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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

CNN: Making Less Than Dad Did

by Ken Newquist / May 29, 2007

Articles like this one piss me off. Men have been hammered for years about not taking an active role in their families, about putting job above family, and all the standard guilt trips that could take you to the Moon and back if only you could clock the frequent flyer miles.

The thing is, guilt trips aren't needed -- in my experience, Gen X dads generally want to spend time with their families, and make job decisions that reflect that. Unsurprisingly, those choices effect their yearly income. So when this story -- which is about the decline in median male income from $40,000 in 1974 to $35,000 in 2004, I just to scream.

Not once does the article mention that the changing priorities of fathers could explain part of this drop. Instead, it's doom-and-gloom, starting with the very first sentence:

"American men in their 30s are earning less than their father's generation did, challenging a long-held belief that each generation will be better off than the one that preceded it, according to a new study published Friday."

Such concentrated, melodramatic crap. Gen X dads aren't locked into the rat race the way their fathers (and grandfathers) were. We can -- and do -- choose jobs that may not maximize our income, but give us more time with our kids. My job's a good example of that -- I enjoy my job and I make a good salary, but I'm sure I could be making more if I wanted to.

But I don't want to. My job as a web developer at a small liberal arts college gives me flexibility, be it with my work hours or my vacation schedule, and allows me to walk to work. All of that gives me more time with my family, which is my priority right now. I worked like crazy in my twenties to get to a position where I could enjoy my kids while they are kids. There's a value there, and it's one that this article doesn't even begin to touch on.

The same holds true for the median family income, which they also see declining. Looking at my friends and family, I see more than a few who've chosen to have one parent stay at home with their young children. Some are even choosing to home school their kids. They (and we) could certainly make more money if both parents worked full-time ... but they chose to concentrate on raising their children rather than running the rat race full out.

I'm not saying it's not hard for some folks -- I know it is. Getting a better paying job -- or doing freelance gigs on the side -- isn't an option for everyone. It's also very possible that there have been very real declines in household income happening independent of these kinds of personal decisions. But we live in an era that maximizes our choices, where for the first time, dads don't have to kill themselves being the primary breadwinner, and can choose to walk a slower pace to spend more time with their kids.

Generation Risk

I won't pretend that it's easy. Read through the "Generation Risk" feedback post on CNN.com, and you'll see plenty of people who are caught in a hard place between student loans and housing costs. It's tough, and even tougher in the more expensive regions of the country.

But at the same time, how many of these financial wounds are self inflicted?

A decade ago, Sue and I went looking for houses. We did so looking to spend $100,000, even though with two salaries, we could have qualified for a much larger loan. We specifically went for a house we could afford on a single salary because we knew we were going to have kids, and knew that a big house would consume a huge portion of our income ... and prevent Sue from staying home with the kids.

I was lucky that my parents payed for my college education, so I didn't get stuck with huge loans, but at the same time, I went to county college for year and then transfered to a state school. Sue paid her own way, again attending a state school. We've also had some help from our parents here and there, but ultimately I think our own financial decisions have played the biggest role in our current financial state. With a few exceptions, we don't have the latest and greatest toys (no HD TV, no Tivo). We rarely buy new cars. We get new computers every four years or so. We plan out our home improvements, and try and do planned maintenance to the house so we can minimize the number of surprises.

Our focus much less on keeping up with the Jones, and much more on making the sorts of decisions that let us live the sort of lifestyle we want to ... and I know we're not the only people doing that.

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Comments

I very much agree, Ken. I'm glad to have "learned from my dad's example".

So, my parents were super financially responsible, built their own house a bit at a time, Dad working long hours and overtime all the while, and had the thing paid off before I even left for college.

On the other hand, I feel like I never even got to know my dad until I was well into my 20's. We never took any family vacations, and didn't do all that many family activities.

Contrast this with my 11-yr-old son, who's practically already seen more, done more, and been more places than I have in my whole life.

I'm sure that this family focus isn't the only reason for the salary decreases. An equalization of Western and international wages is ongoing and irreversible - it's like the economic version of thermodynamics.

Still, I can't help but think that we're better off. I could take some sales job at my current company and pretty much double my wage. Not interested though. I'd rather struggle and live.

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