Nov 2 • 27M

Tim Lee on Dads Who "Lean Out"

Tim, an independent journalist with three kids, de-intensified his career so his wife could focus on her demanding job. Should more husbands do this?

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Appears in this episode

Josh Barro
Timothy B Lee
Very Serious is a weekly conversation with top political commentators, columnists and policymakers, focused on how events in the news relate to major, long-standing controversies in politics, economics and culture. Host Josh Barro is joined by a rotating set of regular guests to work out the ideas behind the arguments on topics serious and not-so-serious. It’s a great conversation across ideological lines that will leave you entertained, enlightened, and maybe even persuaded.
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Dear readers,

Tim Lee is the author of Full Stack Economics and one of my favorite reads on business and the economy. He’s also a parent to three children under the age of seven, and a major reason he quit his full-time journalism job to go independent — even though he knew it would reduce his income — was so he could maintain a flexible schedule and be more available to attend to the needs of his children.

More often, we see professional mothers of young children going this route: de-emphasizing career, or even quitting work entirely for a time, in order to devote more time to parenting. But Tim’s wife — an obstetrician-gynecologist — significantly out-earns him and works a job where long hours are essential to advancement, so it made a lot more sense for Tim to “lean out” and attend to the kids than for her to do so.

Tim recently wrote about this choice, and he wrote a follow-up piece in which he spoke with 20 other fathers whose wives are the primary breadwinners, and who either stepped back from work or quit entirely to raise a family.

I had an interesting conversation with Tim about his experience, and what he thinks other families can learn from it. We also talked about the challenges facing men who lean out — many of these are similar to challenges that have long faced women who either temporarily exited the workforce or de-emphasized their careers to be more available to their families, particularly the difficulty of re-entering the workforce after a substantial period of time away. And we talked about how more flexible attitudes toward parenting responsibilities and more honest conversations between parents about their values, desired quality of life and ambitions could make it easier for men and women to be happier and achieve their goals — whether those goals are about career or about other aspects of life.

I hope you find it interesting.

Josh

Episode links and references

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Tim’s first piece on this topic, which appeared on his Substack Full Stack Economics, is here: “I’m a professional dad who ‘leaned out’ to support my wife’s career”

His follow-up piece is here: “I talked to 20 dads who ‘leaned out’ so their wives can be breadwinners”

We referenced the work of economist Claudia Goldin a few times in the interview. Here’s an interview with Goldin about her pay gap study for MBA recipients, and here’s Goldin talking to Stacy Vanek Smith on The Indicator about “greedy” jobs.