Lauren — This is a great issue. And one of the key points that Anne Marie makes is that it ISN’T A WOMEN’S ISSUE. (Well, too often it is, but it shouldn’t be!) It’s an issue that goes to the heart of how we think about work and family in this country and how we undervalue so much incredibly important work that has to be done by someone!
There is a deep rooted problem at the very heart of our economy that some work is paid for, and given status in society, and other work — perhaps even more important work! — is undervalued and low status.
There are several layers to the question. The first, most obvious one, is that men need to step up to caregiver obligations, not just women. I made a bit of a stir recently at Google’s Zeitgeist conference when I did a joint interview with Google CEO Sundar Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, and I asked Sundar rather than Susan how he balanced the competing demands of work and family.
The second level down is the question that is asked by two of the other respondents to this question, alvarez.adriana77 and Nicki Usher — how often families that seem to make this work are able to do so only by outsourcing much of the work of parenting and other family care. If you’re well off, perhaps you hire a nanny; if you’re not, you rely on family and friends, and maybe you just can’t get it all together.
But what we really have to ask is what is wrong with our society — one of the richest societies in history — when the fruits of our invention, the productivity that has been brought to us by technology, is used only to make the rat race more intense, and doesn’t buy us the leisure to spend time more thoughtfully. If you’re wealthy, you outsource what should have been one of the most precious parts of your life. If you’re not, your struggle to survive doesn’t leave time for this.
We accept the conditions of our market economy as if they were a fact of nature rather than a choice we have made. Could we make different choices? I think so.
MIT labor economist David Autor contrasted two economies that have oil wealth, Saudi Arabia and Norway. In Saudi Arabia, a great deal of work is devalued, and is done by “guest workers”; in Norway, they seem to have hit the sweet spot. As Autor put it to me, “All work is valued. And as a result, everyone works. But they just work less.”
Now I’ve never spent time in either place, so I can’t speak to the veracity of that comment. But it seems to me that the Next:Economy we want is one that looks more like the one that Autor described for Norway.
As a result, the message that Anne Marie is delivering is so much bigger than the question of balancing work and family. It is also central to how we allocate the results of increasing productivity, and to how we best organize society to improve life for all.
So my question for Anne Marie is this: how do we get there? What changes must individuals make in their own lives? What changes must companies make? And what policies should we adopt as a nation to support that change?