Why Isn't Raising a Family Considered Work?


A Harvard survey released last week suggests that a greater proportion of female business graduates will work “part-time” in comparison to their “full-time” working male colleagues. 

This is old news. Numerous studies — both specifically following the trends of elite business graduates as well as other professionals — have reached similar conclusions. More women work part-time, and the reason isn’t elliptical: many women devote a period of their life to raising a family.

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg scolds women to “lean-in,” Anne Marie-Slaughter counters, acknowledging the necessary juggling act and corporate double standard. Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer suggests putting a nursery next to your office (assuming you are a CEO of a $20 billion company).

But what exactly do we mean by “part-time work?” Or possibly more important, what connotation does it suggest?

A recent Atlantic article reporting on the gender divide summarized the following: “In short, women with children worked 24 percent less than women without children. Women who didn't have kids and didn't take time off saw relatively small wage differentials from men over their careers.”

The logic was to explain why we see women in the elite business world earning on average $250,000 nine years out of school, while men are earning on average $400,000. But possibly equally problematic is the first part of the statement: “women with children worked 24 percent less than women without children.”

We acknowledge that women who choose to work “part-time” are doing so to raise a family, but women who work “part-time” are viewed as working “less.” What exactly about raising a family does not constitute work?

True if you are a noble living in Victorian Era England, the time devoted to raising children is indeed quite small — an hour long viewing where the nurse has cleaned and dressed the brood for their daily exhibiting.

Of course, raising a family, for most, is a completely different ballgame. Everything from packing lunch to cooking dinner, from arranging schooling to assisting on homework, from reading bed time stories to making that 10 p.m. hospital visit. Not to mention the brobdingnagian task of trying to nurture a caring, empathetic, intelligent, and well-rounded individual.

Someone remind me how this is not work?

Even the most taxing Wall Street job is bounded, parenting of course is 24/7 with no cash bonuses. A business man or woman is put in charge of stocks and companies, a parent is put in charge of the welfare of lives.

In the end the argument is nomenclature in nature, but I believe there is an underlining ethos that is worth addressing.

In her article last summer, Anne Marie-Slaughter raised a telling comparison, she described how an observant Jew who went home early Friday to observe the Sabbath was lauded for his commitment to his faith, where simultaneously a parent who goes home early on Friday so that they can have a family dinner with their kids is criticized for being insufficiently committed to their job.

Changing the corporate culture to support women who want to work and raise family is an enormous step forward. But another needed step is to acknowledge the enormous and important work being performed by those who are supposedly only working “part-time.”