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More Market AND Household Production

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:

Arnold Packer is unhappy with Robert Samuelson’s upbeat interpretation of data on Americans’ income mobility (Letters, July 23).  Although Mr. Packer agrees that “the Pew Mobility Project report [shows] that most Americans’ (84 percent) income exceeds their parents’ income,” he discounts this fact because “today many wives work when their 1960s counterparts did not.”

Two points are noteworthy.

First, women’s increasing participation in the workforce is strong evidence against the common notion that the number of jobs is fixed.  In reality, this number rises over time with increases in the size of the labor force.

Second, and contrary to Mr. Packer’s implication, income gains from more women working in the marketplace should not be discounted when reckoning improvements in families’ living standards.  More women entered the workforce over the past 50 years largely because the greater availability of prepared foods, as well as of home appliances such as automatic dishwashers and clothes dryers, freed them from the need to work in the home.  So families today, as in the past, enjoy good meals, clean homes, and well-laundered clothing but, unlike in the past, enjoy in addition the goods and services purchased with women’s monetary earnings.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030