A Good Argument Against Opting Out

Late last week, everyone was buzzing about Edmund Andrews' Times Magazine piece, in which he documented his family's descent into a sub-prime mortgage and crippling debt — all despite the fact that Andrews earns a generous $120,000 annually as a New York Times staff writer. Megan McArdle spent the weekend reading the book from which the piece was excerpted, and she confirms what I suspected: that Andrews' troubles can be traced back, rather clearly, to his habit of marrying women who have opted out of the work force.

The precipitating cause of Andrews' financial problems were a divorce and a rather hasty second marriage, to a woman named Patty. Andrews and Patty dated bi-coastally for one year before Patty and her 10-year old daughter moved from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. The couple merged their households and bought a half-million-dollar suburban home immediately, despite the fact that Andrews was paying his first wife $4,000 each month in alimony and child support. That left him with just $2,777 in take-home pay — and with a new wife who hadn't held a full-time job since the early 1980s.

Unsurprisingly, at first, Patty was unable to secure a middle-income job. When she finally did, she was fired less than a year later. Patty's ex, meanwhile, was in arrears on his $700/month in child support. That meant Andrews was attempting to support two women and four children, essentially maintaining two totally separate households.

Megan's interpretation is that Andrews "couldn't afford to get married. At all." In fact, what Andrews couldn't afford was to marry women unprepared to participate in the work force. (And if he was going to do so, he really should have rented instead of bought real estate.) I'm not suggesting that people in love shouldn't get married. Rather, life is precarious, both emotionally and financially. An effective way for women to inure themselves and their children against this precariousness, at least somewhat, is to work — regardless of their marital status.

cross-posted at TAPPED

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