Cultural differences – marriage or 2-income, 2-person parenting?

In the US, the future of a child now depends increasingly on whether the parents have said “I do” or not. Or, that’s how an article from the NY Times presents the issues. And concerned as I am about what this tells us about the future of our societies, I am also intrigued by this co-opting of marriage.

The article presents research and findings about the success of children from different types of families. It persists in talking about marriage and married couples. And, yet the findings are more about two-parent households. They speak to how much more children have when they live in a household with two incomes and with two parents to share the parenting. The findings are not about marriage.

I think that the British press would be just as concerned about the future of our children. But I don’t think they’d get tied up with marriage – not for this argument, at least, but I might be wrong. Certainly, in a companion piece to this article, Andrew Leigh, an member of the Australian House of Representatives, the lower house in the federal parliament, talks about raising children “with two adults” and concerns about the “decline of partnership”.

I am intrigued that a problem that is of concern to all of us can be presented from such different angles.

The articles can be found:

In the Review section of the Australian Financial Review from Friday 3 August 2012, if you have access to the paid content. The article from the New York Times here and the companion piece by Andrew Leigh here.

The piece by Andrew Leigh is also on his own blog with links to other material. Find that here.

He includes a link to the original NY Times article, which is here.


Women having it all?

OK, I’ve read the article and my inner Newnhamite reckons it’s time for us to stop sniping and work together on this: all women and all men.

What article? Oh, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” by Anne-Marie Slaughter.

Anne-Marie Slaughter is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, and the mother of two teenage boys. She served as the (first woman) director of policy planning at the US State Department from 2009 to 2011. Her article has riled up lots of debate and some valuable discussion about what “it all” is and what is the issue all about.

I include a link below to the full article, as published in the US’s Atlantic Magazine.  That is looong and I’m still reading.  I thank the Australian Financial Review for publishing an abridged version in “The Review” section from Friday 6 July 2012.  There is a link below as well but it is behind a pay wall so not accessible to everyone.

There is plenty in the article about which to get exercised, to applaud or to irritate you, depending on your perspective.

The thing is that Anne-Marie’s central point seems to flow from what she calls “a falsehood: that ‘having it all’ is, more than anything, a function of personal determination.”

That, I think, is a powerful point.  Clearly, individuals make some choices that affect whether they have children, can participate in their upbringing and have paid employment, outside or inside the home.  But it is also the case that the society that we humans have built over thousands of years also creates some limitations.  The traditional 9 to 5 spent in an office reduces personal flexibility.  That only gets worse as you move into paid employment at more senior levels where you are expected to work more than 35 or 40 hours a week – and to do that away from your home.  This is not the only way to organise ourselves but the existing paradigm has a great deal of inertia.  To change it requires the application of a large force.  The question is whether that force can be gathered and applied successfully.

Anne-Marie talks about some optimistic signs, including examples of where men and women are making separate moves towards solutions.

I think there is some irony in the fact that Anne-Marie reached her conclusion in an administration led by a man who has made no secret of the pleasure he takes from being able to spend MORE time with his family now he’s got the job of big boss! President Obama lives above the office and has organised his schedule so he can spend time with his daughters – and then go back to work.  Very few of us have that opportunity – and my reading of his comments is that he is appreciative of the privilege.  Even so, it should give us more pause for thought in the way we organise our society.

So what do you all think?


Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article – the full version is here on The Atlantic web-site and the abridged version resides here behind the Australian Financial Review pay wall.

Opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald by Lenore Taylor is here.

By chance the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane is staging a series of panel discusions about contemporary ideas and issues in Australia and on 5 July 2012 the topic was GOMA Talks Business sense | Who can make it in the top jobs?  The panel discussed some of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s ideas.  The link to the background of the panel is here.  The Australian Broadcasting Corporate (ABC) podcast of this debate can be found here.

Bosses’ pay

Reading the English papers on Sunday (courtesy of my iPhone and excellent local WiFi this trip to Spain!), I was struck by all the articles about business-bashing, business leaders’ pay, disparity of earnings, etc.

I’d really like to write a learned treatise on the subject but I’m not sure I can get that far right now. Let me satisfy myself with a few observations.

Firstly, during the recent discussion about the RBS boss’s bonus, I heard some callers on LBC. What struck me was that they weren’t upset about “payment for failure”. They just didn’t seem to understand how anyone could be worth that much money – not just the bonus; but the whole level of salary.

So, the question is: are we beginning to see the complete break-down in the generally muddling-along social contract that we have in the UK? Yes, some people earn more than others but that was not challenged on a regular basis until now. There was a sort of acceptance of the status quo.

In fact, I think it is difficult to justify from first principles what to pay someone. There are measures such as the number of people you manage or the size of budgets; but they fail for “individual contributors”, people like researchers and developers, who don’t manage others but create value themselves. Then, how about people like internal auditors whose role is more about helping others to protect value? Of course, you may be able to measure the value that person creates but even there it is difficult: what value does X create on X’s own? How much credit should Y get for helping out or A to W for implementing the ideas that X claims? And how do you value the work of nurses and carers and teachers – and public service employees, even bureaucrats who help our world run more smoothly?

The paradigm for executive pay is that they are paid to match the world market, to attract talent so that they can maximise value for shareholders. I wonder how much of the current outcry and debate arises because firstly, people don’t think that shareholders are the only people whose value should be maximised; and, secondly, because so many people work for bosses who are not good leaders or even good managers so the question arises: why are they paid that much money to make that sort of a mess of things? I could do it that badly!

Finally, I am struck by the contrast between the justifications of bankers and senior businessmen, saying that to drive growth, development and high performance we need to be willing to pay large reward the leaders of industry, and the wise sayings of management coaches and business leaders of all kinds (Steve Jobs was one recent example) who say: find what you love to do, what intrinsically motivates you to strive and work hard; don’t look for proxy rewards like money! Which is right?

Confused, of Islington! 🙂