A 40 hour work week is considered normal and desirable within the United States. While other nations might laugh at so few hours, most industrialized nations work less (in some cases far less) than the average American. Of course, while 40 hours might be the expectation, it’s not abnormal for Americans to work upwards of 70-80 hours a week (either in one job or with two jobs); the reasons could be an ambitious young person trying to advance in a career, a lawyer running up against deadlines, or a single mother just trying to put food on the table. While Eastern Europe – known for its economic struggles – posts higher working hours on average than the US, Western Europe – known for a stronger economy – posts lower working hours.
In the United States, of course, we value hard work. We think of early in our foundation of farmers, cobblers, shop owners, and the like working long hours in order to support the family. Even today there are small business owners who dedicate almost every waking hour to keeping their company going. Yes, a typical 40 hour work week leaves a person tired at the end of the day and distant from the family, but that’s the price to pay for progress, correct?
The problem with such thoughts is they ignore that the typical job in the modern age takes a person away from the family. Yes, farmers, cobblers, shop owners, and others might have worked longer hours, but they did so mostly from home and with their family. The “job” they worked was a family job, putting the husband in contact with the wife and his children. Rarely did anyone have need of leaving the home for work. At one point in our history the economy centered around the family, not the consumer, and that made all the difference in both the work week and the type of work accomplished.
Post-Civil War America saw a change in the goal of the economy; rather than existing ultimately for the benefit of the family (in most cases), it began to exist for the benefit of the individual, namely the wealthy individual. The husband ceased to be a person, but rather a “good,” something in order to help wealthy men grow in their wealth. Men began to leave the family farm, the family shop, and the family itself in order to put food on the table; the cold irony of the new Capitalistic endeavor is that in order to sustain their families, men had to abandon their families. Since that time, men fought for worker’s rights, sometimes winning but mostly losing. Women, in turn, began to question why they had to stay at home while men “fulfilled” their lives. The individualistic approach drove a spike between husband and wife and rather than becoming one in all things – including economic gains for the family – they became economic partners attempting to bring in a fair share. To this day feminist fight for equal pay for women and equal placement within the corporate world, and if this is the system we are to have then women ought to be equal, but how come no one has stopped to ask if we should truly have this system? If the system is unjust, why do we seek to increase the influence of the system?
Some might ask, “So you think women should stay at home for work?” To which I respond, yes, I believe that the human ideal is for women to work from the home. Yet, I would say the same for the men. Both are to work from the home and sustain the family. Of course, that is the ideal and in an industrialized society not completely attainable, but certainly we can do better than what we have. Currently people spend more time at work than they do with their families, at least if we discuss quality time. Most families are involved in so many after school/work activities, or go and do their separate things when getting home (watching tv, playing video games, and so on), that the modern family is nothing more than strangers sharing the same space and DNA. In the pursuit of fulfillment in a job we no longer find fulfillment in having a family; indeed, having a family is not a very Capitalistic thing to do as it can take away from one’s personal goals. This is why so many complain about having children, complain about a wife, a husband, and so on. We speak of family values, but we abandoned our family values long ago when we decided that the dollar was more valuable than the home.
From a Christian perspective the family functions as the beginning of everything on this earth. While we are made in the image of God and therefore he directs our purpose, that purpose is first acted out within the family. Both father and mother work in their own ways to raise the children properly. Children learn how to function as good human beings within the family setting. The family itself is, in many ways, the “first church,” where true spiritual discipline takes place. Only when different families come together do they begin to form a community; a small secular gathering, a church, a school, or anything along those lines. Those communities eventually form societies, which form cultures. If, therefore, our own economic system functions in a way that it destroys or makes impossible the idea of a nuclear family then it follows that eventually communities will collapse, and soon after societies and cultures.
What, then, is the solution? I’m not sure on a pragmatic area (though I’d argue that Distributism is our best bet to get close to the ideal of a family-centered economy), but I do know it’s time Christians divorced themselves from Capitalism. Capitalism relies on and focuses on the individual, not on the family. Christians must support family values over market values, they must support what is best for the family and not a system that promotes low wages and high hours. We can’t support a system that intentionally keeps people in poverty and puts power in the hands of the wealthy over the hands of the family (or community). If Christians truly wish to follow through on a pro-family worldview, they must extend this view to the economy, otherwise the family will continue to waste away within the American experience.