THE TWO-PAYCHECK marriage may be the precursor of a new American revolution, casting away familiar customs, rituals and traditions. But how sweeping that change will be, as explored in two new books, depends on whose hand directs the broom.
Caroline Bird, feminist author of Born Female , argues in The Two-Poucheck Marriage that "enough women are now earning enough money to change the terms of both family and work." and tells us how this happened. Francine S. Hall and Douglas T. Hall, specialists in organizational behavior, tell in The Two-Career Couple how working husbands and wives can best confront career conflicts to resolve them in a way that lets both sides win.
Both books are useful compendiums of white, blue and pink-collar statistics which deal with this growing part of the work force; the Halls estimate that between 23 and 30 million couples earn two paychecks. These books are rich in anecdotes of the stresses and stretch marks of those work-and-run couples, solid evidence to buttress feminist argument. Both books acknowledge that many people work from economic necessity, that burdens of home and workplace lie most heavily upon low-income women.
Unfortunately, the books speak primarily to middle-class husbands and wives who have absorbed the attitudes of affluence in a psychological society where "life style" and "self-actualization" have become the motivations and standards of a new psychology of work.
The Halls credit the crockpot and the Pill with emancipating women. As an ethical guideline, they offer what might be called the Gold-Plate Rule: Give unto others 60 percent, expect a 40 percent return. When the gold plate tranishes, they suggest ways to polish, bend, or break it. Their how-to-do-it strategies chart domestic campaigns ranging from making soup to making love, for converting self-interests to mutual satisfactions.
Caroline Bird's book is more ambitious by far. She collates the sociological, psychological and economic histories of the two-paycheck families; cool assessments of the child-care crisis, changing sex-and-power alignments, and child-bearing timetables; experiments of "lifestyle pioneers" who are lrying to balance demands of family and career, and a far-out feminist vision of the future. But she gives only cursory recognition to women who prefer the tradition roles, and astute reporting is undermined by a furry vision of Utopia.
Her research into the financial assets of the working wife are prodigious.By the early '70s, about half of the unemployed husbands were married to women whose earnings bought not only groceries, but health insurance and installment-plan refrigerators and washing machines. During 1973 and 1974, the real purchasing power of the single-earner family dropped 3 percent, compared to only 1 percent for two-paycheck families. Working wives liad lifted millions of families into the middle class, up to a median income of $18,705 by 1977.
She catalogues the singular concerns of married women who work: The wife cleans the house and cares for the children more often than her husband, even when she earns as much or more; private and public accounting assigns his dollars more power than hers, and most chilling of all, the chances of her marriage dissolving rise 2 percent for every additional $1,000 she earns.
Bird's limitations lie in attitude and analysis. Women are divided "not so much on class lines as between the homemakers led by Stop ERA, 'Right-to-Life' forces [on one side] and the employed women [on the other]." But at a time when the ERA may be mortally wounded; when Ms. magazine, which sees itself as the voice of a broad-based feminism, illustrates the status of working women with a cover story on Jackie Onassis, editor, who does her own "Xeroxing" and telephoning on a salary of only $10,000 a year, a persuasive feminist philosophy requires careful nonjudgmental distinctions that do, indeed, consider class, opportunity, and traditional values. Also, not here.
She gilds by ugly association, meanly casting together the Ku Klux Klan, the John Birch Society, and fundamentalist Christian churches as opposition to ERA, abortion rights, affirmative action, and government day-care centers. She draws no careful distinctions of motives, suggesting that fundamentalist Christian believe as Klansmen believe. Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter, born-again Southern Baptists and dedicated lobbysists for the ERA, come quickly to mind as two obvious exceptions. Her rhetoric mirrors that of those on the right who disdain these issues as the concerns only of lesbians, leftists and Jews.
Finally, she gives us her future where a paternalistic government makes rough places smooth, "a scenario for parentry" in which parents of young babies, if they promise to "parent equally" (italics mine), live together dormitory style, in a leid-back campus society where almost no one must work full-time.
Her "most probable future" is one in which few women have babies, femininity is discarded as an "artifact of powerlessnes," the relationship between men and women become more "male," romance is an anachronism, marriage is a negotiated contract, and families are mutual-interest groups without blood ties. Cooking survives as a hobby. The therapeutic society thrives, as growing numbers of adults with no family or other supporting relationships require nurturing by outsiders. "Only those passionately inter-ested in relating to children will undertake the formidable task of parenting"; neighborhoods are prey to vandals during the day because everyone is away at work, and additional policemen are rquired to patrol streets bereft of children.
Caroline Bird's feminist vision of the future is a baleful echo of Phyllis Schlafly's rodomontade at the Washington "celebration" of the expiration of the original deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. "The women's lib movement is going to self-destruct because they are not going to have any babies," exulted the doyennne of everything the feminists say they are trying to change, "and if they do have [babies] they won't take care of them, so our children will be the ones who are well cared-for and well-adjusted."