Was the 1950s Housewife a Historical Aberration?
Tuesday, 21 January 2014
Colt wrote yesterday on whether women really want to be treated as equals (or not), and it got me thinking about what men on the whole seem to want, and whether that's all that grounded in reality or not.
I talked before about my belief that most of the bitter women men think are out there are really just Internet bitter; in the echo chamber of the World Wide Web, it's pretty easy for one's thoughts to sound like extreme versions of themselves, and it's also very easy to treat others unempathetically, judge, excoriate, and attack, in spiteful ways online that we wouldn't dare do with even our worst enemies live and in person.
When you stop and think about it though, there sure are a whole lot of sensitive people right now ready to respond on a hair trigger with a vicious attack both online and (with a bit more subtlety) in real life, and there's a whole lot of lamenting about where all the "good men" and "good women" have gone, both from men and women. Why?
I'm going to propose here that there is a large undercurrent of wanting more than one's station in life among average men and women, without caring to elevate one's station accordingly. And that that undercurrent of wanting things without doing the requisite things to get them is what drives all this anger, torment, and strife.
It's simply a case of unmet expectations, played out at grand scale society-wide.
The lamented lost "ideal man" and "ideal woman" of the modern era are both from the same previous era, at least in the English-speaking world: that of the 1950s dream housewife, and the 1950s head of the household dream husband.
The average men of today en masse long for the feminine, womanly wives of this bygone era, who stayed at home, took care of the kids and the household, and served the man with a beaming sense of pride at maintaining a good household.
Likewise, the average women of today long en masse for the masculine, manly husbands of this bygone era, who paid all the bills, gave women senses of security and stability, and provided for the woman with a beaming sense of pride in creating this island of safety and tranquility.
What happened to all those swells gals, and dreamy men?
Today, the women and men of the 1950s have largely receded, replaced instead by the modern working woman, who's more concerned with a great career and an independent social life than she is maintaining a good household for her man, and the modern "guy", who's more concerned with avoiding the responsibilities of woman and family to his plate as long as humanly possible than he is providing a good life for a woman and children.
That's made for a rapidly expanding epidemic of unhappiness among women, as women have taken on the responsibilities of men, and the stress, worries, and fears that go with them (men's happiness levels remain unchanged, equal over the past 40 years to what women's have fallen to today)... and it's also made for dissatisfaction on both sides of the aisle regarding the choices available to them.
What woman wants to marry a man-child who thinks responsibility is a dirty word?
And what man wants to marry a man-woman who thinks her career is more important than him?
Yet, as Spengler notes in his "Universal Law of Gender Parity",
“In every corner of the world and in every epoch of history, the men and women of every culture deserve each other.”
So why is that modern man and woman seem so disillusioned with one another?
Prior to the 1960s, it'd been quite some time since women had fought men for equality.
The feminist narrative is that women were simply too oppressed by men to fight them; I'd postulate something very different, however: that until World War II, men and women were extremely equal.
Equal, that is, in the sense that one needed the other, and both were dependent on one another.
Compare an average woman of the 1950s to an average woman of the 1850s. There was not much middle class in the 19th century; so you're mainly selecting as a base of comparison from upper class women (a small minority), and lower class women (a large majority). Since we're looking at the average woman, we'll take a look at lower class women - that is, not the 19th century women you read about in most 19th century books, which were written by members of the upper class, for members of the upper class, nor the 19th century women you see in most photographs of that time, which were largely family portraits done by upper class individuals.
I mean, the real average
woman of the 1850s.
The average woman in the 1850s was a very busy woman. She woke up at 4 AM every morning on the farm, same as her husband did; both partners worked from dawn 'til dusk every day during the spring, summer, and autumn. While the husband milked the cows, the wife fed the infants and children. While the husband tilled the fields, the wife gathered eggs from the hen house. While the husband chopped wood, the wife tended the garden.
If she was from a somewhat wealthier class, she was still busy, tending to children, knitting clothes for the family, and preparing meals that took her hours to ready. This while the husband went out and worked as a foreman at a mill or the manager of a mine or plantation.
The average woman in the 1950s, by comparison, was a woman of leisure. She had appliances to do most of the chores for her in short spaces of time; she had only a handful of children to raise, not 5 or 6 or 7 or 8 like so many women in the 1850s had; and she had a great deal of time to socialize with the neighbors or otherwise fill as she pleased.
In the 1850s, the only women who were women of leisure were upper class women - a very small minority. In the 1950s, every woman from lower middle class on up became, or aspired to become, a woman of leisure, aiming to maintain a happy household while waiting for Husband to return home from work.
But this setup was not remotely a historical norm; it was not the way things were done before, and it quit being the way things were shortly after. Because the environment normally demands that the average woman NOT be a lady of leisure; the average woman must work.
How the 1950s Housewife Came to Be
Understanding the historical aberration of the 1950s housewife - that is, a woman whose domain is merely maintaining the home, and not producing anything that contributes to the family's finances, whether farm work or clothing to sell at market or anything else - requires a little insight into the culture at the time she arose.
Prior to World War II, women in the English-speaking world were arguably even rawer and more ribald than they are today. But World War II changed all that, because it led to a great reduction in a certain resource that women absolutely needed: men.
The great loss of male life that occurred during the Second World
War caused widespread pressure on women to conform to male ideals,
because men were legitimately scarce. Not just good men; any
men. Women's magazines of the day published articles noting that in
America, 4 million women would be left without a husband due to the
shortage of marriageable men, and advised women to find a man and do
whatever it took to hold onto him. Women went to college purely to get
their M.R.S.; that is, a play on words that sounds like a college
degree, but actually just means "Mrs." - they went to find a husband.
As a result of the scarcity of men, the age at first marriage plummeted to the lowest it'd been in centuries in the West, with the balance of power shifting toward men (who wanted to marry sooner) and away from women (who wanted to delay marriage and enjoy their freedom longer). Women could no longer delay marriage; doing so might mean they didn't get to marry, period. In the 1950s, the average woman married at age 20, lower than the average age at first marriage anytime stretching back to the 1700s.
Women were deathly afraid of losing
their men. And, as such, they valued them dearly.
The boring stretches of non-productive time at home became tolerable,
because they were so much better than the alternative - work outside
the home, without a man to come home to... forever. No family. Nothing.
At the same time though, with the rise of modern appliances and a skyrocketing quality of life in the West, the stage was set for women's independence from men... and men's from women.
Unlike pretty much any time in history before - unlike the husband and wife combination on the farm, neither of who could do it alone; and unlike the husband and wife combination in the mines or on the plantation or in the merchant's shop, where it was quite difficult to go it alone for either sex - post-1950s, men and women didn't need each other anymore.
A woman could do it alone, without a man... and a man could do it alone, without a woman.
Men and women needed each other as much as a fish needed a bicycle... at least, from an economic point of view.
The modern West may be the first time since ancient Rome that both men and women can survive perfectly fine without each other. Partnership has transformed from a "must have" to a "sort of nice to have."
Try to do it on your own as a man in the 1850s or earlier, without a wife, and you were in for a hard life (and I don't need to tell you it was even harder for women). The way you succeeded at life was getting a wife before you got too old, and having a large number of children together to help run things, especially if you were on a farm, as many men then were. Large numbers of children helped, too, in the event that one of the partners died young, as happened often in the times before penicillin; if Mama died young, her daughters could take over cooking, cleaning, tending the gardens and livestock; and if Papa died young, his sons could take over plowing the fields and chopping the firewood and taking things into market to sell.
Fast forward to post-1950s, however, and a partner, especially among the lower classes, is almost a liability. You're perfectly fine to provide for yourself without one; in fact, with all the risks of consumerist culture, any savings one partner accumulates are likely to be consumed by the other, which doesn't actually benefit either partner (the spending partner isn't going to have a better life because he or she's got more stuff), but does prevent the partner more inclined toward saving from ever elevating his or her position. Throw in asset risk through divorce, and attempts by one partner or the other to "tame" and change the other, and you have a number of strikes against commitment... and not so many benefits.
The result? A rapid collapse of commitment among the lower classes, and a decline among the higher classes, too.
And, in our own more nostalgic moments, lamentation for a way of life that isn't anymore, and probably can never be.
But also one that, when examined in the broader context, almost certainly was the product of a highly unusual confluence of events, that created a brief moment when things became more tranquil and easier than they usually were before or have been since.
Are There No Housewives Today?
Ah - but there are.
Yet, here's the thing - having a 1950s-era-type housewife setup (or a 1950s-era-type husband, for the ladies) requires a certain something... and it's something the average man and woman dating their "equals" will never have.
You see, there are still housewives and breadwinning husbands today, just as there were in the 1950s. Are they carbon copies of Leave It to Beaver's mom and pop? No... but then again, neither were any couples who actually lived in the 1950s, either.
Instead, these are the luxurious ladies of leisure most women dream about being and most men dream about romancing, and the eminently respectable heads of the household that most men dream about being and most women dream about romancing them. And they still exist today... just as they did in the 1950s, and just as they did in the 1850s.
However, unlike in the 1950s, and just like in the 1850s, these are not the average woman, nor are they the average man. Instead, they are the exception, not the rule.
The Economist has a great write-up on this in its article "The Frayed Knot", discussing the difference between divorce and children born out of marriage between the top and the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid in America:
“Only 4% of the children of mothers with college degrees are born out of wedlock. And the divorce rate among college-educated women has plummeted. Of those who first tied the knot between 1975 and 1979, 29% were divorced within ten years. Among those who first married between 1990 and 1994, only 16.5% were.
At the bottom of the education scale, the picture is reversed. Among high-school dropouts, the divorce rate rose from 38% for those who first married in 1975-79 to 46% for those who first married in 1990-94. Among those with a high school diploma but no college, it rose from 35% to 38%. And these figures are only part of the story. Many mothers avoid divorce by never marrying in the first place. The out-of-wedlock birth rate among women who drop out of high school is 15%. Among African-Americans, it is a staggering 67%.”
Why the disparity?
I'd argue that it is, in fact, all about equality.
Extremes and Equality
As you know if you've read Roy F. Baumeister's wonderful piece "Is There Anything Good About Men?", men make up the extremes of society - the best, and the worst. Women, by contrast, play things far more conservatively, with the result that both their downsides and their upsides are reasonably limited.
So, in society, you have the least successful people and the most successful people both being men.
What happens when women partner up with men at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale is that they're partnering up with men who are LESS successful than they are. Quite frequently, MUCH less. Men who are the lowest of the low... drug users, men who are in and out of prison, men who are extremely dimwitted (men are also vastly more represented than women on both ends of the IQ scale, too).
And in a society in which a woman doesn't need a man... is she going to stay with a man who is a drag on her? A man who provides nothing, and who takes much? When she's perfectly capable of taking care of herself?
Of course not. Thus, it doesn't happen.
See ya later.
The divorce rate among uneducated people ends up being 2 or 3 times that of their more educated peers, and the number of children born outside of marriage 4 to 17 times as high.
Contrast that with the opposite end of the scale: women partnering up with men on the opposite extreme of the income, intellect, and ambition scale. Men who far exceed almost any woman they meet on all of these scales; men who are the best out of their entire societies.
How often do women leave these men? Not so often. Not nearly as often as they do the men at the bottom of the scale.
Divorce isn't gone. It still occurs, and still reasonably often, for more educated and successful people, too. But among those at the extreme positive end, it's a far less worrisome specter than it is for those at the extreme negative end.
What gives? This: the most successful men simply are not very replaceable.
Just like a 1950s-era housewife, a modern woman partnering up with an elite man is partnering with a man she simply cannot do without - if she leaves him, her prospects from there on out are probably going to be men of a lower caliber than he is.
So, she sticks around, and adopts the role of the "good wife."
Thus, once again, the woman - the one who initiates divorce the vast majority of the time - remains committed, because of scarcity. A scarcity that exists most at the higher end of the socioeconomic scale, and less so as you go down the rungs... as men become more "equal" to women, and ultimately less "equal" to women, women divorce them more and more.
As men surpass women in equality, women hold onto them increasingly harder, with everything they've got.
So Does That Mean You've Got to Be a Billionaire?
... that is, if you want the whole "happy wife, happy life" paradigm?
If you're thinking you're not a genius, and you're too old to start working on acquiring your first million, fear not - education and wealth are an incomplete picture of what women value most highly in men. They're simply the best proxy we've got for studying the differences between elite men vs. non-elite men via data dredges.
If education and wealth were a perfect proxy for what women most
desire, I dare say you'd see 0% divorce rates (or something close to
it) among the absolute top of the socioeconomic scale, and 100% divorce
(or something around there) among the absolute bottom. This isn't the
though, because there's more to it than this.
What more is there? Everything
that's taught on this site. No one here can give you a college
degree; nor can anyone provide you with a high-paying business or
But we can train you how to be a dominant man.
How to ignore the victim mentality of the "just be yourself" class, who
rail against understanding why they can't get exceptional friends and
mates who've become exceptional through hard work, study, and
sacrifice, without having to work hard, study, and sacrifice themselves
These are all things that top-of-the-scales men have in common, and they're what differentiate the elite, more than income and education alone (though those things play a role too).
Ultimately, in a truly liberated society, where men inhabit the extremes and women inhabit the middle, you'd expect a 50% divorce rate: the 50% of men who are "more equal" than the women they wed are scarce commodities and their wives hold onto them, while the 50% of men who are "less equal" than the women they marry are eventually divorced by those women, who don't need them.
And that's just what we see: if we take a look at the divorce rate in the Western world, that's exactly what we see on the whole: a divorce rate that remains somewhere right around 50%, or a little higher.
Women don't want to be with men who are lower level than them. And they don't want to be with their "equals."
They want men who are better than them. Women want to marry up.
Back to the question I asked at the start of this article. Why are so many modern men and women disillusioned with one another? My strong suspicion is that it's a combination of movies, television, and the Internet. Through these vehicles, we become exposed to ideal representatives of the opposite sex... and the real life opposite sex individuals we meet and have access to in our own lives hardly hold a candle to these, if we are "average."
Because through the media, you see the ideals. But the average man
will never have the ideal woman, nor will the average woman ever have
the ideal man. In a culture of me like ours is,
however, even the most sub-average of us expects he deserves the best.
The cognitive dissonance of being
able to see the best, but not
have the best, when you
believe you deserve the best,
is a mind screw extraordinaire.
Yet, if you do want this, you can have it if you can become it. If you are a man women marry up to get, so long as you are a self-improvement oriented man and you're always a step ahead of your woman, in terms of power, dominance, success, and greatness, you'll typically never need to worry about ending up in the pile of discarded husbands if you don't want to.
So - that 1950s-era housewife: just an aberration?
For the average individual, YES.
For the elite man? His women have always been feminine, devoted, and loyal, and they always will be; because, unlike the average man, he is not so replaceable, and his women never view him as quite a peer.
He is a notch above - and that's the kind of man women call "dreamy."
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