The Glass Ceiling Revisited

After seeing this article from Dealbreaker, I felt that I had to bring out a very old piece of mine.

In late 1997, Gene Epstein of Barron’s wrote an article called “Low Ceiling.” I wrote a letter to the editor:

To the Editor
The “Glass Ceiling” will always exist for women — and men, for that matter — who are principled enough to care for their children. There are jobs that demand so much time that a conscientious parent cannot take them.

Childrearing is aided by at least one parent sacrificing monetary income for the sake of time to spend with the children. It makes a big difference in quality of life, particularly for the children. The main determinant of a child’s future success is parental input. Without that parental effort, which is economically unprofitable in the short run, the future is not as economically bright, nor as friendly.

Perhaps it should not surprise us that standard educational achievement scores have dropped as the incidence of two-income families has risen. The pattern goes back for centuries. Wealthy parents get so busy that they cannot raise their children, so they hand the kids off to those who are often far less capable. It is no surprise that their familial wealth rarely lasts past the third generation.

DAVID J. MERKEL
Aston, Pennsylvania

I have worked with many bright, capable women in the workplace, some in the firm that I worked for, and some outside.  Most of them wanted a family and productive work, as I did, which often led to lasting friendships.  But it cuts against advancement in the workplace, which tends to go to men, and the few women who are willing to sacrifice their families for material advancement.

Women have it worse than dedicated men, because they have to bear the children, and that involves unavoidable pains and delays, and considerably more guilt feelings over whether they are doing it right for their children.  Men in general don’t have those doubts.

I have turned down jobs that would take me away from my family, and as a result, I am less wealthy.  I don’t care — my wife and kids are happy, in general, and that is what counts.  Though I love writing about economics and finance, I am not a slave to greed, and that enables me to be happier than many in my field.

We also have to recognize that good men and women are both similar and different.  Similar, in that they care for their families.   Different, in that children require care that differs for each sex.  Fathers can’t nurse, and aren’t as compassionate, on average.  They are also better at dealing with boys as they age.  Women are better with the girls as they age, and better at the early nurture — I changed my share of diapers, but most men are clueless with little kids.

I leave this possibly controversial piece here — children need care, and parents need to provide it.  That will inhibit your careers, but leave you qualitatively richer in the long run.  I am happy with the sacrifices that I have made for the good of my wife and children.