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Why Women Should Be Happy We Can’t Have It All

July 15th, 2012 . by economistmom

I recorded my had-to-be-quick take on the Anne-Marie Slaughter article this week for Marketplace radio (and the Marketplace Money weekend show); it is airing this weekend on various NPR stations at various times.

You should listen to it to see how I managed to get in a dig at the Bush tax cuts (I know it seems to come up in my mind in any context)…

But my main points (from my economist-mom perspective):

The mom in me may still feel pressure from society to have it all, to take care of everything. But the economist in me remembers the law of diminishing marginal utility, that if we could really have it all, whatever we had last obtained wouldn’t be worth anything to us.

Constraints that prevent us from having it all also force us to prioritize, to choose whatever gives us the greatest value, first. Individuals can’t do everything we are good at or even best at. A concept economists call “comparative advantage” applies here. I might have inherent absolute advantage in terms of my skills as an economist over some men and women who have more successful careers as economists than I. But my greatest comparative advantage — absolutely! — is as mom to my own kids…

So women — and anyone — shouldn’t be sad about not being able to “have it all.” It only means we have to “settle for” having what makes us happiest.

One of these days I might find the time in my (happily)-falling-short-of-having-it-all life to elaborate more on my thoughts about the Slaughter piece and how in my life I’ve chosen a much different path–and how any of us who can say we have “chosen” a particular and generally happy and satisfying path are very, very lucky.  (In general I thought the article was very insightful and that women were probably over-horrified in their reactions to the negative tone of the title of her piece.  I’m sure that like me, many women trying to have it all didn’t have enough time to read the article before reacting to it!)

3 Responses to “Why Women Should Be Happy We Can’t Have It All”

  1. comment number 1 by: Vivian Darkbloom

    Econ Mom,

    This is one of your wiser contributions.

    Trying to have it all. If only we could. We can’t, but it’s a hard lesson to learn, particularly for people with ambition and large appetites. All that stuff in the candy store. Difficult to resist. But, choices need to be made. Shall I have the red licorice or the black? That’s life, whether you are a mom, a dad or just a human being.

    It sounds to me that your priorities are sound. So, be happy and content with the choices you’ve made.

    Now, about those Bush tax cuts…we’ll save that for another day.

  2. comment number 2 by: AMTbuff

    So women — and anyone — shouldn’t be sad about not being able to “have it all.” It only means we have to “settle for” having what makes us happiest.

    People who want it all make themselves and their entire families unhappy. Most of us have no appreciation for how truly fortunate we are. Congratulations on having your feet on the ground!

  3. comment number 3 by: B Davis

    Constraints that prevent us from having it all also force us to prioritize, to choose whatever gives us the greatest value, first.

    Good article and podcast. It reminded me of an assignment I had in third grade regarding what I wanted to be when I grew up. I decided that I wanted to be a professional baseball player AND a professional soldier (my father was in the Army). I was very disappointed to be told that I could likely not do both! Of course, I got over it in time and ended up doing neither. As you say in the podcast, “we have to “settle for” having what makes us happiest”.