Phi Beta Cons

Family Wage

Lisa Schiffren mentions at the Corner the idea of a “family wage,” which evidently some Catholic social theorists and marriage-and-family theorists are still advancing, and good for them.  Although she looks at the idea favorably, Lisa suggests that it is unworkable because contrary to the principle that the free market should set wages.  But if I’m not mistaken, we had the family wage here in America for decades, at least unofficially, and it was the reason that many who grew up in working class families years ago had the same kind of family arrangement as higher-income people, built around a breadwinning father and a homemaking mother.  No one in those days decried it as being against the free market, as far as I know, because it was something that placed a priority on care of children and mothers being able to stay at home and fathers as heads of families.  Market principles are only one of the ways by which a society allows itself to be guided. 
The idea of the family wage also produced a more egalitarian society in a good way, with less polarization between rich and poor and more of a common experience for all, and it did this not through redistribution but by emphasizing work and the importance of fathers.  (Don’t worry — the rich still had plenty, although that was perhaps less conspicuous than it is today.)   
Also, as soon as mothers began to work in large numbers, the prices of everything went up, as a real estate agent in Westchester County explained to me, making it more necessary for a family to have two incomes to afford what one income once bought.  


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