Saturday, September 12, 2009

Family policy

A Blogspot comment on yesterday's entry suggested that having both parents working outside the home become the norm may have been one of the worst things to become a reality in our society in the past half century.  I agree with the general thought.  I might give a little more nuanced interpretation.  In defense of yesterday's comment, it is far easier for me to comment on someone else's comment than to come up with a new one and I'm just elaborating.

Having both parents working outside the home full-time with schedules that permit very little time for parenting their own children and no allowance for interaction most of the hours of most days is how  I would phrase what is a bad thing for society.  Parenting children when there are two full-time workers provides parents with a limited ability to influence and raise their own children.  Despite this, there are plenty of parents who work full time and who are great parents because they are lucky enough to have very flexible jobs and have made a commitment to parenting.   Key question is how to make options like this available to more parents.

It is interesting to consider why we can't find better ways to make child care available in ways that more parents can still do a bit of parenting during the day even if both parents wanted to work outside the home.  What would be the economic costs of that?  What would be the economic benefits?

Yesterday, I noted that I thought it would be the last entry on the economics of breastfeeding in a while.  However, I think that I can relate this issue to breastfeeding too.  The argument for being able to breastfeed at work and for having children in work-place day care in which mothers could breastfeed children on site, focuses on the value to the child and the value to the mother.  The child will get the best source of nutrition.  The mother and child both get the bonding experiences.  The mother gets other health benefits from breastfeeding.  And the mother will get have some down time during the day that will offer a break and may be better for mental health too.  If we generalize this to the entire parenting experience, then we could think of the following.  Parents would have breaks.  Kids would get some time with their parents.  The parents' would have more chances to share their values with their kids.  The mental health and bonding of all may be improved.

Would it be costly?  Yes--starting work place day care programs to replace the many private and non-work-place-based programs would be expensive.  Allowing parents who don't have very flexible jobs at present more flexibility in their schedules would be costly.

Would the benefits outweigh the costs?  That is an open empirical question.  Should that be the only option available to parents?  No.

Without a mandate (always a problem in American society), it is interesting to consider what would happen. This brings me to a point I raised in response to yesterday's comment on a comment.  Our society is in a situation in which if we all made a similar decision to change (i.e. we all decided to act in ways that reflected a great value on parenting), we might be better off as a society.  However, as long as we do not all make that change together, those who don't change may have more financial resources.  Would those who decide to change then feel like they would have to go back to their present behavior?  Maybe.   That makes it hard to have a change unless we all change.  However, we are unlikely all to change.

A great policy challenge would be to find ways to make parenting as people want to more financially rewarding so that all parents would parent the way they wanted and still have the resources they need for other things.  Not an easy one, but something to think about.

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