Workin’ for the Man

I’m headed back to work today.  It’s a bit early, but in exchange I get to work part time through Thanksgiving.

Given that, I thought this headline made for a good blog post today: “Is Opting Out the New American Dream for Working Women?“.  In a survey by ForbesWomen and TheBump.com, they found that:

84% of working women told ForbesWoman and TheBump that staying home to raise children is a financial luxury they aspire to.What’s more, more than one in three resent their partner for not earning enough to make that dream a reality.

Yikes.

Subsequently I saw several bloggers reference the fact that “84% of women want to be stay at home moms”, so I decided to do a little digging.  What did this survey really say?  Well, Forbes published more about the survey here.

Weirdly, in that recap, the only time the 84% number is mentioned is in reference to women believing staying at home is a financial luxury, leading me to be more than a little curious as to how they phrased the question.  Do 84% of women actively want to stay at home, or do 84% of women wish they had enough money that they got to make the choice?  This quote from the article lead me to believe perhaps we were really discussing something rather than prioritizing staying at home with the kids:

As one (working) mom of two told me, she may dream of leaving work to take care of her kids, but the (financial) reality of it is not so ideal. “Sure, if my husband made so much money that I could spend time with the kids, still afford great vacations and maybe the occasional baby sitter to take a class or go out with friends, I’d be the first to sign up,” she said. “So maybe while it’s a luxury I do think about, it’s not one I would want unless it was actually luxurious. I don’t want to be a stay at home mom who clips coupons or plans her weekly menu to make ends meet… If that’s the case, I’d gladly go on working to avoid that fate.”

So it sounds like at least some of the respondents were focused less on wanting to opt out of the workplace to raise their kids, and more on wanting to have enough money to keep their standard of living while not feeling pressured to work.  Two slightly but significantly different things IMHO.  I have rarely seen a stay at home mom who didn’t strive to make the household more financially efficient while at home, so this dream seemed a bit divorced from reality. This is backed up by the survey’s additional result that only half of working women think they’d be happier if they stayed home.  I’d also guess most of us would be happier if we had enough money to completely call the shots regarding where we worked.

Of course none of this addresses the totally skewed sample that comes from two websites joining up to do a survey like this.  Doubtless ForbesWomen/TheBump do not attract a random crowd.  Additionally, it should be concerning to our sense of family that 1/3 of women are resenting their husbands for not making more money….though to note the survey used the phrase “sometimes resent” while the article merely used “resent”.

A side note about this survey….one of the last questions was about how much women spent on themselves per month.  Most (63% of working moms, 78% of stay at home mom’s) said they spent less than $100 a month on themselves.  Every time I see a question like this, I always wonder where people count cable TV and haircuts.  When I was getting my degree, they mentioned that during premarital counseling you should always ask the woman how much she thought a reasonable haircut cost.  Apparently that one expenditure can cause a lot of fights.  I definitely know women who believe a basic haircut costs $80 or more.

All that being said, I’m going to miss my little monkey today, but I’m happy to have a job I love to go back to, I don’t resent my husband, and I think a reasonable haircut for a woman costs $40.

Tracking the wild bad data

As someone who spent 3 years studying family dynamics in grad school, I was pretty interested in the NYT piece that ran last week on class divides in single vs married households.  The article generated a lot of buzz, and if you haven’t read it, I would recommend it.

People seemed to either love or hate this article, and it’s stirred up a whole lot of discussion online.  One of the more interesting points that got brought up though, was a discussion about why the focus was on single moms as opposed to deadbeat dads.

This led to some quoting of an interesting statistic regarding custodial parents and child support.  When I first read this statistic, it was from Amanda Marcotte over at Slate who put it this way:

…. in a substantial number of cases, the men just quit their families. That’s why only 41 percent of custodial parents receive child support.

Now, I’ve perused internet comment boards enough to know that there are a LOT of men out there griping about how much they pay in child support.  I was a little shocked to read that apparently 59% don’t give anything.  I clicked on the closest link she had provided…..which took me over to the NYT Economix blog and an item by Nancy Folbre. There was the stat again, except with a few more qualifiers:

In 2009, the latest year for which data are available, only about 41 percent of custodial parents (predominantly women) received the child support they were owed. Some biological dads were deadbeats. 

So that frames it a little differently.  It’s still a little unclear from that statement, but it started to occur to me that this probably meant only 41% were up to date on their support payments…not that only 41% of non-custodial parents were paying.

I clicked on the link provided by Folbre, and got to the Census Bureau website, which put it all this way:

 In 2009, 41.2 percent of custodial parents received the full amount of child support owed them, down from 46.8 percent in 2007, according to a report released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. The proportion of these parents who were owed child support payments and who received any amount at all — either full or partial — declined from 76.3 percent to 70.8 percent over the period.

Now that’s still a lot of deadbeats, but it is a slightly different picture from the one we originally started with.  When I clicked on the link from the Census Bureau snapshot to the report it originally came from, I noticed something else interesting….only about half of all custodial parents have court ordered support, and the non-payment stats above appear to reflect only what is happening in the court ordered cases.  The non court ordered cases are certainly hazy….30% of custodial parents said they never went to court because they knew the other person couldn’t pay….but it is interesting that the quoted stats only apply to half of the custodial parent cases.

Overall, I must say I kind of enjoyed attempting tracking the evolution of a stat (in reverse).  It’s not often you get to actually see how things evolve from the primary source to several steps out….and it was an interesting mental exercise.  Thanks for taking the journey with me.

More adjectives, more problems

I’ve written before about the dangers of adjectives, but today on Instapundit there was a link to a great example of a misused adverb.

The headline on CNN late last night apparently described Scott Walker as “narrowly defeating” Barrett.  Ultimately he beat him by 7% of the vote.

Now, some may call that narrow, but most would not.  Words like that are dangerous because they can obscure your view of the real numbers.  Other words that can skew your view are “spike” “surge” “plummeted” etc.

While all probably at least indicate the direction of the change, there is no standard for how big the change must be to use one of these words.  If possible, check the numbers first, then the headlines.

It’s better than trusting journalists.