Why women should be happy we can't have it all

Women may still feel pressure from society to have it all, to take care of everything. But choosing and prioritizing will lend greater value to the things that make us happiest.

Livingston County Daily Press/AP/File
18-month-old Brooklyn Gallison gets a swing through a spray of water by mom Susie Gallison at Kensington Metropark's Splash 'n' Blast waterpark last month. In response to the recent Atlantic Monthly article " Why Women can't have it all," Rogers argues that women should feel comfortable focusing on whatever makes them happiest.

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!)

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