Should Wives Work Outside the Home?

Should Wives Work Outside the Home? November 2, 2015

The question of whether women should work outside the home confuses a lot of people. A recent twitter conversation made this clear. A friend put this question to me and seemed to expect a simple yes or no, the kind of response suited to a 140-character medium. But, simple answers to questions that already inspire confusion rarely do more than increase people’s perplexity.

To answer this question well, we first have to look at what kind of question it is. The “should” causes all the trouble. The problem is that “should” can indicate two kinds of queries: questions of morality and questions of prudence. The first category relates to questions about what kinds of actions fit within the set of moral injunctions that embody our sense of justice, of dignity, of compassion and so on, and which actions violate these.

So, the question, “Should we murder the mailman for fun?” is asking whether the wanton taking of a human life comports with the moral values most human beings intuit, and which our traditions have handed down. Any reasonable person can easily answer “no, we should not murder the mailman” and, in doing so, be a comfort to postal workers everywhere.

“Should” can also indicate questions of prudence. Questions of morality have answers that are binding and absolute. Questions of prudence have answers that change depending on circumstance. Questions of prudence all have an assumed, if unspoken, opening that goes something like, “given the current set of circumstances, should…” Circumstances are irrelevant to questions of morality, but crucial to questions of prudence.

The question of whether wives and mothers should work outside the home is a question of prudence. Because it is a question of prudence, it can’t be answered without some detailed explanation. Failure to distinguish what kind of question this one is has been one source of the confusion that surrounds it.

A second, not unrelated, source of tension has been the tendency on the part of those who offer answers to assume too little freedom or too much. In a society where feminism has made relations between the sexes a battleground, the tendency on both sides has been to dig in and act as if the answer here is clearer than it is.

One side assumes too little flexibility in the way families run. People who think that women’s working outside the home somehow violates a moral law fail to rightly discern the difference between issues of morality and issues of prudence. No doubt, this is often motivated by a punishing anxiety about making mistakes that could damage the family. Yet, confusing these two kinds of questions creates as much or more havoc in the home than a working wife or mother. Just look at Homeschoolers Anonymous for evidence of this.

More people make the opposite mistake. They assume there are no boundaries, that men and women are interchangeable. Feminism has taught people that, if this question should even be considered, anything short of an immediate and enthusiastic “yes” must be regarded with suspicion.

The truth is that our natures create boundaries prudent people heed. The relationship between the sexes is not infinitely flexible. Most women, by their nature, do not want the burden of supporting the family financially. Her working creates complications in the marriage, especially if she outearns her husband. Most women want a husband who leads and earns the lion’s share of the income. In spite of all the shouting to the contrary, most couples are happiest in what Athol Kay calls a “Captain and First Officer” arrangement. In seeking to answer whether the wife should work outside the home, prudent people don’t ignore the given realities of male and female natures.

The context also has to be considered when answering this question. Wives working outside the home is mostly a tragedy. Of course, husbands working outside the home is mostly a tragedy too. Ideally, the family would work together at home to generate its income. Prior to the industrial revolution, this was the default set up for a lot of people, each member of the family pitching in on the farm to keep things in the black.

With the advent of industrialism, came the new pattern of one or both adults leaving the home all day to labor in other places of employment. When we ask if women should work outside the home, we are really asking to what degree should wives and mothers be subjected to the tragedy inherent in the modern economy.

Given these factors, the only blanket answer we can give to the question of whether wives and mothers should work outside the home is “maybe.” In some situations, like when the husband is ill or otherwise incapacitated, the answer is a definite yes. In others, it’s a clear no. If a family is so wealthy a woman does not need to earn an income, there are many more valuable things she should be doing.

Most cases fall in the middle. The middle demands wisdom. Wisdom demands knowing one’s priorities and a commitment to living them out as best as possible in an imperfect world. Families must be honest about the factors involved: their budgets, their expectations of one another, and their motivations. This way no matter who works where, the emphasis remains where it belongs, not on the world outside, but on the one at home.


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  • John Johanson

    Really interesting article. I’m impressed with how you broke down the topic into a question of prudence, which really is the intelligent way to look at this matter. Unfortunately, SJW’s and feminist’s insist on anti-intelligence and emotions.

    I have yet to come across a woman that actually wanted to work outside the home after about the age of 30. All of them looked forward to being able to have babies and stay at home with them. It is important to note that this was in liberal, blue cities, so it is not society telling them they should do this but rather a biological urge. They might want the opportunity available to them to work when they are 22, but it is just the opportunity they care about, as they eventually lose interest and begin responding to their biological impulses.

    The only reason I did not marry one of these women and form a family was because they had no domestic skills. This is where our culture and society are really harming women and children. Intelligent men are not going to commit themselves to a woman that has no ability to create a nice and harmonious home. If an intelligent man is going to have to eat out, order delivery, eat processed frozen food, or simply cook most meals himself, why would he agree to support another person in his household that essentially does nothing but chase his kids around? If he has to clean the house and do his own laundry, why wouldn’t he just hire a maid?

    Some men get hooked into this bad deal simply because they like having sex available to them on a regular basis. But many men realize that sex with the same woman loses its appeal pretty fast. Moreover, most women in our culture lose their sex appeal quickly after having a child or two because the media and cultural messaging not only tells them it is OK to get fat but actually encourages it. And, even if a married man is still attracted to his wife 10 years later, most women lose their interest in sex with their husbands soon after having a couple of kids. The trade-off used to be that, while many of these negative things would happen, at least women knew how make a home and cook. Today’s women have no clue because they were told not to learn these things.

    And, so, it really comes down to a question of prudence. That question of prudence goes back much further in the life of a woman than when she is of working and baby rearing age. If prudence were involved, girls would be taught beginning a young age again about domestic skills. They would be encouraged to search for marriage at their maximum sexual appeal, which is somewhere between 16 and 24. They would be encouraged to have children when their bodies’ are best equipped to have healthy children, which is before they turn 30. Finally, they would be encouraged to use the domestic skills they spent their life learning in order to create the best possible nurturing environment for their children. One of the good consequences of such life choices would be that their man would stick around and support her and the children because his home surrouned by family would be worth living in.

    But, alas, the West has given up on these obvious things. The only way to maintain population in devastated blue cities is to import immigrants, whether legal or illegal. This is being done even with immigrants from cultures that hate our most basic values, thus guaranteeing the eventual demise of our civilization. As you can see, bad choices made with young women eventually ruins and entire society.

    Enjoy the decline.

  • Dean

    Thanks for the comment, John. Yes, so many of these issues tie together and require a great deal of wisdom to suss out.

  • Real Man

    Yes. The reason is “making a home” doesn’t require the labor it used to unless she’s running a farm. I see no reason why a grown adult should live off another adult’s hard earned income. Of course when the kids are babies, that’s another story. But after they go to school, definitely she should go back to work.

    Kids today do not appreciate a stay at home mom anyway. And the moms I know staying at home clean up after their kids instead of delegating chores. And no, those kids do not appreciate having their laundry done by mom at the advanced age of 14.

    The kids with working moms learn to take responsibility for their messes much earlier.

    Unless she’s homeschooling and/or running a farm, I don’t see any reason why a wife should stay home.

  • Vintage

    Also, if having a wife, who works for another man…..does that not defeat the purpose of…having a wife…no? ~Z @Zacorbett

    Not my comment, but copy and pasted.