The XX Factor

No One Has Nannies-So Can We Please Stop Writing About Them?

KJ , I think the real reason people find another story in the New York Times about nannies so annoying is that, according to a recent study by the Center for American Progress, fewer than 3.5 percent of all families in the United States, at all income levels, employ a nanny for child care. That’s right: fewer than 3.5 percent. And among middle-income families (i.e., most Americans), it’s fewer than .5 percent . So what do all these other households do? They rely on spouses or relatives or day care or in-home child care or after-school programs-that is, on high-stress, patchwork arrangements, which is why work-life balance for so many families remains hard. Even among relatively high-earning Americans, only 3.3 percent employ a nanny.

Yet articles about nannies-about nanny diaries or nanny TV shows or whether it’s OK to hire a nanny or how to treat your nanny or resentment of employers by nannies or vice versa-predominate. This is one reason why, according to the American Progress study, child care is such a problem in the United States. Americans focus on the poor (a group in which women are expected to work, even if they have kids) or high-powered, professional women (who “opt-out” of the workforce to have kids) and overlook the “missing middle,” as the study calls it, which is where most Americans actually live and where virtually all women work, without very good or affordable child-care options. I have no beef with women who hire nannies. But this is why this story is so irksome-it’s that much more attention is paid to a problem that affects only a miniscule number of women, even as the paper continues to ignore a child-care crisis that is everywhere around us. When someone writes a novel called The Day-Care Diaries , maybe I’ll get interested.