Stay-at-home Parents and the Productivity Juggernaut

-By Joanna Roughton

Economists themselves call their area of study ‘the dismal science’. Yet there is no getting away from the fact, dismal or otherwise, economics matters more now than ever before. 

Its practitioners have been elevated to celebrity status, its relevance enhanced by the economic crash of 2008, its predictions used to guide government policy.

When it comes to the home, economists see things through the prism of hard cash. Take stay-at-home-mothers. From an economist’s perspective, a woman who chooses not to do a job, is economically inactive, an example of zero productivity.Image

And because policy-makers believe that rising productivity is a ‘very good thing’, a whole series of counter-arguments fail to make an impact.

These are not the counter arguments you might be familiar with. I am not talking about the importance of having a mum around to create a home, or a place apt for the fruitful raising of children. 

No, I mean the stuff which economists fail to understand. The benefits for which there are no metrics. And because they can’t be recorded, they cannot be advanced as a brake on the productivity juggernaut.

What are these benefits and why are they so nebulous?

Many of them acrue to the so-called Big Society. Now lots of people – our own Prime Minister included – will say that Britain’s charitable and voluntary sector are in rude health. They point to levels of participation which prove that all is well.

But that is sophistry. Much of the big society is now made up of organisations and NGO’s which take cash in return for good works. At the grass roots level it’s a different story. From my own experience of talking to other Mums, I know that there is a crisis of engagement.

Clubs which have run successfully for decades, clubs which impart valuable life lessons to children (and which do not charge for the privilege) are now struggling to recruit people to run them.

Often they fall back on a ever-more hard-pressed core of non-working volunteers. The burden falls especially hard on older women – retirees – who are not being replaced by younger women who would, once, have taken their places.

Some will wonder: where are the men in all this? 

The truth is that women, because of their hard-wired organisational and communication skills, have always formed the backbone of the voluntary world. They are natural activists. At the community level, it is their energy which shapes things. Just google the words “mothers against” and you will see what I mean.

It is very difficult to put a value on the work that stay-at-home-mothers do outside of the home. But I have a very strong conviction that there will be a cost to all of us in the future because fewer of these women now exist. 

At the most basic level they communicated one essential verity to the next generation. They showed that there can be a value system based, not on financial reward, but on charity, on giving, on service and duty. 

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