Featured Social Entrepreneur: Ernesto Elsisura Jr

“The reasons behind the popularity of social entrepreneurship are many. On the most basic level, there’s something inherently interesting and appealing about entrepreneurs and the stories of why and how they do what they do. People are attracted to social entrepreneurs like… Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus for many of the same reasons that they find business entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs so compelling – these extraordinary people come up with brilliant ideas and against all the odds succeed at creating new products and services that dramatically improve people’s lives.

– Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition (Stanford Social Innovation Review)

Etu. EE. E-squared. Ernesto Elsisura. Entrepreneur Extraordinaire.

The last time I saw him, everybody knew him by his Christian name, Ernesto. 16 years later, he is now more referred to as Etu: Etu the person and ETU the brand. More specifically this 32-year old (young) businessman is the proud owner and Director of ETU Exams &Training Unlimited, a regionally-acclaimed review center for Nursing and English licensure exams (Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental).

A registered nurse (both in the Philippines and in the U.S.A.) and a licensed professor of Biology and Teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), this fellow has spent more than 1/3 of his lifetime teaching.

Who would think that the boy who was once confused about how to find his place, will eventually become the man to help others establish themselves around the globe? All the while loving it, enjoying it AND getting paid for it. Ernesto does sound like he is living a dream come true because, how many of us have dreamt of finding that ideal job? How long have we spent planning and trying to come up with ways to land on that livelihood that fulfills us both materialistically and spiritually? But let’s be honest, one does not build a review center and becomes widely recognized in less than a decade without “working like a horse”. This guy has a lot on his plate: he literally works from dawn till way past dusk, 6 days a week… and on the 7th day? No, he does not rest. I’m not even sure when the last time he took a vacation was. For some people, passion knows neither pause nor break.

Believe it or not on Sundays (his only free day), he actually assists his students in their university or college entry in the UK, USA, NZ and Australia- free of charge! But he will always have time for coffee and chitchat with his favorite people. And to check the Philippine Stock Equity Index every now and then.

I really find it funny because I asked him to choose a random sentence that says something about him. I could’ve sworn it would be: “I’m a fan of purchasing life insurances that are linked to money market investments and I check good buys online on available local real estate.” Is there anything more random than that? Well, according to him more random is the fact that he is “one lucky individual!”

However as we all know, no amount of luck is enough to succeed. Everything comes with a price which for him was the difficult start of his enterprise, the uphill battle against himself and the society’s expectation*, plus an acute case of burn-out syndrome. Now this enterprise is currently changing not only his life, but the lives of his clients and their families as well.

Speaking of which, he is adamant in saying that his family is his number 1 inspiration- his strongest tool in turning a vision into reality. His ambitions are also fueled by his search for happiness and stability- his most effective shield against increasing competition. Though for someone who knows him personally, it’s safe to say that his hard-headedness is surely doing a lot more for his success and his business’ survival.

Not sure about how long he will be playing in the field, his vocation took over and says he will be around, “for as long as there is a demand for my service and that I am still happy and satisfied with what I am currently doing”.

One thing’s for sure, though- he doesn’t see himself very far from teaching or academics for that matter. In his own words he thinks he’d “… be a good teacher in a university here in the Philippines while enjoying a year break every two years, completing further studies and spending holiday breaks at the same time”. Ah, if only your high school teachers could hear you Ernesto…!

Dear reader, I am happy to present Ernesto Elsisura, Jr.; but before proceeding to the interview proper, allow me to thank him earnestly (no pun intended!) for taking the time to share with Colorfulifesite blog. I hope you learn as much as I did!

K: Exactly what do you do? How did you come up with your business idea?

E: I manage my own review center for Nursing and English licensure exams. I am a licensed nurse in the Philippines and in the USA, a registered biology teacher in the Philippines and a licensed TESOL (Teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages). So to make use of all these, I thought, why not turn these investments into something that’s worthwhile?

K: Where did you get your capital?

E: To be honest, I am a product of people’s generosity. I started doing tutorials in Starbucks and wherever a table is available in a cafe wherever. It all started with a group of mature students who gave me a career break. They independently organized a group and availed for my tutorial service. I was able to gather few thousands. I was amazed!

Another client passed his IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and he offered me his office space for free. Not to mention there were already air conditioning units! It felt even more amazing! Currently, I am still operating in the same office, but I’m already renting.

K: What can you say about your brand? Pretty original one, by the way…

E: The reason behind the business name ETU Exams & Training Unlimited is because in the past, when my former students were asked as to where they were reviewing, they would just say “At ETU”. The others would never understand that ETU was actually my (nick) name so I decided to just use it as the final business name, instead.

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K: How hard/easy is it to start a business in Cagayan de Oro City? (establishing logistics, permits, clientele, etc…)

E: Cagayan de Oro has the best nursing schools in the Philippines. That would mean that the competition among review centers here is really tough. It is not easy to make sure that the people helping you out in the business are honest and sincere and so, I decided that only family members could actually be in the operations.

To get permits isn’t really a problem in CDO, the local government constantly conducts one-stop agency where businesses could actually procure necessary papers. We are well informed and their advocacy of legitimizing businesses is really sound.

K: What was the toughest lesson you learned during that “starting” stage?

E: The core marketing strategy of the business I personally handle is ‘no marketing’ marketing style. I let former and currently enrolled student endorse me, should they be satisfied with our service. I think it works well that the business treats every client as an individual, and not just a part of the group.

K: What was your first success that made you decide to go on with the trade?

E: We produced an outstanding passing percentage and a national exam top-notcher. We also became Mindanao’s 2nd IELTS Agent as cited by IDP Australia.

(PAUSE FOR RESPECT)

K: What was your biggest failure/mistake that almost made you back out?

E: I was 22-23 when I started to work seriously. There came a point where I really experienced burnout. After graduation, I underwent non-stop examination, sat a series of training and seminars, vis-a-vis serious work. Whenever I devote (myself) on something, like work, I make it sure that I am prudently focused that I give my whole day and night, compromising holistic balance, which eventually resulted to complete burn out.

Simply put, it was my mistake not to balance my time for work and rest during the first few months of the business.

K: How is the competition?

E: Getting tougher every single year. What makes it exciting though is that age is an investment in the field of business and academe, so as the years passed by, the degree of competition rose but our number of years in the field also advanced.

K: Good point! Now, how do you establish prices?

E: Ideally, businesses should base it according to demand and competitor’s price but I chose to close my eyes from it.

I started as a personal tutor which usually comes with a higher price tag. I decided to keep the price range higher compared to other centers until present. I think it also depends on the clientele, on the general level. I personally think that customers nowadays are willing to pay a higher price for better quality and personalized service.

Foto de portada

K: Yes, I agree. I think like that.

Tell me, Ernesto: after all that’s been said and done, do you consider yourself successful? Would you have done anything differently?

E: Success is covert, illusive even. I would like to believe I am!

Maybe, I should’ve started the business earlier. That way, I could’ve earned more years and learned more as a sole proprietor, in the field where I’m currently engaged.

K: Good, because you are successful! Well, of all these: what was unexpected?

E: Over and above, the many lives I have changed.

K: How many years have you been in the business? Do you wish to expand?

E: This is my 12th year as a professor, approximately 8-9 years as an entrepreneur.

For the business, to expand is no longer a wish. It can happen as a surprise, maybe. What I wish more is to “expand myself” and gain more experience outside entrepreneurship

K: Lastly, I would like to know what you think is the biggest challenge faced by:

-The young entrepreneurs?

E: By and large, it’s definitely the stigma on the young population’s ‘credibility’ which is usually associated with (lack of) experience. To my way of thinking, though I am not generalizing, the young people definitely have the knowledge and skills acquired from their college years- the paying clients, however, believe that their engagement with the inexperienced entrepreneurs can be a gamble as they haven’t proven anything yet. THIS IS THE GREATEST CHALLENGE I FACED WHEN I STARTED!

-The social entrepreneurship (SE) sector?

E: Regardless of the entrepreneurial creed, SE’s bottomline is advocacy and the social media has really been of gargantuan help. The downside, however, is that consumerism has gone too far and has negatively affected the starting entrepreneurs- delaying, if not repelling, them from becoming their ideal selves as businessmen

-Your students?

E: Majority of my students, whenever I ask what they aspire, would always say the same and it is this- to land on a stable job. I see this as a challenge on my part as their coach as I see this as a future crisis.

 

*The Philippine society still expects high school honor students to finish college, get a 9-5 job, climb the corporate ladder, and settle down and so on…

-the end-

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That Which Contains the Human Capital

When I was in 6th grade, my classmate Ellen S. once told me that according to her grandmother, “There are no ugly people. Only less beautiful ones”. That struck to me as something true and it appealed to my empathic nature. I adopted that philosophy until my adulthood and was happy with that reconciled thought.

The first time my husband heard me say that, he laughed so hard because he thought I was being sarcastic. After a few dates and several encounters with the “less beautiful”, he finally realized that I meant it.

So, what does it mean to be ugly in the realm of human capital?

What is Beauty? What is Ugly?

Beauty, according to sociologist Jean-François Dortier is a debatable topic for all eternity because ugliness is indisputable. Allow me to disagree. The concept of ugliness is just as subjective as that of beauty, making it susceptible to disagreement and justifications. What’s more, if people and societies have a clear idea of what is pleasing to the eye, then they must have an equally decided criteria of what is not. However, he argues, there are constant elements present in every idea of beauty across time and continents. For instance, badly placed teeth, weird spots on the face, grimace-like facial expressions or stains will hardly be found in those considered as canons of beauty.

Dortier, in his article “The Tyranny of Beauty”, says that ugliness in a person is a heavy handicap when brought into the markets of marriage and labor*. I will not disagree. But allow me to focus this post on how physical beauty plays an important role when buying and selling (workforce) in the labor market.

I believe that the idea behind this discrimination is caused by the unthinking mammals in us, who uses its instincts to survive. In the animal kingdom, the ones who are successful in mating are the more beautiful samples of their species. Why? Simply because it denotes HEALTH and thus, STRENGTH. An animal’s only role is to procreate and who better to multiply one’s race if not the best and the most likely to survive of the lot? The equation is easy to infer:

Beauty=Health=Strength=Breed=GOOD

With regards to human capital, somebody who looks good (well-proportioned body, bright eyes, good teeth and pinkish complexion) is certainly a sign of having been well-fed, a smooth skin on the face signifies not much exposure to external or internal stress and of course good grooming is very much attributed to a good upbringing in the family.

The relationship then, is easy to establish: somebody who is properly nourished, who did not experience much stress and who was brought up well must belong to a family with enough resources: resources which sufficed not only to make the person survive, but to develop him into a citizen able to participate in the community. Thus, the better-looking a person is, the higher value is attributed to the talents and capacities he was able to build up through his lifetime. The equation could then be modified into:

Beauty=Health=Learning Ability=Developed Talents=GOOD

Sadly as time passed, this equation has slowly been overly simplified as:

Beauty=GOOD

Sadder still, the concept of goodness has been generalized to being good overall: good worker, good person, good team mate, etc… Only time will prove this notion to be untrue, after all that’s been said and done, spent and consumed- leading to realizations and regrets.

For instance: 13 years ago while spending my summer holidays in the Philippines I overheard a friend complaining to my mother. Apparently in all the job interviews she has been to, the requirement “Must have pleasing personality” was always being equated to “Must be pleasing to the eyes”. In short, the job applicants must respond to a certain beauty standard established by the Human Resources (HR) department.

Now, I admit that for jobs requiring a brand representation or corporate delegation perhaps being easy on the eyes increases sales and improves financial results. I also know that HR staff cannot waste their time interviewing candidates just to check whether they meet the physical requirements they’ve imposed (in those cases where a photo was not included in the resumé). But demanding someone to have a pleasing personality when what they meant was for the candidate to be a certain kind of pretty… is just plain deceiving.

Anyway, who was the authority who declared that a beautiful physique is equal to a pleasing personality? Above all, whose claim made it a fact that a beautiful façade always holds a great talent?

In fact, below is Eduardo Gómez Manzano, famous Spanish actor. He is very well-appreciated in his job. He, along with the other beauty-lacking actors have opened up this generation’s minds and as well as this century’s entertainment industry that talent is not always contained in a lovely package.

Image courtesy of: http://www.fotoshumor.com

Boosted Brands but Talents Trashed

Studies have shown that other job types where no “representation” of the firm is needed, hiring teams still tend to favor beautiful applicants. Again, why? Because it’s good for the company’s image. It boosts the brand. It matters little if another candidate was more competent or skillful- human nature just can’t help but lean towards company that could offer pleasure to its vision.

It’s a pity though, because can you imagine if the Futbol Club Barcelona (FCB) refused to hire Ronaldinho because of his looks? Having said this, can you now picture just how many people lost their opportunity to contribute to an organization’s mission and vision just because they didn’t qualify physically? And can you imagine how much potential is currently being left unused just because of this terribly absurd bias?

I have stopped being a football fan more than a decade ago, but I admire how the sport’s values are consistent to their branding strategy. A football club must be composed of the best players it could hire (pay for) without regards to whether they would look good or bad in front of a camera (although I noticed Ronaldinho seemed to have had something done to his face).

In an ideal world, banks and/or banking groups would hire the brightest analytic minds, research organizations would employ the smartest and most focused among the pool of candidates, schools would choose their teachers according to their capacity to diffuse knowledge and infuse curiosity, shops would enlist salespeople with charm and wit to engage customers, and so on…

This way, demand for a specific qualification would be met by the satisfactory supplier; competition among various suppliers would rise, pushing more and more suppliers of talent/labor/workforce to be better qualified than the rest and prices (salaries) would adjust accordingly.

dream

Image courtesy of: http://www.fastcompany.com

(In the least ideal world, we’ll have what I call “Pippas”. Pippa* was my college teacher in Economic History. Not only is she the opposite of beautiful, she also taught horribly! in short, ugly and incompetent people.)

Ugly ≠ Unkempt but Unkempt = Uninterested

While conducting a very modest research on this subject, I encountered quite a number of online fora exhibiting questions such as, “Are smart people ugly?” or “Why are smart people usually ugly?” (For the sake of simplicity, we shall assume that being smart equates to being competent in any given job.)

As someone who is more appreciated for her smarts, I believe I am at the position to respond. And my answer is that most (not all) smart people find it more important to strengthen their brains than to embellish their physical selves. There are so many books to read, so many people to talk to, so many things to ponder and many, many more things to (literally) take note of that a normal person’s waking hours are not enough**. That is why they make it a point not to “waste” time doing something not so gratifying to them.

The point is: One can be as ugly as far as ugly goes and admittedly, not all can afford cosmetic surgery to modify their genetic legacy. But I believe that a person’s appearance is his presentation card (especially in a job interview!). As such, one cannot care too less because first impressions do last. Besides, in the context of hiring, interviewers would actually imagine themselves working with you, travelling and attending meetings with you and perhaps even having to defend any future blunders you might commit. Do you think they would want to do all those things with a sloppy-looking colleague? Accordingly, one can and must appear neat, pleasant, motivated and ALWAYS COLLABORATIVE. Here’s why…

An Unexpected Twist

According to an article from INSEAD Knowledge, “… the type of expected relationship the decision-maker will have with the new hire is very much a consideration, consciously or not, when selecting candidates for the job.” Although the results of the experiments were more conclusive for men than women, it’s interesting to note that when the hiring personnel perceive that the attractive candidate could be a potential competition (read: could be a threat on their own promotion) the less attractive applicant would be chosen instead.

“Members of the same organisation are often mutually interdependent, for example they may cooperate for shared rewards when they work for the same team, or compete against each other for recognition, promotions, commissions, and bonuses. In many organisations today co-workers are included in the hiring process… Similarly, professors at universities often selected professors they are going to work with. When this occurs, the type of expected relationship the decision-maker will have with the new hire is very much a consideration… ”

A twist within the twist

On the other side of the Atlantic, Debrahlee Lorenzana sued her employers for having fired her because she was “too hot”. Thinking about it and as the Newsweek article pointed out: “isn’t it possible Lorenzana’s looks got her the job in the first place?”

Yet, did you know that some studies even show that attractive women may find it hard to be hired? supposedly if the employers are females, jealousy may arise.

∼sigh∼

Are We Doomed?

I would sincerely like to believe that we are not. Yes, it would take years of education and enlightenment before people get to terms that unattractive people can be competent, good team players, efficient leaders and desirable work mates. However, the diversity of human nature provides for adjustments such as:

  • The belief that beauty automatically translates to competency is compensated with the view that attractive people could deter the employers’ own progress or,
  • That beautiful people are just dumb.

Such absurd conclusions may be the exceptions to the rule, but I would like to believe that there is a balance being struck somewhere.

In a world where being beautiful is being sold as a choice (just Google how many $$$ the cosmetic industry cashes in per month), those who are not might be deemed indifferent or inflexible. But this is the same world where information is the most important resource for production, so it will just be a matter of time before everybody- even the unbeautifuls- find their place in it.

 

*Name was changed
**Personally, I prioritize hygiene but I don’t find it practical nor worth my time to wake up 30 minutes earlier just to apply makeup and fix my hair. I clean, I moisturize, I tie my hair and I brush my teeth. And I smile.

-the end-

 

Now, just because it’s summer in this part of the hemisphere: join me by putting your speaker volumes to MAX and enjoy the un-beautiful BUT DIVINE, JANIS JOPLIN!!!

(THANK GOODNESS THEY WEREN’T TOO SHALLOW BACK THEN)

 Disclaimer: I do not own this video. Video courtesy of Zuzuking Youtube page.

Sources:

  1. “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful”, available at: http://www.economist.com/node/21551535
  2. “The Beauty Advantage: How Looks Affect Your Work, Your Career, Your Life”, by Jessica Bennett, available at: http://europe.newsweek.com/beauty-advantage-how-looks-affect-your-work-your-career-your-life-74313?rm=eu
  3. “The Beauty Premium”, by Schumpeter, available at: http://www.economist.com/blogs/schumpeter/2010/11/good_looks_and_good_jobs
  4. “La Tyrannie de la Beauté”, par Jean-François Dortier, available at: http://www.scienceshumaines.com/la-tyrannie-de-la-beaute_fr_22384.html
  5. “A New Twist to the Beauty Bias”, by Stefan Thau, available at: http://knowledge.insead.edu/talent-management/a-new-twist-to-the-beauty-bias-4004

A Transition

The thesaurus declared:

I am miserable, somber and sad.

So why am I still expected to smile?

I’ve let sorrow carve deep in my heart.

And hoped the void could contain more joy

than it normally holds.

But only tears filled my hollow heart.

Collecting sediments, hardening.

Now I have no more heart.

I feel no more.

I can give no more.

There is nothing but a heavy stone.

 

 

Colorfulifesite responds: Why should I love my job?

The short answer:

Because if you do, your job will find a way to love you back.

The long(er) answer:

This would help you get through the day/s when you have to work for free. Getting up each morning to face an abhorred task is already a struggle. How much worse would it be if you had to leave bed, do the job and then realize you won’t get payment of any kind?

When I say “love”, it could of course range from the way you love the summer breeze to the devotion you have towards your grandmother. As far as jobs go, anything in between should be healthy for you. The only condition is that you have to love it enough so you won’t feel awful when you are required to finish a task outside your working hours and  without receiving any compensation.

And when I say “job”, I refer to the work itself. Anything outside of it such as colleagues, perks, learning experience, etc is not included. You really have to have a certain level of appreciation on what you are carrying out, as well as the chain of effects it has on your business or enterprise.

Finally, when I say “free” I meant a service rendered without charge. Receiving a well-meant “Thank you” doesn’t count.

My experience (which you are free to skip!):

The first time I worked without pay was (gasp!) here in France, while honoring one of the three contracts I signed (Meaning: no extra money nor extra leave was given to recover the hours of work surpassing what’s legally established).

The job was a part-time one where I signed a 3-day per week agreement. Many of my friends joked (?) that what it really meant was I would GET PAID for 3 days a week. Oh, such wise, prophetic words!

True enough, I started reading, replying and writing emails on the days I wasn’t supposed to; I scheduled Skype sessions outside my working hours and I would always make holidays coincide with my non-working days so I wouldn’t miss anything (the working days were specified in the contract, but I was requested to exercise flexibility).

Fairly speaking, I didn’t mind and I still don’t. At that time, I was truly attached to the project’s mission and I could honestly say that the job loved me back: I gained new skills, expanded my horizons and met impressive professionals along the way. Besides, I believed I was making an investment- in the sense that if I showed my bosses how diligent I am, maybe they’d extend my contract. Technically I was working for free, yet in reality I was learning, having fun, and I was convinced I “had to do it” thinking that my future would be somehow guaranteed. (My contract was not renewed. So, “Ha ha!” for me…)

The latest job where I worked for free was for a TV production company. They hired me as a translator from Tagalog to French for some interviews and other videos they shot. Due to my gullibility and irresponsibility, the company got away with paying me only 16 out of the 20 total hours I worked. I told the production staff though that, “…for the remaining 4 hours which you will not pay, I gladly give it to you as a gift. As for me, I shall consider it an act of charity towards your company. Good luck!”

The topic I had to work on was close to my heart; but not close enough for me to love the task. I accepted though, because I wanted to practice French and, I admit, I did it out of vanity. My name is supposed to appear on the credits! (I’m guessing if the job had been to write something- which I absolutely adore- I might have gotten less annoyed)

(Anyway, I found out that the company was only planning to pay me 12 hours. Thus, after having my vanity fed and my pride hurt, I thought, “Look, didn’t you want to practice French? Go after them!” Ooooooohhh! I loved asserting in French… I actually enjoyed writing those demanding emails, talking frankly to the production guy and the reporter to make them see my point shove in their faces how improper their behavior was.)

So the lesson I found/rediscovered here was: Whatever you do, put your heart into the task and if there’s no love at first sight at hand, then LEARN to cultivate fondness towards it.

The Universe in my Arms

Your eyes shine bright

like stars in a moonless night.

Your smile makes me love

what moonbeams are made of.

You beautiful darling

shame even the summer sun shining.

You laugh and it sounds

like the monsoon won’t come.

You babble, you sigh and you scream

with delight. Closing blackholes, creating

planets, galaxies, nebulae. Infinity expands.

You embrace me and I

hold the universe in my arms.

Because not all summer days are sunny

A wasted youth,

a damaged heart

my time in trash

with the dreams I flushed

floating

in a septic tank

 

Some lines are overused

like the promises,

like the varnished truths.

There’s a loaf of bread

forgotten

growing molds.

 

The happy faces in pictures

will not leave the celluloid.

They refuse reality’s glare,

they shy away from your stare.

Content

to hide in a kilobyte.

 

Crippled.

Down.

I lose this round.

Hidden-nomics (3)

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Image courtesy of: http://quotesgram.com

Proverbs 31:10-31

Epilogue: The Wife of Noble Character

10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. 11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. 12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. 13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. 14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. 15 She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants. 16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. 17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. 18 She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. 19 In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. 20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. 21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. 22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. 25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. 27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: 29 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” 30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. 31 Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

 

This is a doubly-hidden one! First because the material (passage) was derived from the Bible, the most widely read book as per the Guinness World Records webpage; but whose content is more acknowledged for its spiritual (and sometimes historical) ideas and not so much for the socio-economic issues it might present.

Second, because the concept of Family Economics has only started to develop (along with mainstream economics) in the 1960’s. In my experience, this branch has always been included in development economics analysis (population control, decisions for migration, Dependency Law, urban and rural development etc…) but I haven’t come across any material speaking solely of the subject. Hence, it occurred to me that this could be a thought-provoking way to discuss it.

Author’s Note: I especially love the selected passage because I felt as if it places woman as a man’s “equal”* in terms of providing, protecting and maintaing a household.

Given the nature of the selected material- where the subject is a wife to a husband- this post will not include single-parent households in the discussion.

The terms “family” and “household” are used indistinctively to maintain simplicity.

The Wife of Noble Character in Family Economics

According to the University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute, “The family is the first and foremost influence on an individual’s success. Family choices about how much to invest in a child’s well-being and education are critical to building a strong, skilled workforce that drives a healthy economy.

The authors of the aforementioned Bible passage must have known this to be a fact. And their message was probably conceived to help guarantee that increase in their population will not only to satisfy their requirement for numbers, but also their need of high-quality citizens. For this aim, they encouraged the building of a strong nation starting from the choice of a virtuous life partner with whom to establish the basic unit of the society- the family.

Below are few of the economics-based perspectives used to examine this part of the Book of Proverbs.

Marriages as firms

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Image courtesy of: https://bearsden.church.scot

In Gary Becker’s “A theory of marriage”, he assumes that marriage occurs only if the future husband and wife could derive an increase in utility or satisfaction because of this new partnership. One way to achieve this (and this is really a simplification) is by considering that men and women hire each other’s work for household production. Becker attributes this to the strict complementarity of their resources (time) wherein no production will be attained if one of the couple’s contribution is nul (0).

The Bible’s ideal wife seems to possess enough common sense and strength in character to be a desirable complement in implementing the “household-building” project. She is described to be one who is capable of work both in and outside the boundaries of the household. Fairly enough, verses 28-31 summon the husband and the children to praise her for all her works.

Although recognition is a wonderful acknowledgement of one’s efforts, practicality still dominates reality. It must be mentioned therefore, that the production of women who are dedicated to homemaking is still not recognized as a contributor to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Now, due to this gap in the valuation of production, feminists argue that where a woman takes on the role of a housewife, she is exploited just as a worker is exploited by a capitalist (in this case, the husband).

The concept of exploitation arises when one party takes advantage of the other; but i) when both are properly rewarded for their production, and ii) both possess a shared authority to decide about resource allocation, no exploitation takes place. In the case of the family, husband and wife will be likewise benefitting from a fair collaboration and the pooling of talents and other scarce resources. So the way I see things is that the perceived exploitation may come from the fact that a housewife is not yet systematically compensated for her long hours of work and dedicated service. This is because as of the moment, her contribution to the family has not been given a monetary value as opposed to the husband’s salary** (thus making it seem that housewives “don’t do as much” for the family when compared with a working husband’s monthly payroll).

Think about how some people pay for services such as babysitting, house-cleaning, pet-walking, gardening, food catering, etc… The service providers are simply specializing in tasks that housewives have to do everyday, and in theory they are in no way exploited because they get a just compensation for the job they render (as prices are set by the markets of babysitting, pet-walking, catering and so on). This logic could be thoroughly applied to the sum of a homemakers’ completed tasks, dismissing a priori the concept of exploitation***.

Division of Labor in the Family

Practically from verses 12-27, the division of labor between husband and wife could be considered quite progressive. The verse has clearly expanded the roles a married woman (and an ideal one, too!) can play in a society: food gatherer, business woman and even an investor! She is also depicted as someone who can perform physical labor and work requiring creativity and imagination.

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How wonderful for women to be considered as an equally able provider and decision-maker in the family as a man! The reality, however displays details that make the difference. Consider a family and career woman who works hard everyday to earn a living and to boost her ambitions: After her working day ends, how often is she expected to do a bigger part of the household chores? “Mostly” would be a good guess (although it must be admitted that this trend is currently changing). It could be because of tradition; or maybe if she has a lower salary, it has been deemed “fair” for her to be in charge of the “affairs of her household”. No matter what the reason, it does seem that a family woman- with or without a paid employment- never stops working. Perhaps after knowing this now, the idea about women’s exploitation (as in, being taken advantage of) in our society is not so dubious anymore.

Decision-making in the family

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The noble-charactered wife is described by the Bible as someone willing and able to allocate resources without mentioning the need of her husband’s permission (which is different from opinion). She is supposed to apply her own criteria to ensure not only that the members of the household are well-provided for, but also to guarantee peace and harmony in the shared space (she provides… portions for her female servants), safety (her lamp does not go out at night), health (When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.) and it goes without saying that she is in charge of the general state of the home (She watches over the affairs of her household).
Again, according to Gary Becker, what the Bible considers a noble wife is the “altruistic” member of the family. That is, someone who takes into account the welfare of the other members of the household, thus benefitting the entire unit. Empirical studies have apparently proven that not all households have at least one altruistic member, but the University of the United Nations shares a theoretical conclusion that shows the opposite:
“Income in the hands of women has effects on household expenditure that differ from those of income in the hands of men (Thomas 1990, 1992; Hoddinot and Haddad 1991; Engle 1993). Income in the hands of women is associated with a larger increase in the share of the household budget devoted to human capital. The inputs and outcomes measuring human capital in various studies have included household services, health and education, leisure and recreation, as well as more quantitative and biological measurements of child height, weight for height, immunizations, survival, and nutrient intake. In theory at least, this finding implies that increases in employment opportunities for women will have a greater positive effect on child welfare (Folbre 1992) than similar increases for men.”

Other interesting findings from the University of United Nations:

  • Actual earning power or economic profitability to the family of women in the current generation influences the allocation of food, health, and educational resources to female children (the next generation).
  • Poor women household heads with low incomes will make great personal sacrifices to achieve favourable child outcomes (Bruce and Lloyd 1992). These studies, however, have been done in societies where such women are highly dependent on their children for future support.

Gender Issues

From an empirical point of view, there exists a great amount of pressure for wives to fit the society’s idea of “Super Woman” or “Super Wife” or “Super Mother”. How often have we judged a fellow woman when she does things differently in her house, with her children, in her relationship with her husband…?

This is not to say that the Bible passage encourages this animosity, but it did mention the additional responsibilities of wives which are: to make sure that she keeps herself good-looking (she is clothed in fine linen and purple), interesting (She speaks with wisdom; does not eat the bread of idleness) and it is implied that she has half of the responsibility for upholding the family honor (Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land).

This is all and well because the passage is supposedly talks about what an ideal wife is, but it would be wonderful for everyone to understand that such an ideal wife is exactly that- an idea.

This is to say then, that the real, live, breathing wives or women who are future wives are a work in progress. They need encouraging, they will fail some days but will triumph on more and they certainly do their best to fulfill their duties…  just like the real, live, breathing husbands or men who will be husbands in the future.

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 -the end-

*From what I’ve observed, most people shy away from reading the Bible because of some prejudiced concepts against women.

**When I suggested this in class one day, a Marxist classmate (may he rest in peace) asked me with a little bit of indignance: what kind of society would I like my children to grow up in, where a mother’s “love” is to be measured monetarily. He also asked whether I would be willing to turn something supposedly “humane” and priceless into another service or merchandise that could be exchanged at a given fee. Now older and myself a mother and housewife, I get the inkling that assigning a monetary value to a housewife’s production could be a way to start equating a woman’s salary to that of a man’s. After all (and this is not to agree with the neoliberals, but one has to know how to play this game) if a woman’s choice to leave the labor market and focus on caring for her family is one factor that widens the gender pay gap, why not continue giving measurable value to what she would do in her house? This way, there would be no vaccuum within her professional history because she would still be considered “productive”. And those years of being a homemaker would actually be considered as added experience in her curriculum.

***This presents a hole in the modern study of economics and I believe it is worth a deeper analysis. Women (and in some cases, men) who shift from being a paid professional to a homemaker do not necessarily become rusty and obsolete when it comes to all their skills. By channeling their efforts towards accomplishing a different kind of objective, they develop other abilities and could also be strengthening those that they already possess. For instance, an accountant-turned-housewife after years out of practice could turn outmoded in the latest software used in her field, but surely she has gained better organization and time management skills.

Sources:

  1. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+31%3A10-31&version=ESV
  2. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians%205:22-33
  3. http://www2.um.edu.uy/acid/family_economics/family%20economics%20and%20macro%20behaviour.pdf
  4. http://www.nber.org/papers/w9232.pdf
  5. http://www.nber.org/chapters/c2970.pdf
  6. http://archive.unu.edu/unupress/unupbooks/uu13se/uu13se04.htm
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_economics
  8. https://bfi.uchicago.edu/initiative/economics-family