What does it mean that Spain and Italy have low rates of female employment? Does it mean that Spanish and Italian women are oppressed? Or that these cultures value traditional families? It seems unlikely that it means they are more prosperous, that men’s wages are high enough that they don’t HAVE to work, whereas in the US low-income families need both parents work to make ends meet. More likely, their definition of making ends meet is different than that of most Americans.
They value highly the time a mother spends with her infants, babies, toddlers and small children. So do we–but we sacrifice it. They value the time a woman spends on home cooking, and there’s a difference, because we don’t. We’d just as soon stop at a drive-through and grab a load of highly processed, high-salt, high-sugar, high-fat junk food—one reason for the epidemic of US obesity. But mostly, the difference is what they don’t value–they haven’t bought into the notion that a certain “standard of living” is necessary. We Americans sacrifice some very important quality-of-life items, including freedom from stress and adequate time with our children and mates and friends, for what I would call high flow-through. Europeans (and others) with half the income of US families are not hungry or cold; their children get a better education than ours do. ALL of them have health care coverage. So what is it that those Spaniards and Italians do without?
Mostly, stuff. A river of plastic, packaging, entertainment products and throwaway consumer goods passes through the average American home, piling up in black plastic garbage bags on the other end.
Also, information: The attention span of US children is as ephemeral as a gnat’s life, because they live in a world of constantly changing stimulation, with advertising coming at them from every direction all day and their music and fashions and buzzwords continually changing. Even their textbooks now have little boxes with pictures and graphics and statistics and alternate text interrupting the narrative on every page.
And finally, mobility. Americans rarely walk farther than half a block (the other reason for our obesity rate). We’re always on the go, and we insist on being able to speed up hills as swiftly as we speed down them, and on moving as fast as traffic allows, no matter what the urgency of the errand. Our vehicles must be sized to ensure that we will never be uncomfortable, even for an occasional trip with more passengers than usual. This is why the price of gas is the most important issue of any election here. It’s why we refuse to face up to the screeching urgency of dealing with climate change.
Presumably the Italians, who invented the Slow Food movement, have different values. They consider a home-cooked meal worth the time—not only the time to eat it, but the time to gather together with the whole family to eat it together. They’d rather give their children more of their time than a lot more stuff.