Economics is about trade-offs, and one of the central trade-off of life is that between achieving at work and enjoying the life that achievement makes possible. To some high achievers, there is no trade-off: the professional success is reward itself. And an individual's willingness to take on additional tasks, including covering for colleagues who have a day-care pickup or a Little League game to attend, might be a signal of responsibility and perhaps of ambition. To Elinor Burkett, however, that signal is a manifestation of workplace abuse. Thus we have The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless. Book Review No. 26 suggests we have a polemic, and a not-necessarily well-argued polemic at that. Ms Burkett has a long history in feminist circles, and parts of her book read more like an attempt to settle scores therein, rather than mount a coherent public policy argument. Yes, there might be unattached or child-free workers who receive more than their share of burdensome assignments in order that parents can get away on time, and some of those workers might resent it. More likely, though, such workers are signalling their ambition, or perhaps putting away a reserve in anticipation of being able to support a family, or a retirement hobby, or fund a business in the future. And yes, policies that protect family leaves in the workplace do little for the working poor or the long-term welfare recipient. On the other hand, Baby Boon strongly suggests that the women who rise to high corporate rank are less likely to have children, and it notes that career men have long had to neglect their home life in order to rise. And it ought come as no surprise to any reader with an academic career that a tenured post at a highly-regarded university might be destructive of one's home life. But nowhere in this book, which is now a teenager, is there any anticipation of what has actually transpired since its publication. Ambitious people, whether with children or not, are looking to scale back the demands of their work, and we note again that once President Obama ceases to do for the economic recovery what the Brewer long-relievers have been doing for the pennant chase, the separation statistics are not likely to favor the all-work-all-the-time employers.
(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)