A new era of work – Part 2: Both partners working full time – what a crazy concept!

One of the more relaxed jobs – lighthouse keeper. (Lighthouse seen in Brittany, France)

When talking about work you often get the impression – at least here in Germany – that people live for their work and define themselves only by their job.

Their job seems to be no more a tool to generate maximum possible income at the minimum possible inconvenience, so that it serves you such that you can dwell happily with your hobbies, social contacts and families in a maximized spare time (as I think it should be).
Instead the job surprisingly often seems to totally define people, and the reasoning is turned upside down so that the spare time seems to be there to serve your job and not the other way round.

This at least is the statement indirectly made by all that stupid career and self-improvement guide books that will tell you to use your holidays to “charge your battery”, so that you are at the maximum of your “professional performance” when coming back to the holy shrine of your office.

Well – the f*** I will work on improving my professional performance during holidays. I think holidays are there to enjoy, to relax and to chill out.

To travel around if budget allows, to see new things and get new inspirations and to let your mind wander a bit and see what comes out. To push the office as far out of your thoughts as possible.

But let’s come back towards out attitude to work in general.

Only about 20-30 years ago the typical situation was as follows:

Husband had a quite regular job 5 days a week from 9 to 5. Evenings and weekends were off. No blackberry, no eMails, no home-reading (at least not to today’s extend) of self-improvement management guide books.

Wife did not work, stayed at home and cared for household and kids.

So let’s compare today’s situation:

Husband has a quite irregular job 5-6 days a week (Today I read that in Germany working on Saturday is on a new record high since more than 40 years). Office hours start at 8 or still at 9, but if you really want to show your “commitment to the company”  you definitely should go the “extra mile” (where you seldom see extra miles on your pay check). So a lot of people get fooled by that or are talked into bad consciousness or suffer by peer group pressure telling them that only a stressful job underpins their social status. And they stay until 7 or 8 without substantial compensation and only hoping on the promise of later advancement. Some poor guys are even consultants and are so brain washed and disconnected to real life that they think all their hard work and overly busy lifestyle is fun. Strange folk.

That’s an interesting experience I made. When I decided 2 years ago to seriously downshift in my job despite quite some occasional career opportunities and I slowly started to implement this, the reaction of peer groups was interesting: When I explained my reasoning to colleagues and friends, most of them absolutely agreed and said that’s a great idea and the right thing to do etc.
But in their hearts many of the same people (obviously more often colleagues and more seldom the friends) did not take me for full but thought I’d do cheap talk, as they never have learned to think in another way than in the way of “maximum professional performance”.
So I could not avoid noticing that these guys started to find it suspicious when they finally observed the fruits of my downshifting efforts getting ripe.
Seeing my career slow down (as intended by me) obviously was easy to accept for them (as competition exists even in many of the closest friendships to colleagues – that’s why you might be careful before you call a colleague a true friend). But seeing on the other side how I carved substantial chunks of additional freedom out for myself with the pressure of climbing further up the ladder suddenly being taken away from my shoulders…that was less easy for some.
They simply couldn’t belief that downshifting might actually work as they are so obsessed by corporate propaganda that everybody is expendable and that everybody’s goal must be to climb as high as possible, that they don’t understand than many of them are chasing a carrot on a fishing rod – they can run and run but most of them anyhow will not make it to the (limited) higher rank positions.

The wives basically have the same jobs like the men. Same shit every day plus unfortunately often less paid.

And both additionally struggle with a full schedule of bringing kids to overly expensive childcare, organizing babysitters, paying two cars, a cleaning lady, organizing the household, the cooking, washing and shopping in their very limited free hours. Fortunately shops are open until 10 these days so they can spend their evening shopping grocery instead of enjoying a board game with the family.

So what’s Woodpecker’s point?

Well, my point is simply math:

It’s great that women now are able to do interesting jobs and (hopefully) make challenging careers. Still the math is simple. When 30 years ago the income of one person working 37 hours per week was sufficient to feed a family (that likely was larger than today’s average family), then why the f*** does it need two persons working fulltime 45+ hours each a week to feed the same family and make their livings?

Let’s compare the two example families then and now in a table just to make the picture clear:

Old model, one working in a regulated job for 37 hours/week New model, two working in modern “flexible” jobs for 45+ hours/week each Change
Total job time h/week 37 90 +140%
Net income (e.g., inflation adjusted) 35k (attractive tax class for couple) 60k (unattractive tax if both work) +70% only
Additional expenses on services (childcare, cleaning, eating out) 0k 10k +∞
Additional expenses work related (2nd car, dressing etc.) 0k 7k +∞
Effective income after add. costs 35k 43k +23% only (compared to +140% more work!!)
Time spent with kids and family (stylized, h of whole family having leisure time together per week) 26 h/week
(2h workdays + 6h Saturday + 10h Sunday)
15h / week
(1 hour workdays + 4h Saturday + 6h Sunday – a lot of housework piled up for the weekend)
(a pity for family life!)
Spare time for parents on their own / without the kids 16h/week
(2h workdays + 3h sat/sun after kids are in bed)
(1h workdays + 2h sat/sun as there is private paper work or blackberry to do)
(dangerous for your partnership!)

This is more than shocking!

The little bit of more income does not nearly justify the huge amounts of additional stress and workload for the whole family plus involved risks to kids and partnership!

So what’s the solution?

Should the wives go back to the kitchen?

No, not at all!
The math allows for the middle-way, a real improvement for both partners compared to the old times and today’s lose-lose situation:

Simply stick to a total of 37 hours of work per week (or let’s be generous and say 45h) and split it meaningful on both partners! Split in a way that fits your current situation and both partner’s interests and goals. E.g. both simply could work half-time, so both will have some variety of job/homework/childcare in daily life (high improvement compared to old times, for the wife and for the husband). Your tax burden will benefit and there will be plenty of spare time to smoothly run your household and enjoy your family life without too much need for costly and complicated external help. Plus you will have much time for yourself and your partnership, holidays will be easier and so on.

Next to home office and repeating sabbaticals, that’s definitely next on the agenda for Woodpeckers.

So companies, get ready for the part-time workers!




11 comments on “A new era of work – Part 2: Both partners working full time – what a crazy concept!

  1. jeremy says:

    My wife and I decided two years ago that she should leave the job she hated and stay at home. We have been very happy with the desicion so far. It allows us both more time to spend together in the evenings and on the weekend pursuing our other interests. It’s also easier to plan trips when we don’t have to align two work schedules. Most people don’t seem to understand her not working or looking for employment, especially since we don’t have any children. We’re working to reduce our monthly expenses and increase our savings, so one day I might able to leave my job as well, and live off what little money we might make doing what we’re truly interested in.

    • mrwoodpecker says:

      Yeah, for some reason many people still think (or were educated to think that way) that work is a necessary item in life to find a “meaning” or to “have a complete life”.
      That might be the case for some people, but definitly not for all.
      However, in your situation I’d probably prefer to work half time both of you because some elements of a job can be enriching and adds a certain amount of security should the early retirement not work – although only if your wife would find a job she likes of course.
      You ever considered that option?

  2. […] having much less free cash-flow to consume plus having much less free time for other activities, if both partners are stupid enough to continue working full-time. That’s a sad situation, but one that I can frequently observe among friends and colleagues. […]

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