Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Staying Home

I found this Yglesias post about the possible social effects of a prolonged economic downturn particularly interesting. As most of you probably know, I voluntarily left my career a year ago to become a stay-at-home parent/househusband. The reason it made a lot of sense is that my wife's income was vastly higher than mine, and secondarily because I do all the cooking anyway.

Despite the fact that there are quite a few households where the woman earns more money than the man, it's still quite rare, for cultural reasons, for the man to stay home. It's certainly possible that economic pressure may drive some change in this area, since two working parents of small children who have a big disparity in income can often realize an increase in their standard of living if the lower-earning partner stays home.

Such a shift would be good for me, since not only is it true that cultural baggage leads to fewer people doing it that way, the basic lack of stay-at-home dads makes being a stay-at-home dad a somewhat isolating experience.

I work, basically, in an all-female world. The men I meet are understandably wary of me because I spend a ton of time with their wives while they're at work, and to the degree that they want to befriend me it doesn't work very well because our schedules don't fit together. On the other side of the coin, when some moms from the preschool get together for 'girls night' they don't invite me, for obvious reasons.

I'm fortunate that I maintain some friendships with a group of mostly younger single guys, and I get together with them once or twice a week to drink beer and play cards and watch sports and play video games. But not everyone has that option - it's largely a luxury of men who live in the city they grew up in, as I do.

All in all, the work of stay-at-home parenting is very rewarding, but the social life that comes with the job is lonely and challenging, even treacherous. It seems likely that there will be some sort of tipping point where a significant enough increase in the rate of stay-at-home fatherhood leads to a social structure in the stay-at-home parent world that has more of a place carved out for men.

Until then, it must be said that for most men the job just isn't that appealing.

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