Monday 24 July 2017

The economic policies of lust and housework

A new book supports the unromantic idea of marriage as a business, with attendant needs, writes Carol Hunt

IT'S doubtful that when Adam Smith came up with his now infamous pin-factory example about the merits of the 'division of labour', he meant it to be applied to marriages. He was, after all, a bachelor who lived with his mother; it seems unlikely that he was forced to make beds, wash clothes and clear up after the kids' breakfast before he could turn his attention to The Wealth of Nations.

But, at the risk of appearing to be unromantic, it has to be admitted that marriage -- in particular the family life that usually follows -- is the oldest pin factory of all; the place where the division of labour by gender was devised. Men hunted, women gathered. Then, with the advent of commerce, men became the breadwinners, women the child-minders, cooks and cleaners. By the mid-Sixties, the vast majority of Western wives worked approximately 50-plus hours within the home while their husbands did similar hours outside. There was rarely any crossover of duties.

It was division of labour along sexually lopsided lines, and it placed men squarely in control of finances -- and consequently everything else -- but as a basic business arrangement, it worked. Wives may have been powerless and often miserable, but divorce rates were relatively low. Then suddenly it stopped working. Why?

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