So there it is: the difference between a stay-home mother and a welfare mother is money and a wedding ring. Unlike any other kind of labor I can think of, domestic labor is productive or not, depending on who performs it. For a college-educated married woman, it is the most valuable thing she could possibly do, totally off the scale of human endeavor. What is curing malaria compared with raising a couple of Ivy Leaguers? For these women, being supported by a man is good—the one exception to our American creed of self-reliance. Taking paid work, after all, poses all sorts of risks to the kids. (Watch out, though, ladies: if you expect the father of your children to underwrite your homemaking after divorce, you go straight from saint to gold-digger.) But for a low-income single woman, forgoing a job to raise children is an evasion of responsibility, which is to marry and/or support herself. For her children, staying home sets a bad example, breeding the next generation of criminals and layabouts.
All of which goes to show that it is not really possible to disengage domestic work from its social, gendered context: the work is valuable if the woman is valuable, and what determines her value is whether a man has found her so and how much money he has. That is why discussions of domestic labor and its worth are inextricably bound up with ideas about class, race, respectability, morality and above all womanhood. You can talk all you want about equal parenting; nobody is raising his son from earliest childhood to see as the most important job in the world being a stay-home father dependent on a high-earning wife. Nobody says to men in college, “You can be a physicist, or you can be a homemaker—it’s your choice!”"