Should a Woman Work . . . or Not?
TRADITIONALLY the woman’s place has been in the home, not working at a job outside. In the past there was plenty for her to do at home, as it was said: “A man works from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done.”
Some argue that women still belong in the home, although in many places the situation has changed dramatically. For example, in over 47 percent of the marriages in the United States, both the husband and the wife hold a job.
Even those wives who have children often work. In fact, in the U.S. nearly half the wives with children under age eighteen have a job. And about a third who have preschool children are working at outside jobs. Commonly now day-care nurseries look after the young.
Pointing to the tremendous change, the U.S. Labor Department reports: “The concept of a family where the husband is the only breadwinner, the wife is a homemaker out of the labor force and there are children may be a useful one for many illustrative purposes, but it does not represent the typical American family of the mid-1970’s.”
Is this situation desirable? Is it best that a woman hold a job? What if she is married and has children?
When Working May Be Necessary
Many women today need to work outside the home. For example, millions are divorced or separated from their husbands; some have children to support. Holding a job may be the only way that they can meet living expenses. Many other women are single, perhaps waiting to marry, and these often must hold a job to support themselves. But what about women who have husbands and, perhaps, children?
With skyrocketing inflation, many of these, too, may need to work. The husband may be unable to make an adequate wage to support his family. (Jas. 5:4) So his wife might be called on to take a job outside the home. But are many families today really in need of two wage earners?
Some persons think so. In 1970, according to a U.S. Public Affairs pamphlet: “About 21 million women were working because they and their families needed the money to live on, for food, clothing, and housing.” The writer added: “These figures ought to demolish the myth, still believed by some persons, that a significant number of women in this country work only because they like to work or because they want extra money.”
No doubt some mothers with children, even those with a husband as well, need to work in order to help to meet living expenses. And what these married women do is in keeping with God’s purpose that a wife be a “helper” to her husband. (Gen. 2:18) But a serious question that the husband and wife should consider together—especially if they have children—is whether the wife really has to work outside the home.
Do Mothers Really Need to Work?
This is indeed an important question, because children need their mothers much more than many realize. Our Creator made women so that they could bear children. But he did more. He also instituted marriage and the family arrangement, equipping mothers to nurse and give the young the tender care that they really need. (Matt. 19:4-6; 1 Thess. 2:7) If husbands and wives fully appreciated this, perhaps they would adjust their way of living so that the mother could be at home with the children.
One young woman, looking back, feels strongly that she would gladly have done with fewer material things if she could have had her mother’s closer guidance and association. The woman explains:
“After I left home I roomed for a while with a girl who was raised in a much poorer home, and she really taught me the difference between what you really need and what you think you need. She was happy on beans and tortillas and secondhand clothes. I was not used to that. She taught me to be more thrifty and made me realize that my family spent more money than we really needed to.
“Maybe if we had been satisfied with less in a material way, my mother could have stayed in the home. Two of my sisters got into serious trouble—one took drugs. I just keep wondering: What if someone had been at home to know what my sister was doing? These kids are exposed to the world all day in school. How can parents counteract all of that if they’re not home to talk with them in a natural way while doing things together, like baking or whatever?”
This is something for parents to think about seriously. More children are getting into trouble these days, and no doubt a big contributing factor is that their mothers are away from home working. One woman, who had an interesting job as a journalist, explains: “I wasn’t a militant feminist, but I had bought the woman’s movement line that any job was more important than taking care of children. It was supposed to be drudgery.” Nevertheless, this woman quit her job to care for her son and, after a period of adjustment, now prefers being a housewife.
Although not all mothers may be able to quit working entirely, perhaps they can compromise and obtain part-time work. In this way they may only be away from home when the youngsters are at school. It is suggested that women looking for part-time work try small companies, nonprofit organizations, banks, stores, tax-preparation firms, temporary agencies, and any company that hires large numbers of women.
Deciding What to Do
Does this mean that if a wife does not have children she should get a job outside the home if she so desires? Not necessarily. It is a matter that couples need to work out between them. Some men resent their wives holding a job, preferring to be the sole wage earner for the family. It may be important to them that their wives care well for their home, which generally precludes holding a full-time job.
One woman, who had gone to work after the children grew up, had such a husband. She explains: “I realized the situation was irritating him. We’d been married too many years for me to be blind to it. And then we talked about it and I just had to sift it all out. Was this job just an ego trip for me? I had to pay day-help almost as much as I was making, so it didn’t make much sense financially. . . . I wasn’t resentful about giving up my job. Hal needs a lot of backing—who doesn’t—to carry the load he does.”
But why do so many women feel unfulfilled unless they hold a job? Modern propaganda is largely responsible. As noted earlier, homemaking has lost status or prestige in the eyes of the world. A housewife is often viewed as a person not smart enough to get a job. But this is wrong; it takes real skill to be a good homemaker.
Just think for a moment: A wife must combine the talents of an interior decorator, teacher, secretary, nurse, maid, laundress and cook! Speaking of “the intricacies of keeping house,” one authority says: “It is without question one of the most complicated and many-sided operations one person is ever expected to handle.” Husbands who have had to manage the household in an emergency appreciate that doing a good job of it is no easy task.
Yet, wives need to be reassured that their work in the home is truly appreciated and is important. As one woman said: “When you’re home all the time you keep mumbling: ‘I’m a worthwhile person.’ But there’s nobody to say, ‘Sure, you are.’” So a good husband, especially today, wisely praises his wife for her work in keeping the home a clean, comfortable place to which to come home. And that managing a home is no easy job is evident from the lengthy Bible description of the work of a good wife.—Prov. 31:10-31.
Obviously times have changed; circumstances are somewhat different from what they were in the past, requiring more women to work outside the home. Nevertheless, when the Scriptural encouragement is heeded for women to be “workers at home,” a more stable, happier family life is likely to be enjoyed.—Titus 2:3-5.