.

The old saw about women earning less than men again derives from different choices made by men and women designed to meet their individual preferences. Of course, sometimes it turns out those choices are not as ideal as you hope.

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
4 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

I had a wage enough to support my wife and children without her requiring a wage. We both worked very hard and were happy. They say evolution shaped us as hunter-gatherer, but I think that provider-carer better describes the natural human instincts.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
4 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Oops! you said you supported your wife without her having to work. But she did work, just not outside the home.

Dengie Dave
Dengie Dave
4 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Fact: I’ve got a tax bill looming. Anyone got any idea where all my money’s gone?

J Dunne
J Dunne
4 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Excellent response.

Feminists seem to see everything in terms of power and abuse. They appear to be oblivious to the fact that a couple might just love each other and both do whatever is needed to make their home a happy place.

And in marriages that are unhappy, there are just as many men as women who are unfairly treated – a possibility that most feminists will not even consider.

P N
P N
4 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

I don’t think heteronormative means what you think it means.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
4 months ago
Reply to  P N

What does it mean?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
4 months ago

Google it.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
4 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Is it meaningless?

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
4 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

‘Fact’. There’s your problem. If you’re yet another feminist millionaire, whining in psychobabble about ‘how unfair men are to women, buy my book and make me another million’, the last thing you need are ‘facts’. Facts are just tools of the patriarchal oppressors. And a bit inconvenient.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  Gordon Arta

In my well-supported opinion: The definition of fact has suffered serious drift and decay,

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Fact: Most of your list consists of opinion and anecdote.
A lot of it seems reasonable enough to me, but I don’t think any of it serves to invalidate Ms. O’Dwyer’s central claims concerning the level of financial want and dependency of many Western women until the recent past. Nor does it justify this sort of implied claim: “Women have had it fine all the time, and they had it even better in the Good Old Days”.
Right?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
4 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

By a mother in the home do you mean a stay-at-home mother? In my experience, it really depends on how healthy the marital relationship is and how psychologically healthy the mother is. Just because the mother is at home means nothing. On the contrary, it can be worse.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

A good qualification.

Ida March
Ida March
4 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

A career is a job, no matter what the feminists say.

William Shaw
William Shaw
4 months ago

“This leads us to question whether, in heteronormative relationships, women can ever fully escape their economic dependency on wage-earning men.”
Of course they can.
Simply don’t get married. Stand in your own two feet as strong, independent women. There’s nothing stopping you. The male population would certainly be more free and better off without marriage. Nothing is more expensive than a wife and children.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
4 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

Absolutely.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

But then that wouldn’t be in a heteronormative relationship?

El Uro
El Uro
4 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

I wonder if the author understands that the institution of marriage was invented by women and for the sole purpose of obliging men to work for women and their offspring?
If the author doesn’t understand this, and it seems like she doesn’t, there is no point in reading this article.
In addition, it seems to me that the author does not have children, which is why her arguments about ‘heteronormative relationships’ hang in the air.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
4 months ago
Reply to  El Uro

The institution of marriage was ‘invented’ to ensure the passing of heritance to legitimate offspring, via male lineage.
If El Uro doesn’t understand this, and it seems not, there is no point in reading El Uro’s comment.

David Morley
David Morley
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

You’re actually presenting as fact a contested feminist claim. There are rival explanations, including ones from a more biological standpoint.

El Uro
El Uro
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Now tell me, what kind of inheritance did hunter-gatherers have? I’m very curious, what was it? Mammoth tusk? Rhino horn?
In many societies, inheritance passed through the maternal line. And there was a marriage. You have some problems with the patriarchy, my dear

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
4 months ago
Reply to  El Uro

I hear Rhino horn is a prized aphrodisiac!

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
4 months ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Total misinformation to the sorrow of the Rhino.

Jon Barrow
Jon Barrow
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Yes the comment is unbalanced in the other direction. Obviously marriage wasn’t invented by anybody, I agree with what you write but it further seems to me that a family (and marriage is a formal undertaking to create one) is the smallest possible functioning social unit – allowing for care of kids and elderly, dividing work (usually along preferred gender lines) etc. I’ve cared for kids plus elderly infirm parent on my own while being main income provider and can confirm, it’s knackering and needs more than one person.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

So it was an upper-class invention.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
4 months ago
Reply to  El Uro

To El and Steve:
I’d be careful about theories that rely on the dubious assumptions of evolutionary psychologists or feminists. We have no evidence that women “invented” marriage, let alone that they imposed it on men–or that men invented marriage and imposed it on women. Our remote ancestors did whatever they had to do in order to ensure collective survival, and that included cooperation above all else.
Historians, archeologists and anthropologists tell us that marriage has a history that probably goes back to our origin as a species–that is, long before the invention of property and its inheritance by one generation from another.
Marriage has several universal features, many universal ones and many more local ones–such as patrilineality in most societies but matrilineality in others. It has one main function, however, and that is bringing men and women together on an enduring basis (unlike the males and females of many other species) in order to provide the best possible matrix for bringing children to maturity. And that matrix, for most of human history, was a nuclear family embedded within an extended family (the clan or, after the rise of agriculture, the village). This is because both parents contribute something that is both distinctive and necessary. That’s a huge topic in itself, so what follows is a very general comment on it.
We must not assume that the relation between mothers and their children is more important than that between fathers (or mother’s brother) and children. That’s true during infancy, to be sure, but not as children grow up and prepare to enter the larger world. Very few societies–none that I can think of, apart from our own at this moment–assume that fathers are irrelevant apart from the provision of material resources.

Jon Barrow
Jon Barrow
4 months ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Good comment, it’s the smallest functioning (self-reproducing) social unit.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
4 months ago
Reply to  El Uro

Married men live longer than single men don’t they?

Richard C
Richard C
4 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

This assumes that men don’t value anything but money and that a wife and children aren’t a positive in a man’s life. Over the past 2000 or so years, it seems that a lot of men have found a better balance with women than the one we currently have which has been distorted by divorce courts presuming that they should be the arbitrer of who gets what.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
4 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

Nothing is more satisfying than ‘family’ – having a wife & children.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
4 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

How do you know?

Daniel P
Daniel P
4 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

Not wrong.

The average man with a wife and kids is lucky to have enough left for a few beers at the end of the week.

He goes to work and then hands over his pay to his wife who then tells him how much is left that he can keep to spend on himself.

El Uro
El Uro
4 months ago
Reply to  Daniel P

Interestingly, a man rarely objects to this. He understands that the well being of his wife and children is more important than his own.

Andrew Vanbarner
Andrew Vanbarner
4 months ago
Reply to  El Uro

Yes, but the author is asserting that “having your own money is freedom.”
It is not. It’s waking to an alarm, showering, gulping coffee, and either logging into a computer or, worse, elbowing one’s way through traffic or train passengers, then doing tasks and chores and duties, sometimes for unpleasant people, then heading home for a few hours of leisure, perhaps, or sleep.
For most married men, they rarely see much of their earnings – kids, expenses, taxes, and whatever else “the family” needs exhausts most of their earnings.
In return, they “get to have a family.” Frequently enough, this means living with demanding and ungrateful children, and a sexless marriage to an overweight grouch.
There are of course exceptions, and often enough one gets what one gives.
But this notion that men all sit on recliners while their pretty wives “do all the work at home” is generally false.
Some men do have attractive, pleasant, hard working wives. Some men are trapped with women who refuse to clean, refuse to maintain their appearance, and refuse to return any affection whatsoever, secure in the knowledge that they don’t need to do so.
Probably most of us are somewhere in between. But is it such a bargain for most men? Are we at all “free,” or are we largely under a sort of mild to moderate enslavement?

M G
M G
4 months ago

I can’t argue with your account of history. But your last sentence reveals your “Feminista” bias. I am one of those women who bought into the whole feminist ideology and it almost ruined my life. A traditional lifestyle worked for most classes until we women became “oppressed” by it. I was one of those high earning, high corporate responsibility women who woke up just in time to achieve a lifestyle that is much more fulfilling than career.
A woman should be earning her own money only when she really has to for economic reasons (single or married) or she wants to because she really enjoys her work. This “dependency on wage-earning men” is not the horror you portray it as. Of coarse there are situations where partners lack the respect needed. I believe we have poisoned the cultural water and see much more disrespect and discord in relationships today, partly caused by this idea that women should throw off the oppression of men by working.
My unmarried daughter is now being judged on her career and her money making ability. Men today have been trained to think of stepping up to the responsibility as the sole provider for a family as unfair. This is short sighted. Children are more essential to most women than career. Getting trapped into a two income situation is worse in many ways than “dependency on wage-earning men.”

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
4 months ago
Reply to  M G

The net result of telling “stay at home mothers” that they are “trapped failures” has pushed many into a sorry combination of unsatisfying work and an over busy home life.
To top it all off, the increased income has just fed into – and been lost to – increased house prices.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
4 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Or more accurately, wage suppression has made two incomes a necessity if you want any sort of family life. The “you can have it all” narrative is just the propaganda.

David Morley
David Morley
4 months ago
Reply to  M G

Men today have been trained to think of stepping up to the responsibility as the sole provider for a family as unfair

This is relatively recent, but now quite marked. In the past the question “why should I do all the work” was never asked very much – it was simply assumed. More and more men do seem to be asking of relationships and marriage – what exactly is in it for me. They are also more aware of the financial risk it involves.

Rob Mort
Rob Mort
4 months ago
Reply to  M G

Huh.. those of us within the Christian fold , ( proportionately, on the whole , here in Australia) suffer from very little of the problems herein described. Not surprisingly we stick to a method described and prescribed in a book that’s approximately 3,500 odd years old and it works pretty good actually. Anyone can access the book for free if they wish, so you’ll save some money for the kids holiday! My beautiful wife of 20 years, bought up three boys as a stay at home mum, slowly dropping dead at the end of it in sept 2020. (The Queensland govt not allowing our 20 yo son to cross the border to be with his dying mother, no really!). She’d often bring out the progressive feminazi garbage as a whipping tool then get drunk and scoff at it. She was funny.
In march 2023 I married a beautiful girl 16 years younger than me (I’m 59,) from legazpi city Phillipines. Filipinos Christian life is next level . I love it. For Christian’s , followers of Christ, It’s all about obedience end of story. Not you. But others. We just shed the choices and life becomes simpler.
Both my wives laughed and scoffed when the ole money money money bs would crop up. Both of them declaring many times that they could have married men way way way seriously richer than me. ( my first wife one of her more desperate suitors was a RHCP guitarist that begged for her to come to cali. I used to joke when she was drunk, “ you could have been living in LA with your own driver , instead of here on a cow farm with a tractor driver outside Byron bay”. Haha).

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
4 months ago

How much freedom does a working man with few prospects have? He’ll have to pay all his bills and, maybe have a little left over. However, he can’t rely on finding a woman with a high income to pay those bills for him. He can expect a bit of pin money for a few pints with the lads. Women marry at their economic level or above.
Try it ladies, be single in a crap job without any hope of someone coming along to rescue you.

It’s not a battle of the sexes, most couples share their incomes in the way they see as fair. Some men are arseholes and dish out money to wives like princes, some women expect presents for sex. Neither trait is very appealing.

David Morley
David Morley
4 months ago

He can expect a bit of pin money for a few pints with the lads

And in the past even this was accepted grudgingly – as if the man spending any money on his own pleasure was the height of selfishness.

J Dunne
J Dunne
4 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Everyone should read Orwell’s Coming Up For Air. It perfectly encapsulates the economic and social restrictions that married men often faced back in those days.

William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
4 months ago
Reply to  J Dunne

Or Larkin’s “Self’s the Mann”

Dylan Blackhurst
Dylan Blackhurst
4 months ago

This is a classic example of ‘let’s go over the past to claim oppression in the present’.

What total rubbish.

For a woman the answer is simple. Don’t have a family. Instead have a soul crushing and ultimately pointless career that will leave you feeling like you’ve wasted your adult life.

Weirdly every woman I have ever employed has not come back to work to work full time. And you know what. They appear very happy with decision.

As an employer juggling their needs to do 3 days a week plays havoc with my work schedules which makes me less than happy. But hey, as long as they’re needs our met right?!

This need to portray women constantly as victims is getting beyond stupid to the point of disgusting.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
4 months ago

Young guys at the gym tell me that the fashion today is for young girls to date much older guys expecting help with their credit card repayments if not their rent. It’s like a society-wide Leo DiCaprio Syndrome. Otherwise, pretty girls are just like any other 20something; stuck living with their parenta.

B M
B M
4 months ago

What’s missing here is that women still are the ones who have children – and the most important parent to a child is their mother. Particularly boys. Almost without exception every serial killer and psychopath had a dysfunctional relationship with his mother.

Being that mother takes time and resources – two things incompatible with a high flying career. If you want that, don’t have kids – or accept that you will outsource the raising of your kids to someone else.

Having a house husband doesn’t work in most cases as it’s just the same issues as in the article but in reverse. Women are far less generous than men are with “their” money in this situation..

David Morley
David Morley
4 months ago
Reply to  B M

What’s missing here is that women still are the ones who have children

I believe that’s being worked on.

Richard C
Richard C
4 months ago
Reply to  David Morley
Clare Knight
Clare Knight
4 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Good one!!

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
4 months ago
Reply to  B M

Like the guy in the film ‘Psycho’ for example

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
4 months ago
Reply to  B M

Are the mothers of psychopaths stay-at-home mothers, one wonders?

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
4 months ago

Another Irish colloquialism, this time for the gents: stay single and your pockets will jingle.

edmond van ammers
edmond van ammers
4 months ago

At the start of the 19th century, to be at home with a kids was a desired luxury for women whose mothers had been forced to work 10 hour shifts at the mill.

David Morley
David Morley
4 months ago

And in Jane Austen, the worst fate possible for a married woman was actually having to work! Not only for the hardship, but for the terrible loss of status.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
4 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Not just at the start of the 19th century, but pretty much throughout recorded history, apart from perhaps a small elite.

P N
P N
4 months ago

The start of the 20th Century presumably?

John Galt Was Correct
John Galt Was Correct
4 months ago

I pay the mortgage, the insurances, the cars, the birthday and Christmas presents, the weekly shopping, the holidays, all of the children’s clothing and childcare costs. I pay almost everything. My wife pays the council tax. I really, really wish I had a wife who was not dependent on me financially because it is like a anchor around my neck. As I have worked and achieved more, she has worked less and achieved less. This article is actually annoying, it presents a picture of parasitic living (off a man) and tries to frame it as some kind of victimhood. The victim is the person paying for everything.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
4 months ago

Both are “victims” of societal norms, whereas having choice for both parties is surely to be welcomed.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
4 months ago

Oh dear that sounds rough. Time for a divorce I’d say.

Nick Wade
Nick Wade
4 months ago

I’m not sure what the point of this article is. From my perspective, women have far more options than men. They can opt to have children, and not have a career, whilst others can opt to follow a career like men have to, for we don’t get a choice really, do we? Indeed, in many careers there is positive discrimination to recruit more women, airline pilots being a good example. Meanwhile, medical schools are packed with females, which is not really helping the NHS, as these women seem to want to have children as well.

Just what the hell do women want, and why is this problem laid at the feet of men?

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
4 months ago
Reply to  Nick Wade

Ask Freud. Oh no, actually he didn’t have any idea after listening to them for the whole of his therapeutic career.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
4 months ago
Reply to  Nick Wade

The point of the article (as with all Unherd articles) is to raise issues which then lead to often enlightening comments/debate, yours being one of them.

David Morley
David Morley
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I always thought that was an unintended consequence of one sided articles 🙂

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 months ago
Reply to  Nick Wade

You raise an interesting point. We are forever bombarded with the “need” to recruit more women and other under-represented groups into certain professions, but the opposite never applies. Maybe I’ve missed it, but there is no concerted push to attract more men into teaching, the humanities, HR, etc. Perhaps the best approach to social engineering is to not engage in it at all.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Amen. Why is it not a crisis now that 89% of teachers are women?
The same goes for professional sports. A certain “under representative group” now comprise over 70% of the NFL (American football) Where is the outrage and marches?
American colleges now have over 60% female student bodies.
Will the pressure to hire minorities cease when minorities are in the majority? It appears that white men in general have been duped.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
4 months ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

No, they haven’t.

David Morley
David Morley
4 months ago

Anecdotal, but I heard from a work colleague why it was that men had been resistant to the move from a physical pay packet to money going directly into the bank. The pay packet had an “aphrodisiac” effect!

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
4 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

… most particularly the unopened wage packet!

David Morley
David Morley
4 months ago
Reply to  Gordon Black

Exactly!

David Morley
David Morley
4 months ago

Without money, there is no freedom

For most of us, without giving up our freedom there is no money.

B Davis
B Davis
4 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

So absolutely true…and so ignored by so many!
We exchange our freedom ( and our accompanying time, creativity, and effort) for dollars … which we then exchange for goods and services that we cannot otherwise individually provide. That’s economics.
At the same time others of us exchange that same freedom (time, creativity, & effort) not for dollars but as the direct means to provide the goods and services that we individually can produce (as in child care, home care, meal care, etc.).
Together these transactions (both those sanctioned and recognized by the economic system….and those sanctioned and recognized by the family & community) make the world go round. The latter is far more valuable than the former, but they work in partnership to raise a family.

David Morley
David Morley
4 months ago

This leads us to question whether, in heteronormative relationships, women can ever fully escape their economic dependency on wage-earning men

Im not quite sure what kind of alternative the author envisions. Not having relationships? Not having heterosexual relationships? Are lesbian relationships that different if children are being raised? Simply handing over all the money gratis to women with nothing expected in return? Or is it just about having another whine about being hard done to when you’re really not.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

If modern culture has taught us anything, it’s that victimhood or the appearance of victimhood is a higher-status situation than the alternative.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
4 months ago

This leads us to question whether, in heteronormative relationships, women can ever fully escape their economic dependency on wage-earning men.

Leaving aside the annoying ‘heteronormative’ term, I would say this can be cast exactly the other way.

That is, many women have the advantage – for themselves and the children – of the choice of staying at home while the husband earns for the benefit of the whole family.

And that’s a benefit to the husband (and I would say society as a whole) as well: seeing happy, secure, well-brought-up children enjoying the constant attention of their mother.

How is this something to be … escaped?

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
4 months ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

Very obviously, it should simply be a matter of choice, so that those who wish to escape are able to do so rather than having fixed societal norms.

David Morley
David Morley
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Job done then.

David Morley
David Morley
4 months ago

The spa services market includes massage services, beauty and grooming, and physical fitness, among others, and was estimated to be worth around 77.85 billion U.S. dollars worldwide in 2022.

I rest my case.

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
4 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

That’s just the first of the 7 A’s, Appearance. There is also Acquisition, Attire, Adornment, Aromas, Accessories and … I forget the last one.

David Morley
David Morley
4 months ago
Reply to  Gordon Black

It’s actually only a fraction of that!

Jon Morrow
Jon Morrow
4 months ago
Reply to  Gordon Black

Anchovies?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
4 months ago
Reply to  Jon Morrow

Good one!

Dengie Dave
Dengie Dave
4 months ago

What’s a heteronormative relationship? In fact, what’s a relationship?

Bryan Tookey
Bryan Tookey
4 months ago

in 2020 the pay gap for under 40s was effectively 0 – while men over 40earned much more than women over 40 and that drove an overall inbalance. And it does not take a genius to work out that this is the age when many men are starting to earn more as (many) have the experience and built the skills to be employed in more specialised and higher paying roles (e.g., management positions) while many working women over 40 have spent time out of the workplace while doing the hard work of raising children. So the debate, IMO, should be about how we want to see children raised: do we want women to have the choice to leave the workplace and thereby diminish their earning power / do we want to (can we?) change the capitalist system so that we don’t reward those with more skills and experience (i.e., those that stay in the workplace, currently mostly men) / do we want to ensure that it is actually the women who get to decide whether to stay at home and raise fmailies.
(As an aside, the pay gap widened for 20-40 year olds for the first time in years after 2020. Not by much, but alarming if it continues and I would love to know why.)

Jon Morrow
Jon Morrow
4 months ago
Reply to  Bryan Tookey

If we are not going to pay those with more skills and experience better then I am quite happy to make a pigs ear of my job for extra cash.

Gretchen Carlisle
Gretchen Carlisle
4 months ago
Reply to  Bryan Tookey

To me, the difference in earnings only becomes an issue if divorce occurs. I worked full time (earning as much as my husband) until we had children. I stayed home with them for 13 years, until he suddenly said he wanted a divorce and got together with a co-worker the next week (and married her as soon as the divorce was final). Then yes, all those years of not paying into my own pension, not maintaining professional skills or advancing in a career, became a significant problem, especially as I had to seek work that fitted around the children’s school schedules and needs, while he continued in the work he enjoyed with extensive time off (which he did not use to help out with children). I think the article is skewed, and I know men who have ended up badly off from divorce whether financially or being cut off from their children, but an important point is that generally when a woman chooses to give up work for family, she isn’t anticipating divorce and that financially she will almost certainly be unable to ever earn as much or retire with as much as her ex-husband because of those lost years– years that were willingly given up for her family, but when the family breaks down, will hurt her more. I do not regret my decision– I saw no point in having children if I couldn’t raise them myself– but there is no doubt that I am far worse off financially. I think a lot of points in this article detract from this central issue.

Sophie Duggan
Sophie Duggan
4 months ago

The only sane comment on this entire thread.

John Riordan
John Riordan
4 months ago

“This leads us to question whether, in heteronormative relationships, women can ever fully escape their economic dependency on wage-earning men. For many women, the financial problems identified by Zelizer have never truly disappeared.”

These aren’t “problems” at all. The stats show one obvious thing, and implicitly state another. The former, clearly, is that the decision to raise children necessarily comes with the cost of surrendering one’s personal freedom to a considerable extent. Ask any parent – male or female – and they’ll tell you that for about two decades, children will entirely turn your life upside down, more or less completely destroying the priorities that a childless couple would have. Raising children is a 24/7 job that lasts for years, so the idea that two adults with children can leave the house unattended all day while at work is nonsense: one half of the couple has to be with the kids at all times.

This is usually the woman, not the man. We can talk about the gender roles here if we want, but the fact is that a married couple will usually have their first child when the wife decides, not the husband. And that couple will have as many children as the wife wants, not the husband. So given that the project of raising children is usually acted-upon and committed-to by the wife, it seems entirely fair that the wife is the one to give up a job – and her independent income – and not the husband. (I’m generalising here because the article itself is using high-level stats to generalise. I know that in practice there are natural child-caring husbands who are better suited for this than their wives, but that is not the most common outcome, that’s all).

The implied statement in the stats above is that a very large number of women opt to retain their financial independence either by continuing to work and making the necessary sacrifices of time and cost to provide third-party childcare or agree with her husband that he will carry out that role, or simply opt to delay having children. Women have had this freedom for decades, and to debate on this subject by implying that the loss of freedom involved in raising a family is some sort of gender injustice is silly. It is a life-decision that comes with the same opportunity costs that any major life decision entails, and there’s no social justice dimension to it. Just because there is a bias in the stats that show childcare remains dominated by the female side of a couple does not change the fact that women are free to make their choices themselves, and just because those choices are almost always in practice heavily constrained by material considerations does not amount to a gender injustice.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
4 months ago

My parents married in the 1950s. My father’s salary was always paid into a joint bank account from which my mother could draw money as easily as my father. My mother’s salary, when she was working, was paid into a separate bank account to which only she had access. This was the typical arrangement for most of their acquaintances.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
4 months ago

That was also the arrangement with my wife and me (married in 1981), although we thought we were “modern” people.
All the bills were paid out of the joint account.
When we had kids, she quit work and later went back to working part-time. She never sought promotion, whereas for me it was a matter of survival and paying the mortgage and the bills.
It amazed me that some people, who knew all that, still would opine loudly that it was a disgrace that I got paid so much more.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
4 months ago

My parents were older than that. My father had control of all the money and only he had access to the bank account.

Daniel P
Daniel P
4 months ago

I hear women, at least many older women, complain that they should have been paid for housework, childcare etc.by their husbands.

But, I have to ask, if you also own the home, and you also have clothes to wash, and the children are yours as well, then how much of the labor was just covering your portion of the cost?

I mean, she could leave the house, get a job, and they could both pay somebody to do the work and split the cost. In fact, I have known couples that do exactly that. She spends her days in an office then hands over most of it to paying a maid, daycare, dry cleaning, etc.She pays half the food bill, utilities etc. Buys her own clothes for work and so on.

Seems to me, that in essence, she has simply swapped doing the work herself for paying someone to do it.

Guess it is a matter of preference which is better.

BTW…the pay gap stat is TOTAL BS. They are not comparing apples to apples. They are comparing ALL men in ALL jobs to ALL women in ALL jobs. That is a statistically invalid approach. You want to compare male surgeons to female surgeons, male teachers to female teachers, same specialties and years of experience, ok. Do that and show me the gap but do not wast my time with bad statistics.

John Riordan
John Riordan
4 months ago
Reply to  Daniel P

Agree about the so-called wage gap. The only way to make the figures in question equal would be to make it legally enforceable to pay women 25% more than men for the same jobs. Doubtless feminists would cheer this on, but it would be flatly illegal under any reasonable interpretation of the law.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 months ago

If you waited long enough, you knew it would come: But women still earn 85p for every pound earned by men.”
For one-to-one equal work in equal positions with equal levels of experience, this is almost impossible. If anything, it is the stuff of which lawsuits are made. Here we are in a time when young women have opportunities their mothers may have wanted and their grandmothers only dreamed of, and the tired talking point persists.
That’s okay. I’m sure the new dynamic of (roughly) 60% of college enrollment being women will balance out the past and answer the author’s burning question of whether “women can ever fully escape their economic dependency on wage-earning men.” They’ll have to escape it, for there will not be a sufficient number of suitably well-paid men to go around.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

There’s a serious debate going on about this topic currently.

I believe that in the USA, among university students the figures are approaching 2 women to every 1 man. In the UK not such an imbalance, but trending in that direction.

As you say (especially if it is assumed that in general women continue to expect their male partner to be of equal, or preferably higher, status and wealth) there are social consequences. Men of the highest status will have a queue of well-educated high-potential women competing for their companionship. And, in that position, what is the benefit of marrying just one of them?

Then, men of reasonable but not top-level status (not to mention unfortunate Joe Average) may find it hard to get a female partner.

And, as you point out, a consequence may well be a surplus of high-status women, unsuccessful in finding their high-status man, who never marry.

A look at the statistics on women who are unmarried and childless at age 30 or 35 suggests the trend is already well in play.

A lot of people who may end up unhappy all round, maybe?

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 months ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

I think your conclusion is accurate. While it’s great that new avenues have been opened to women, it seems as if this occurred by purposely stifling men. To what end? I don’t see how society benefits from a manufactured imbalance that completely ignores human nature or tries to override that nature.

Gayle Rosenthal
Gayle Rosenthal
4 months ago

After 45 years of raising kids, keeping a house, and working all but 15 of those years outside the home as well as inside the home, I can safely say that much of the time and energy a woman has is focused on others in her family and the “stuff of others” that requires upkeep and management. Much of the “stuff” doesn’t really fulfill any real need the others may have. So if the yearning for “stuff” can be managed, and separated from “needs” homelife can become a lot happier and meaningful. This is best done in partnership with the other parent. Unfortunately these skills aren’t always taught in a family of origin.

Jon Barrow
Jon Barrow
4 months ago

Some men too. I care for an elderly mother who’s also a perfectionist/hoarder ie has and buys loads of stuff which she’s highly attached to.

Brian Thomas
Brian Thomas
4 months ago

Interesting. There is no “gender pay gap” however.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
4 months ago

Only a radfem can live off someone else’s income and call that oppression.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
4 months ago

Unherd have learned where the Guardian went wrong. Publish a slightly provocative article with lots of points that can be refuted and them get your readers to supply interesting copy for free.

I used to read the Guardian and comment but soon realised my comments were unwelcome and stopped reading except occasional articles that I am directed to by internet comment. The idiots at the Guardian were too keen on suppressing comment that didn’t comply with the ideological narrative. Fortunately for them they have a wealthy Trust to keep them going and don’t need to rely on paying customers.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
4 months ago

But women still earn 85p for every pound earned by men.
With that differential, I’m surprised there are any men left employed anywhere. I mean, why hire a man when apparently you can slash your payroll by 15% just by hiring only women?

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
4 months ago

The article and many of the comments supporting or attacking it are just horrible.
Marriage is a mutual commitment of self-sacrifice grounded in dignity, respect, and affection (hey, maybe even desire).
We must resist at every turn the Marxists (and neo-liberals?) who relentlessly desire to commodify every good, to turn every human relationship into a transaction, to see every choice as an exercise in power, domination or submission.
Love makes the world go ’round, folks. We all know it deep in our hearts, and trying to deny it in the name of ‘independence’ or ‘autonomy’ or ‘self-realization’ results in the kind of demographic disaster currently facing the West… increasing rates of depression, loneliness, anxiety, suicide, mortality, etc. Old people rotting away in care homes without care. Young people raising themselves on TikTok. Middle aged people desperately trying to fill the hole inside with a new hobby, a new lover, a new vacation.
No wonder people turn to drugs… their betters tell them the only way to be happy is to get stuff and keep it from others. Pure rubbish (and poor rubbish, too).

G M
G M
4 months ago

In most/many divorces women get to keep the children with men only getting visitation rights, and paying the bills.

Men are robbed of the right to 50% co-parent their own children.

G M
G M
4 months ago

Sounds like more victimization.
The victimization industry is very lucrative.
In this case women – the victim.

In the past women had difficulties but men also had difficulties.
It’s too easy to go through life always blaming someone else for your problems instead of looking in the mirror for the source and solution to your problems.

jane baker
jane baker
4 months ago

Well I’ve read this and it’s the usual faux feminist whinging and maundering on. Are there no such things as Spinsters then? Are there no such things as spiteful,nasty ugly old Spinsters who no man has ever wanted to buy a house for – you know that saying about marriage,find a woman you don’t like and buy her a house. Like Zsa Zsa Gabor said about being a good housekeeper,she kept all the houses.
Some of us never went looking for loose change in our husbands pockets as we never had one but our lives were not soaring to the cultural and professional heights either. It’s true that money is freedom. Odd how the man who stated..I don’t care too much for money cos money can’t buy you love…..is worth at least ÂŁ700million,maybe he cared a bit or perhaps a benevolent universe just scattered paper notes from a cloud over his head. This is part of the issue,and I wonder if it’s still an issue.
Girls are guided to think of LOVE and MONEY as being in two separate compartments. Love is spiritual. Money is sordid. The idea is – I suspect it’s still out there,as a female,you must GIVE YOUR LOVE unconditionally and freely expecting no return,which is silly as if you expect nothing you will definitely not be disappointed in that. Madonna may have sung about being a Material Girl in the 1980s,but I think society has changed again,moved back maybe or sideways. In 1973 when I was earning good money and wanted to embark on what I knew was a long process of getting a house ie buying I found out I couldn’t because I had no man in my life The law changed in 1977 but I’d given up by then. I’m not FEISTY. But now even though in technical law a single woman could buy a house on her own,as I gather no one can as unless you are a high earner (boo hiss) two incomes are needed. I put the remark in comments as a joke to point out our ambivalent attitude to money. We are told to work diligently at school etc in order to be prepared and able for that stellar career and top notch wages but then we(the public) express derision and hatred or secret envy of the ones that make it. YOUVE GOT TOO MUCH MONEY!

B Davis
B Davis
4 months ago

But courting, marriage, the creation & formation of family, the construction of a full, multi-dimensioned adult life which takes us all from late adolescence to old-age is far, far more than a financial game with economic winners & losers. It is, therefore, tremendously misleading to equate money with freedom, let alone MY money with freedom when the economic portion of that multi-dimensioned life is but a portion, a part, a segment of the complex, cross-dependent whole.
That’s not how life works.
Indeed, every family is different and every family manages the multitudinous array of opportunities and demands which structure & surround their combined lives differently. To assert that “middle-class women (who) were, by all classical economic measurements, comfortable and well-off” had no ‘freedom’ because they had “no money of their own” is simply ridiculous. Equally we might argue that the “middle class men” who actually earned the family dollars (in such a single-income household) were also so ‘enslaved’ because they themselves ‘had no money of their own.’
What does it even mean to ‘have money of one’s own?”
Certainly when we are all 10 and had a weekly allowance that we kept safely in our piggy banks, that little pile of coins was OUR MONEY (to do with as we pleased) but even that nominal ‘freedom’ was always subject to parental veto and direction. Even though we earned it by dint of the family tasks we performed (setting the table or feeding the dog), and even though our siblings were forbidden from raiding and spending OUR MONEY, our freedom was still curtailed by a host of surrounding requirements & barriers.
That doesn’t change just because we turn 40…just because we have kids…just because we have a mortgage, two dogs, two cars, and like to play golf. Is that freedom? Does the presence of an income which allows and supports all that give the earner freedom…or the family freedom….or the non-earning spouse freedom? Nah, not in the least. It simply gives the family (the whole family) the means (if they’re lucky) to manage the whole.
Certainly we all quite normally exchange labor for dollars for goods and services, but equally — especially within the family –we exchange additional labor, goods, and services for other labor, other goods, and other services. Beyond all that, the entirety of these cascading sets of economic and non-economic transactions are contained and nurtured by the emotional substance (intangible, unmeasurable, uncountable, and beyond the reach of any economic model) of the marriage and the family created by that marriage.
Where is ‘freedom’ in all of that? How is it valued? By whom?
“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body.The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?” (Kundera)
In fact, yes, we are “we are worlds apart from Zelizer’s accounts of gender-based financial dependence” because her account is itself so one-dimensional. We are worlds apart from such a black/white…winner/loser model because life itself, love itself, family itself is so much more.
Which do we choose “weight or lightness”?
Ms. Zelizer, it would seem would look for Net Present Value in discounted earning streams in order to answer that question. And she would be wrong.

Ida March
Ida March
4 months ago

Money and power.
It’s all that feminists think about.

Sensible Citizen
Sensible Citizen
4 months ago

Women are hugely disadvantaged in the workforce because they generally choose not to do high-paying jobs that require exposure to weather, filth, danger, and the gradual destruction of their bodies. Men do those jobs.
Women generally do not have long careers as lawyers or CEOs for similar reasons. Those jobs suck. You have to be willing to work 70 hours a week and withstand enormous emotional and psychological pressure. Men want those jobs because they are competitive sports — at least in the beginning.
Women have been promised rewarding careers if they go to college, forego marriage in their twenties, and wait to have children. You can have it all! Instead, they are rewarded with what 90% of men settle for: a JOB. But unlike men, they have to settle for a lonely, childless existence, and a cat or two.