A Wife’s Income—Is It Worth the Cost?
“WHEN I was home all day,” one working wife recalled, “I used to keep our home so clean that I used to have to find things to do around the house. I was so picky. For instance, we had this shag carpet in our living room, and if someone walked over it, I would rake it afterward so that the strands would stand up just right.” She adds with a laugh, “But I’m not that way now that I’m working.” Her husband, though, is perhaps not so amused. Somewhat wistfully he adds, “Well, when your shag carpet is ‘standing up,’ it really does look nice.”
This little exchange illustrates a point Professor William Michelson made in his extensive study of working women:a While many a wife can juggle a job and home duties, her doing so nevertheless “entails trade-offs and costs.” The above couple learned that a working wife simply may not have the time—or energy—to devote to the home that she had as a full-time housewife. And for some this is a very costly trade-off.
Many women frankly find great satisfaction in providing their families a clean home and tasty meals. And rightly so, for the Bible commends the “capable wife” who is diligently “watching over the goings-on of her household.” (Proverbs 31:10, 27) As one woman said, ‘When I make something that is nice for supper or take some extra time to do something for my family, and my 15-year-old says, “Mom, you really outdid yourself,” that is so much better, that is worth so much more, than a raise from any job or any profession that anybody could give me. That feeling is terrific.’ So both wife and family may feel a sense of loss if she has to go to work.
Marital strain might be another work expense. Wives often resent having to bear an unfair share of the housework. Husbands may likewise resent being asked to help. Some even complain, as did one husband: “I feel left out a lot of the time. She comes home tired and upset. She’s always busy with the children. We don’t share enough together. I appreciate that she had to do what she’s doing, but that doesn’t make me feel any happier about it.” Work fatigue can even hinder a couple’s enjoyment of marital intimacies.—1 Corinthians 7:3-5.
Another costly trade-off is pointed to by one husband who said: “You trade off being there for the kids. Our kids beat my wife home by a couple of hours. They aren’t left alone, though, because their grandmother is there with them. But my wife does lose those hours with them. And she could accomplish so much with them by way of training if she was just there.” Not all working couples, though, have a grandmother or a friend who can care for their children. Adequate day-care services are often hard to find—and costly. Newsweek magazine therefore reported “an explosion in the number of children who spend at least part of every weekday without any adult supervision.”
No wonder, then, that in a recent survey of over 200,000 Americans (57 percent of whom were dual-income families), 69 percent felt that a wife’s working had “a detrimental effect on family” life.
Needs Versus Wants
Of course, a wife’s working doesn’t always have dire consequences. Many couples do admirably in caring for their jobs, home, and children. Still, a couple may be uneasy about the wife’s working, feeling it is causing problems for the family. If such is the case, please recall the advice Jesus gave at Luke 14:28: COUNT THE COST!
In short, this means taking a hard look at one’s financial situation and then weighing the pros and cons of the wife’s working. Does it really take two incomes to cover the basic needs—modest housing, nutritious food, adequate clothing, and so forth? Or does a second income simply allow more wants—frills such as lavish housing, restaurant meals, entertainment, or stylish clothing?
Many couples simply do not know the difference between needs and wants. And what results? Says the book The Individual, Marriage, and the Family: “Inevitably, families who have incomes of $12,000 per year believe that if they earned but $4,000 more their financial needs would be satisfied, while families with incomes of $16,000 feel themselves just as economically oppressed as those earning $12,000 and are convinced that if they were earning $20,000 they would be satisfied. Incomes of $20,000, $40,000, and even $60,000 still do not seem to provide enough money for the family to do everything it wants; for as income increases, the family’s perceived needs and its spending increase even faster, so that high-income families are often in deeper debt than medium-income families, who are more in debt than low-income families.”
A survey conducted by the magazine Psychology Today similarly revealed “that those who are most satisfied with their financial situation are not necessarily those with the highest income . . . Inflation is, then, partly in the eye of the beholder.”
Working for elusive wants is therefore like walking a treadmill. King Solomon said: “I have noticed something else in life that is useless. Here is a man who lives alone. He has no son, no brother, yet he is always working, never satisfied with the wealth he has. For whom is he working so hard and denying himself any pleasure? This is useless, too—and a miserable way to live.” (Ecclesiastes 4:7, 8, Today’s English Version; italics ours.) How much income, then, should a family strive to earn? The Bible gives this helpful rule of thumb: “So, having sustenance and covering, we shall be content with these things.”—1 Timothy 6:8.
“Sustenance and covering” means neither all the latest conveniences nor abject poverty. (Compare Proverbs 30:8.) So we need not conclude that the man who can afford a nice home or television is necessarily a rank materialist. A problem does arise, though, when couples strive to own such things at the expense of marital satisfaction, their spirituality, or the spirituality of their children. When extra cash is this costly, a couple should start to ask themselves if it is really worth it.
Many have concluded that it simply isn’t. Free-lance writer Christine Davidson, for example, decided she had ‘had it’ with trying to care for a job and a family. Quitting her teaching job has meant less family income. “We’re broke—all the time,” she says. “We cannot pay a small bill and buy our children sneakers the same week. But it’s OK because I can give my kids something else now. I have stopped saying, ‘No, not this afternoon, I have to work’ or ‘No, not now, I’m too tired.’” Could it be that the added attention she can now give her children is worth more than a paycheck?
‘More Than Making Beds and Cooking’
Of course, not all wives can just up and quit their jobs. And some even say they’d feel bored or “unfulfilled” if they had to be home all day. Said one working wife: “I need more in my life than making beds and cooking.”
Such ones, therefore, might consider part-time work. Professor William Michelson observed that part-time work not only provides extra income but also “enables women to arrange their various responsibilities more easily . . . with less time pressure and tension in the process and advantages for taking care of children.” Some imaginative women are even starting successful business enterprises that allow them to earn money at home. (See below.)
However, the thirst for “fulfillment” will never be fully quenched by either housework or secular work. Jesus said: “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need.” (Matthew 5:3) It is only when this need is cared for that a woman or a man feels truly complete. Many Christian women therefore welcome the chance to be free from secular work so that they can have a fuller share in serving God. Among Jehovah’s Witnesses, some are even able to do this by spending up to 60 or even 90 hours a month teaching the Bible to others. This challenging work brings them a feeling of fulfillment that no secular job could ever provide!
Make the Best of Your Situation!
Each family, though, must decide what will work best for it. The interviews starting on the following page show how two couples—who are Jehovah’s Witnesses—reached quite different conclusions due to completely different circumstances. So it would be wrong to pass judgment on the decisions of others in this regard or to make unfair comparisons.—Romans 14:4.
Today’s economic realities may leave many couples little choice but to have two incomes. Yet the challenges working couples face are not at all insurmountable. (The February 8, 1985, issue of this journal showed how Bible principles can help working couples.) And since the Bible commands Christians to ‘provide for their own,’ there is no reason for one to be burdened with guilt simply because it takes two incomes to do so.—1 Timothy 5:8.
Granted, the situation of today’s working wife is not ideal. But, then, neither is the situation of the working father. His job, too, separates him from his family for hours at a time. So for ideal conditions we must await God’s New Order promised in the Scriptures. (2 Peter 3:13) There, satisfying work will occupy the entire human race. (Isaiah 65:21-23) No longer will couples have to struggle to provide for their families. For God promises an abundance of good things—physically and spiritually—for those blessed with life at that time.—Isaiah 25:6.
But in the meantime, do not allow yourself to be consumed by the anxieties of life and the pressures of making a living. ‘Buy out time’ for your mate and for your children. (Ephesians 5:16) Never be so busy that you do not have time to worship together as a family. During these pressure-filled days, the wise thing to do is to focus your efforts on laying “a fine foundation for the future, in order that [you] may get a firm hold on the real life.”—1 Timothy 6:19.
a The Logistics of Maternal Employment: Implications for Women and Their Families—University of Toronto.
[Box/Picture on page 5]
Less financial strain Less time for housework
Wife has opportunity to
get out of the house Less time with children
Husband works less overtime Additional taxes
Wife utilizes job skills Possible marital strain
Will be able to afford extras Additional costs such as
[Pictures on page 6, 7]
Are the benefits of a job worth sacrificing time with your family?
[Picture on page 9]
Two-income families still need to make time for family study