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Epilogue: The Wife of Noble Character
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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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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Decision-making in the family
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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.
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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*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.