Why are modern women so anxious?

I had an interesting discussion with my supervisor at work last year around Christmas time.  I asked her if she had gotten all her shopping done and she said yes, she had, because she does it all online due to the fact that malls and large stores cause her to have terrible panic attacks.  She wasn’t joking, either, or using hyperbole; apparently it was bad enough to cause her to skip holiday shopping altogether and do all of it online.

I was interested in what she had to say because I too sometimes have really bad anxiety symptoms in large stores.  It started when I was in my mid-thirties, and while I wouldn’t call them full blown panic attacks, the symptoms can be intense enough to be very physically uncomfortable.  The sensation is one of panic, like I need to drop everything and run, along with a racing heart and that clenchy feeling in my stomach.  Mine are not nearly as bad as my supervisor’s, and I can get through whatever shopping needs to be done by praying for God to flood me with peace and by repeating phrases to myself like It is okay.  I am okay.  My family is fine.  I can get my groceries and then I can leave.  God is with me.  Also paying close attention to my breathing, keeping it even and deep, helps.

So a couple of things I’ve noticed is that it isn’t really the crowds that are the problem; I can go to church without panicking, for example, although sometimes large concerts and sporting events make me tense until we are in our seats.  Another aspect is that it seems to be exacerbated during the school year when I’m working and abates somewhat (but not completely) when I’m home in the summer.

About five years ago, I was at a birthday party for the daughter of a friend from church, and all the moms got to talking as moms will about how stressed out they are.  One woman who had recently completed her PhD and had her third child was talking about the constant sensation of anxiety she lives with and how she’s tired of being told to go to therapy.  “The last thing I need is another thing on the calendar,” she’d said.  “I just want them to give me drugs.”  Most of the other working mothers there nodded in agreement.

I sort of sympathized with what they meant although I don’t have any desire to use psychiatric medications.  But “talking it out” with a therapist, which is what doctors always seem to want you to do if you talk to them about anxiety, just wouldn’t be helpful because there really is no it to talk out.  There’s no big trauma, there’s just regular old day-to-day life.  Therapy just isn’t the answer for that.

Women are 60% more likely than men to suffer from anxiety at some point in their lives.  What’s causing all this anxiety among women starting around their mid-thirties?  I read an interesting interview with a researcher from Harvard Medical School about the hypothesized role hormones play in anxiety.  His initial studies apparently indicated that lower levels of estrogen, such as women experience later in life or directly after giving birth, were correlated with much higher levels of anxiety.  Interestingly, his team also found that women on birth control pills show the same symptoms.  Although men have lower levels of estrogen than women, the presence of testosterone was hypothesized to be playing a protective role for them.

Maybe it does come down to hormones, but I’m not completely convinced.  I think some of it is a normal response mechanism built in to us that is trying to tell us something.  After all, I don’t have panic attacks when I’m pulling weeds in the garden.  I don’t have them when I’m cooking dinner.  And I don’t have them when I’m curled up on the couch next to my husband.  I have them when I’m stressed at work and when I’m trying to navigate busy, crowded, bright, noisy places like stores, just like my supervisor.  So I wonder if some of this is that we are expecting our bodies and brains to do something that they simply weren’t designed to do.

Do “helper incomes” increase fertility?

I live in a rural area and I work in a (different) rural school district, and one of the things that has pleasantly surprised me is how many children everyone seems to have. Despite being working mothers, the women I work with all have 3-4 (several have even more) children and my kids’ friends’ parents all seem to have 3-5 children, too. Is this a factor of being in a rural area? Maybe, but I’m also wondering if it isn’t something else, too.

Many of the women I know earn what I think of as “helper incomes”. This is how I loosely define “helper income”:

  • flexible about full/part-time
  • even when full-time, does not regularly require in excess of 40 hours per week
  • in a safe environment
  • weekends/holidays off if needed
  • allowed to take days off to care for sick children or family members, either paid or unpaid
  • remuneration not enough to easily raise a family on by itself but a perfect complement to a husband’s income

Men do have a fairly large say in the number of children a married couple has and in my experience, many women say they wanted more children but their husbands did not, with the reason given often being concerns about finances. In short, the husbands were quite reasonably worried about their ability to support a larger family and wives respected their husbands’ preferences.

But is it possible that a helper income can take enough of the pressure off a man that he is willing to entertain the thought of a third or fourth child? I don’t know for sure, and I don’t feel like I know any of my colleagues well enough yet to say to any of them, “So, tell me about your reproductive choices!” 🙂 But I do wonder.

So here is my working hypothesis: I posit that for white, married, lower middle, middle, and upper middle class women (and the only reason I’m limiting it to these demographics is because those are the demographics of the women I know), having a wife who earns a helper income may take enough financial pressure off the husband so that he is willing to have more children. It may also make women feel like they can afford that third or fourth child and give them the confidence to suggest it to their husbands.

If there were any data on this, I would hypothesize that fertility would look like this, from highest to lowest:

Helper-income wives – highest fertility (most that I know seem to have 3-5 children)

Housewives (stay-at-home wives who do not earn an income) – second highest fertility (most that I know have 2-4 children)

Career wives – I don’t know a lot of heavy-duty career women, but those that I know have 1-2 children and several have none at all.

This is not to be understood as me encouraging women to work outside the home! That is absolutely not my intention, as only the individual couple can determine what is needed and what would be best for their family. This is also not me suggesting the superiority of one group over another.  What I am trying to do is generate a reasonable hypothesis to explain my observations of the consistently higher fertility of the working, rural, married, white women that I know.

I’d love to hear what others have observed. Also, I’d be interested in hearing about other demographic groups as a comparison. For instance, do working Hispanic women have higher or lower fertility than their non-employed counterparts? What about African-American women?  The one trait I’d like to keep the same in any comparisons, though, is “married”.

I cannot prove or disprove my musings because I could find nothing about this in the published research. I could not even find a single statistic comparing the average number of children between housewives and working women – nothing! But if you are able to find data on this, I would love the link. I’m also curious to know if you can suggest an alternative hypothesis that explains what I am witnessing with the increased fertility of these women.

If my hypothesis were somehow proven to be correct, then to any young woman reading this who is interested in having a larger family, I might suggest that she prepare herself for the possibility of working to earn a helper income if her husband would feel aided by that (not all husbands would want or even allow this, of course, and the husband’s vision for his family should be given the respect that it deserves by virtue of his position as head of the household).

By the same token, my advice for young men who want a larger family but fear not being able to support them: perhaps consider looking for a young woman who would be willing to earn a helper income if needed.

In any case, my observations have provided me with food for thought.


Should improving access to daycare be a national priority?

I wanted to write a well-thought-out post about this NPR news story from this past weekend, but I have just been so buried at work and at home that I can’t get caught up, let alone find much time to blog. However, I urge you to go read the article and ponder it:

U.S. Once Had Universal Child Care, But Rebuilding It Won’t Be Easy

NPR explains:

Stumping in Kansas after his State of the Union, the president said that for most parents working today, child care is more than a “side issue,” and that improving access “is a national economic priority for all of us.”

In urging greatly expanded subsidies during his Tuesday address, the president referenced a national child care program that was in place during World War II, when his grandmother and other American women were needed in the nation’s factories.

But to my mind, this was the money quote in the article:

“The problem is that the quality rendered in the U.S child care market is low to mediocre, on average,” he [Arizona State University’s Chris Herbst, an associate professor in the school of public affairs] says — in fact, his research finds that children in federally subsidized day care don’t fare well on cognitive and behavioral tests.

So, is the president saying we should create more subsidies for something that seems to be bad for children? There’s more to it than that, of course – kids who are currently in federally subsidized day care tend to come from rough situations, so it’s not comparable to a household comprised of two-income college-educated married parents, and it’s also not clear that they’d fare any better on those cognitive tests if they weren’t in day care.

But honest to goodness, doesn’t looking at this picture from the story depress you?

Detroit, 1942 – Welcome to your Day Orphanage, kiddies!







Good career choices for the family-minded girl.

On August 6, 2012 I wrote and posted the following essay on an old blog that has since been deleted. However, I want to repost this essay for several reasons. First, I want to make it clear that I have not changed my mind in any way about these issues just because I’m working full time now. I have always believed that some women may sometimes need to work outside the home and I have always written that the purpose of this work should be to serve our families, not our egos.

Second, when young women are deciding whether or not to pursue post-secondary education, they should have a clear plan in mind for what it is that they intend to do with that education and only spend as much time and money on college or job training as is absolutely necessary. There are two excellent resources listed in this essay to help them with this: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Wage Estimates and Education Portal (scroll down to that links under “Degree, School, and Career Research to learn what kinds of schooling are required for various professions).

And the third reason I’m posting this is because I strongly disagree with one thing that NYCPastor wrote in his essay:

It’s okay for a woman to be a doctor, attorney, or any other professional.

Actually, it’s not that great for a woman to pursue careers like “doctor” or “attorney”. High school guidance counselors tend to encourage girls to “follow their dreams” and pursue these high status and potentially lucrative careers, but those are not jobs that a woman can easily blend with family life; they aren’t good “part-time” jobs, they don’t usually have flexible hours, and they require years of costly education during the prime years for looking for a husband and having children. If she wants to provide a helper income to her husband but still be able to have a family, there are much better choices, as I outlined in this old essay, which follows now:.

August 6, 2012: I have listed ten career choices that would be good for a woman who wants to have some higher education and a job that will be in a pleasant, safe work environment with reasonably good status and pay.  These jobs are all notable for allowing flexible schedules, either part-time or full-time, which would allow a mother to be focused on her family while there are children at home.  At this time in the U.S. all these jobs are fairly easy to get.  Education requirements range from a certificate diploma to a Master’s degree.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2011 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates


Educational requirement

Licensure requirements



Flexible hours

Benefits and Drawbacks


Associates or BSN

Yes, by state



Can work full or part time, in many different settings, good pay relative to education level

Vet Tech


Yes, by state



Pay is not high unless one works for a large research company or university

Ultrasound tech

1 yr certificateAssociates


Yes, by state



Excellent pay relative to education level; Can work part-time

Speech-Language Pathologist


Yes, by state and natl org



Many different work settings; a national shortage makes finding a job easy; can work full or part time; drawback: long, difficult MA required

Occupational Therapist


Yes by state and natl org



Many different work settings, long MA program

Physical Therapist


By state and natl org



Many different work settings, good pay for an MA

Social Worker


By state



Drawback: can be low-pay relative to educational requirement; Can be flexible depending on location

Dental hygienist

2 yr certificateAssociates

By state



Can be flexible though most jobs are full-time M-F; good pay for only a two-year degree

Physician Assistant


By state



Excellent pay but very challenging degree (basically Med school lite); can work part time; many different work settings

Home Daycare


Need a state license to run a home daycare

Approx.  $200/weekPer child

Not very flexible

Can work from home, which is nice if you have your own children at home; can be hard work to add more little ones; pay is not high; kids get sick a lot

Teachers and Librarians both have pleasant working conditions, reasonable salaries, and manageable hours, but at present in the United States there is a dearth of available jobs in these fields.  Administrative Assistants have low educational requirements, moderate salary, very inflexible hours (8-5, M-F).

A good resource for learning about various jobs is Education Portal, which allows you to compare salaries, educational requirements, and so on.

On the whole, I’d say I’m not a huge fan of women in the workforce, although I myself work one half-day per week.  Being economically-dependent on one’s husband might be a good thing in some ways; it certainly would make it harder for women to bail out of their marriages, and having Mother at home is definitely what most children prefer.  However, each couple needs to navigate this issue for themselves, with the husband of course having the final veto power.

Christian women should be helpers, not careerists.

Deep Strength has posted a link to a thought-provoking essay by NYCPastor entitled 10 Women Christian men should not marry. I was particularly interested in one of the categories of women the pastor said Christian men should not marry:

9. The Career Woman. Now, I want to clarify something here.  There is nothing wrong with a woman who works (Acts 16:14), what’s wrong is a woman who puts her career ahead of her family.  Modern American society might hate to hear this, but God made men to be the providers and women to be the nurturers of the home (in most instances).  It’s okay for a woman to be a doctor, attorney, or any other professional.  However, if her career is coming at the expense of her home, then something is wrong.  If day-care is raising her young children while she’s working, then something is wrong.  I understand that there might be a season of life where the wife might have to be the main bread-winner due to her husband’s unemployment, but it should not be the desired norm. The woman ought to be willing (and even desirous–to some extent) to give up her job for the sake of raising her kids in the Lord.  “So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander” (1 Tim 5:14).

It shouldn’t shock my readers to hear me say I agree with him even though I am working full time at present. In The purpose of paid work for women, I wrote:

Feminists with their bloated egos tell women that their paid work is their path to personal fulfillment. This is a lie. Personal fulfillment is found in God and family – nothing more and nothing less. Chasing the elusive and incredibly selfish dream of “personal fulfillment” will leave you empty for the simple reason that – unlike God and your family – your job does not love you.

My advice to young women: prioritize family formation over education and career. Prepare yourself to earn money as a means of serving your family but don’t get wrapped up in worrying about your personal fulfillment at work because that isn’t why you are there.


Christian women should strive to be helpers, not careerists.

Now, on to a pleasant bit of related personal business…

As you know, I accepted my current full-time position for a specific reason: my husband and I want to purchase another ten acres of land that is up for sale across from us. In speaking to a real estate agent who knows this area well, he said undeveloped land around here is going for about $10,000/acre if the perc test looks good. The ten acres across the dirt road was listed at $70,000, then started dropping quickly because the owner is in a hurry to sell. It seems like he may have inherited the land and wants the cash. The price has dropped now to $45,000 and we don’t think it will stay up for sale much longer at that price – that’s only $4,500/acres.

We are thinking of making an offer, contingent upon the land perc-ing satisfactorily, but our conundrum is this: we don’t like debt. I’m driving a nearly ten-year-old minivan because I can’t stand the thought of taking a car loan and I don’t want to dip into what’s left of our savings after the big move we did in September. I’d rather my dinged up van than a car payment any day and I could give a rip about what people think of my scuffed up vehicle, since it’s clean and reliable. By being frugal, Philip and I were able to put a very large down payment on our current land and home, but even so we had to mortgage part of it. We haven’t yet saved up enough cash to buy the new chunk of land outright, so we’d have to mortgage part of that purchase price…and we loathe debt! But if we don’t move soon, the land will be gone, and it’s a gem. There are no other unsold, undeveloped chunks of land around us; we are surrounded by homes on 5-10 acre plots (except for the homes lining West Lake), some preservation lands, the Waterloo Rec area, and big 100+ acre farms.

So we’re really mulling this over – buy now by taking on debt or hold out while we squirrel away all my paychecks and pray no one else grabs it? But tomorrow Philip is calling our mortgage officer just to inquire…prayers for wisdom in this matter would be appreciated, as we view this land as part of our long-term vision for our family, if the Lord is willing, with hopes of establishing a base for a multi-generational kin network.  Recall that my husband’s brother and his wife live a fifteen-minute drive from us, his auntie is just around the corner from us, and his mother is looking to move from Dearborn to live near us as well.  Our plan for the land is to allow our children to build houses on it if they wish in the future when they marry.  Living near extended family is something that I have increasingly come to value and the idea of my future grandchildren, should God bless me with any, being able to walk across the street to visit me is very appealing.

But mortgaging it would mean I’m tied to a full-time job for the forseable future. I don’t mind this much, as I work in a pleasant school district with friendly co-workers, but I miss my family terribly when I’m away from them all day. Still, it seems I may have to accept being apart from my family now in order to have a place for them to live near me later on.

The purpose of paid work for women.

As I mentioned, I accepted a full-time job this fall, or at least “full time” during the academic year; I won’t work in the summer even though my employer is already saying things like, “Just making sure you know that you can work over the summer, too, if you want!”  This is one reason why my ability to write more detailed essays on my new blog has been curtailed: between work, commuting, housekeeping, and shuttling our children around to the myriad activities they are involved in, I’ve barely even been home, let alone had time to write.

What’s the point of this? Am I doing this because I just love being a speech language pathologist so much? Well, sort of: I’m doing speech therapy for pay, as opposed to say being an auto mechanic for pay, because I like and am good at teaching communication. And I’ve done volunteer work in this area in the past, but the reason I am doing this job full time for pay as opposed to part time as a volunteer is for one reason and one reason only: to earn money for my family.

Feminists with their bloated egos tell women that their paid work is their path to personal fulfillment. This is a lie. Personal fulfillment is found in God and family – nothing more and nothing less. Chasing the elusive and incredibly selfish dream of “personal fulfillment” will leave you empty for the simple reason that – unlike God and your family – your job does not love you.

You may, of course, have some very kind co-workers who will help you out in times of trouble; recently one of the other women in my department was in a serious car accident and I was impressed by how quickly everyone at work rallied to bring flowers and gift cards to the hospital and arrange to bring meals to her husband and children. This type of personal charity is kind and thoughtful but is not sustainable among non-kin in the long run because it is not based on familial love.

My husband had misgivings about me working full time but agreed to let me try it because we want to save money for a very specific purpose: purchasing another ten acres of land across the road. We believe this will be a good investment and inheritance for our children. And as much as I like my job and strive to do excellent work for my employer, my goal in performing work for money is the same as the Proverbs 31 woman’s was: to serve my family, not my ego.

10 An excellent wife who can find?
    She is far more precious than jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
    and he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good, and not harm,
    all the days of her life.
13 She seeks wool and flax,
    and works with willing hands.
14 She is like the ships of the merchant;
    she brings her food from afar.
15 She rises while it is yet night
    and provides food for her household
    and portions for her maidens.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17 She dresses herself with strength
    and makes her arms strong.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
    Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She puts her hands to the distaff,
    and her hands hold the spindle.
20 She opens her hand to the poor
    and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,
    for all her household are clothed in scarlet.[c]
22 She makes bed coverings for herself;
    her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates
    when he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them;
    she delivers sashes to the merchant.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    and she laughs at the time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women have done excellently,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands,
    and let her works praise her in the gates.

My advice to young women: prioritize family formation over education and career. Prepare yourself to earn money as a means of serving your family but don’t get wrapped up in worrying about your personal fulfillment at work because that isn’t why you are there.