Many of the conclusions from sociological research are far easier to understand through real-life examples than the rigorous statistical methods leading to those conclusions. That is the case with Liat Raz-Yurovich’s recent work on second births in Germany: She employed panel data in a rigorous survival analysis to figure out the same thing that my husband and I learned firsthand this summer. In Germany, where the majority of women have either no children or just one, understanding what supports the decision to have a second birth is important for labor force and elderly support policies. Raz-Yurovich determined that couples in Germany who outsourced housework were more likely to have a second child rather than stopping after one. In other words, couples that carry less of their own burden in the private sphere are more willing to add to their private-sphere workload.
Despite how obvious this conclusion may sound, I don’t think I really understood it until this summer. If I had, my husband and I would not have decided to do tag-team childcare instead of hiring a summer babysitter. We came up with that plan in order to afford private school tuition in the coming year, and it probably seemed doable to us because we each work 30 hours a week—so we weren’t trying to work full-time jobs without help. It wasn’t until I read Raz-Yurovich’s article while completely exhausted and falling behind on my work that I did the math proving our plan was flawed. My husband needs 9 hours a day to work his 6 (in part because of summer track work on the DC Metro), and I need 6.5 (short commute). Add 8 hours for sleep, and that makes 23.5. This means we have half an hour a day that is not spoken for by paid work and sleep. I long for school to start again so that my husband and I can overlap our workdays better instead of mine starting all too early and his ending all too late. This summer has taught me that the price of tag-team childcare for working parents is viciously high. I’m very tired, and I want more time with my husband.
Think about what I am saying in Raz-Yurovich’s terms: If we can outsource some childcare hours (in addition to housework), we’ll have more than half an hour a day of flexibility in our private lives. This outsourcing is very likely to come in the form of public school in the future because I would rather my children have sane parents than private educations. But consider that whether children attend public school or private school, parents are outsourcing “childcare” during the school year. Very few dual-earner couples homeschool or even participate in the “unschooling” movement, mainly because it is a full-time job to set up and maintain the conditions under which children can continue to learn. After this summer, I am persuaded that without help of some kind, it is nearly impossible for couples to work even a paid job and a half—let alone two—and also raise children, without their relationship or sanity suffering.
Of course, school is not the only form of help. People send their kids to summer camp, hire babysitters, swap hours of childcare with neighbors, make good use of relatives’ time, and more. For example, I’m currently blogging at a gym that is over half an hour from my home in good traffic. Why? Many gyms offer two hours of childcare a day with a membership (mine offers three). My point is simply that whether couples have a live-in nanny or a gym membership or a healthy grandmother to help, they almost certainly have some type of help if they are combining work and child-rearing.
Raz-Yurovich’s work shows that the incentives the German government started rolling out in the 1990s to encourage couples to outsource housework have in fact encouraged second births. These incentives include tax deductions for households employing a domestic worker and other reforms reducing the administrative costs of household employees. Similar policies exist in neighboring France and Belgium, but in addition publicly-funded education starts at age three: the combination of supports may help explain why in those countries, women have close to two children on average, compared to Germany’s 1.4.
Where domestic help is less expensive and extended family living is more common, couples have support for earning a living while raising their children.
Our work for the 2015 World Family Map shows that children don’t impact couples’ division of labor as much in lower income countries as in higher income countries. It makes sense to me that where domestic help is less expensive and extended family living is more common, couples have support for earning a living while raising their children. I have somehow managed to complete an extension of that research this summer: in it, we further showed that children matter less for how couples divide their labor in countries with more public spending on family benefits. When part of childcare is outsourced, there’s more flexibility in how to accommodate the rest. That might even leave room to raise more children. But without help, either work or child-rearing (or both) must often be compromised.
What I’ve learned this summer, at least from our family’s experience, is that outsourcing childcare is also necessary for dual-earner couples. Outsourcing housework can certainly relieve some of the pressures, but buying prepared foods, having shirts professionally laundered, or even employing a maid (for those who can afford it) still doesn’t leave enough hours in the day for two parents to work full time and sleep, while caring for children. Maybe that’s at least one reason why despite Germany’s moderate policy success, only a minority of German women have two or more children.