I sometimes disagree with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. But this time she was right: There are no data proving that children who grow up in homes where the mother is the primary breadwinner fare any worse.
In a debate on Fox Business, her colleagues Lou Dobbs and Erik Erickson argued, in so many words, that moms working outside the home will harm children. Dobbs mostly sat there smirking, calling Kelly "o dominant one" when she, you know, expressed an opinion. Meanwhile, said Erickson, "Kids most likely will do best in households where they have a mom at home nurturing them while dad is out bringing home the bacon… When you look at the natural world, the male typically is the dominant role. The female, it's not antithesis, it's not competing, it's a complementary role."
Now, a record high four out of ten mothers are the primary breadwinners for their families. That's 40 percent of U.S. women apparently bucking their hardwiring—up from about 11 percent in 1960, when having a wife at home was both a status symbol and a practical way to raise kids. That women didn't have to work signaled that husbands had arrived career-wise, their wives freed up to dive into parenting and domestic duties. The women who did work tended to be single moms—which remains true for 63 percent of female breadwinners today.
As Jonathan Merritt recently reported, some Christians are lamenting the rise of female breadwinners. And not because it means more women raise their children by themselves (a significant social issue, it must be said). Rather, "In the Bible, men are not called to be workers at home. Women are," Owen Strachan, executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, told Merritt.* "And women and even widows are called to marry, as the Lord allows, and then bear children and make a home."
Mary Kassian, author of Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild, echoed Strachan. "As a woman who has been a professional and has spoken with lots of working women, I've seen how a mom being the full breadwinner puts a strain on them," she said. "It affects them in a way that doesn't affect men." Elsewhere, Kassian has claimed that
God created men to draw their identity from work… God created woman to draw identity from relationships and networking…. You may have a job where you earn more money than your husband, and it may be practical for you to go out and earn the money and for him to stay home. But there's something in terms of identity that you're going against when you do that.
Except, not. Many scholars have noted that "traditional gender roles"—defined as a husband working outside the home while a wife stays home with children—are a relatively new phenomenon in human history. Take, for example, the world of the Bible, wherein most husbands and wives co-labored to scrap together a subsistence living. We don't see Boaz coming home from the fields, propping his feet on the coffee table and asking Ruth to fix him dinner and put the kiddies to bed. In fact, their romance begins in a field, where Ruth works hard gleaning behind harvesters to provide for herself and her mother-in-law. And in the New Testament, we meet Joanna, "the manager of Herod's household"—I wonder if she's read Lean In—and Susanna, both of whom seem to be bankrolling Jesus' preaching ministry (Luke 8:1–3).
So Strachan, Kassian, and other Christians who say that men must work outside the home while women must work inside it demonstrate a classic case of anachronism—and a troubling case of broken anthropology. Because when it comes to questions of what God designed us humans to do, some complementarians put women into a mold they were never obligated to fill.
"Every woman is a human being—one cannot repeat that too often—and a human being must have occupancy if he or she is not to become a nuisance in the world." When I think of how I spend my days, I recall these and other nuggets of wisdom from novelist and essayist Dorothy Sayers.
Like 54 million women in the United States, I am unmarried. I work full-time. My parents give me money only to fill up my gas tank when I visit them. I support my cat's lavish lifestyle. You could say I am both the breadwinner and the breadeater. I also happen to be one who finds great purpose and joy in serving the church through this storied publication.
For single women—not to mention widows, infertile women, and middle-aged women whose children are grown—the "call" to marry, have babies, and create a home falls on deaf ears. These women find themselves in situations and life stages they may never have chosen for themselves. But in this, my breadwinning life reveals that prior to a gender-specific "role," I was created to "work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters… It is the Lord Christ you are serving" (Col. 3:23–24).
My work may change later on, but for now I believe that God has placed me at CT. And it would be a lavish waste of time, resources, and gifting to forsake it in order to doggedly pursue a husband. (I'm not supposed to pursue anyway, right?)
Whatever you do, lady reader—and however much or little money you make doing it—do it with all your heart, knowing that you receive your calling and identity from God, not from fellow Christians who play exegetical leapfrog with Scripture.
* Editor's Note: After this article was published, Owen Strachan indicated that he believes single women should provide for themselves through work outside the home. He noted his usage of "as the Lord allows" in talking about a general plan for women and suggested that his quote was taken out of context by the author.