Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Parasite Syndrome

Most of the women and men I know are hardworking. For example, my wife, Dr. Barbara Nemko, Napa County Superintendent of Schools, works 60 hours a week while being a good wife and mother.

However, over my 29 years and 4,500 clients in my career counseling practice, in my out-of-work conversations, and in reading trend pieces in the media, I've observed a dramatic increase in the number of people, capable people, afflicted with what I call the Parasite Syndrome.

Here's how the Parasite Syndrome prototypically plays out:

1. After graduating from a brand-name college, the parasites in-training go abroad, for example to India or France, to "find themselves." They return a month or year later, no clearer, although perhaps more desirous of a pleasant and fulfilling life.

2. They take a pleasant and/or fulfilling but low-paying job. (Most pleasant and fulfilling jobs pay poorly--supply and demand.) But because of a desire to live a middle-class lifestyle, the person mooches off parents or romantic partner.

3. At this point, many of the female parasites-in-training think that potential long-term romantic partners who don't make good money are losers. Most males don't think that way of educated low-income women, and so are more willing to marry them. And so, many more female than male would-be-parasites find a host.

4. Sometimes, the income-generating spouse prefers that his spouse not work but that's now uncommon except among the wealthy. More often, the income generator (or his or her parent) asks the spouse to try harder to land a professional-level job so she can contribute to the family income she's good at spending.

So, the non-earner makes a half-hearted failed effort after which she or he rails, for example, "You don't understand how tough the job market is, especially for a woman, and especially with a liberal arts degree."

Few husbands or parents have the guts to tell the non-earner, "Then why did you major in art history?! (or French literature, sociology, women's studies, etc.)" They fear the onslaught of fury, tears, or retaliatory accusations likely to follow.

5. Soon after, if a woman, she gets pregnant. Sometimes, the husband subtly or not subtly asks her if she wants to have an abortion, for example, "Do you think we're ready?" Because he can't force her to have an abortion, the baby comes, even if he doesn't want to be a father nor financially support it, let alone become the sole source of income so she can be a stay-at-home mother.

Men, unless you are ready to be a father or have absolute trust that your partner, without fail, uses reliable birth control, you must wear a condom every time or, if you're sure you never want children, have a vasectomy. Why? Because if she gets pregnant, you have no power: No matter how fervently you plead that you don't want a baby, if she decides she wants it, you're stuck with at least 18 years of enormous commitment of time, energy, and money.

Ah, relationships: They can be so rewarding yet so fraught.

5. She (or occasionally, her husband) insists it's important for her to stay home at least until the child is five, although, as I've documented in earlier posts, the research does not support the validity of that assertion. See, for example, the review of the literature I present in the third-from-the-last comment on this post.

6. When the baby reaches school-age, the brand-name-U-grad mother knows it's unseemly to remain a stay-at-home mother, so she gets pregnant again or goes to graduate school.

7. After taking a long time to finish graduate school and after another desultory job search, she fails to find more than an easy, ill-paying, part-time job, claiming, for example, that the job market is tough for stay-at-home moms.

8. The stay-at-home woman or man creates make-work to seem busy, taking longer to do things than necessary: for example, cooking unnecessarily time-consuming meals ("I had to stop at the Indian market for this spice,") searching for the perfect bathroom accessories, and getting overinvolved/overprotective with the kids, often inhibiting the child's self-confidence and self-efficacy.

Here's a less obvious example. After booking a teenager onto my show to talk about the book he wrote, his stay-at-home mother sent me a dozen emails filled with more information about him than I could use in five shows. Despite my saying, "I have more than I need," she kept sending more stuff. That enables her to tell her husband and friends that it takes a lot of time to support her son's efforts to promote his book.

9. If our reluctant worker lands a job, he or she doesn't work hard at it. She or he invokes excuses she's heard from her friends, pop psych or women'smagazines, or therapist, such as "I'm so afraid of failure that I don't try." or "I'm a perfectionist, which is painful, so I avoid tasks."

10. So this person continues as a mediocre worker, or quits, complaining that the boss is a jerk, work is too stressful, that corporate America (or government, or nonprofit employment) sucks, and/or that the workplace isn't family-friendly, or that "It really would be better if I stayed home with our child."

11. Women live much longer than men, in part because of the stress of an out-of-home job, so it is likely that women non-earners will bury a beast-of-burden husband or two and go to her grave having taken far more from family and society than she has given. She has been a parasite.

The saddest part is that these people--both the women and men--who are afflicted with the Parasite Syndrome are so capable; they could so abet society.

Alas, they choose to have hurt the society they could have helped. They take up slots at prestigious colleges.,  having written application essays asserting that they want to do important things to improve society. (I've never known of a successful application essay to Brand-Name U whose admission essay said, "I aspire to be a stay-at-home parent.")  They then freeload off parents and spouse, and later, often squander yet more societal resources by going back for another degree without ever making much use of it. They certainly never come close to living up to their potential. You don't need a brand-name degree or two to be a good stay-at-home parent, let alone a stay-at-home childless wife, which, as reported in a recent study, is a growing group.

Medical school is a particularly unethical example. Many people go to medical school knowing they'd like to work part-time and take some years off for parenting--Given the shortage of physicians, especially in urban and rural areas, that is unethical.

If you know someone, male or female, who is afflicted with the Parasite Syndrome, consider emailing or showing the person this article. True, their first reaction will likely be defensiveness at being called a parasite, but if their behavior, in fact, fits the syndrome and they are reasonably well-adjusted, their desire to not be thought of as a parasite is more likely to motivate them to change than would a tactful request to put more effort into their career. Why? Because a tactful request rarely disturbs complacency, let alone a parasite.


Grace said...

Nice "desperate housewives" photo. I want to rally against shows like that for perpetuating the myths that (a) most women secretly want that parasitic life and (b) that woman mooch more than men.

Whatever the gender, let the selfish people be. They really believe the lies they tell themselves - that they are victims in a world that doesn't understand the pressure they are under. Even if they read this post, they wouldn't get it.

I don't think the radical feminists have created this environment. I think it is the wealth of the western world that gives us a sense of entitlement. We think we deserve only pleasure and leisure - what used to be wants have now become needs. There are so many that don't see the value in a good day of hard work.

Anonymous said...

I know a male parasite, my brother-in-law. He's far worse than the person you describe.

I couldn't tell you about his education, but I bet that over the years, he hasn't learned much. He never seems to have a job, he sleeps around all the time, and he has been abusive to my sister. Despite that, she stays with him, and nobody knows why. She never seemed like the kind of person who would take that from her man.

The most unfortunate thing about this is that they have a 10-year-old son together, and he is absorbing all of this. So he will either do the same thing because this is what he knows best, or he will go in the opposite direction because he's disgusted by what's happening. He's a pretty smart kid, so he might avoid it, but my guess is that the parasitic cycle will continue.

Jeff Shore said...

Marty - You know you are ruining your chances for ever running for public office with posts like these!

That said, I'll put a sign on my front lawn if you ever do!!!

Anonymous said...

But men still knowingly marry women like this, so it's a little difficult to feel all that sorry for them.

And in the lower socioeconomic classes, it's oftentimes the man that is the parasite. I see it everyday in my job that caters to these folks.

Dr. Fred said...

Marty, this is your best post yet. You should expect some ‘heat’.

This article should be printed out and handed to every high school student along with their diploma as they graduate. I’ve never seen anything like this…you hit a ‘reality’ home run. It’s basically a condom in written form.

In my opinion, you wrote this for men to protect themselves from deviant women who have a long term, self-serving, pre-determined agenda. I’m sure there are a few men out there that fit this ‘parasitic’ mold, but generally speaking, it’s for unaware men.

As a Gen X’r many of my male friends have subliminally been aware of this ‘syndrome’. It’s the reason why 90% of us between the ages of 28 and 40 aren’t married, and most likely, never will be. There’s also a syndrome for not getting married called: Happily Single.

If you run for office, let me know. You have my vote for simply living in the ‘real world’.

Thank you,

Dr. Fred

Anonymous said...

I'm a single, 40+ woman who can't imagine not working. But I can tell you that there are plenty of guys (well-off) who don't WANT their wives to work. My brother-in-law, for one. And it has crippled my sister, who used to be an ambitious person. So there are two people involved in the parasite syndrome: the moocher and the one who encourages the mooching to feed their own ego.

Grace said...

Nice picture change. Makes me think of "Generation Y".

Does anyone think the number of parasites are growing because of "Gen Y"? I know that Penelope Trunk says they are a hardworking bunch, but I've seen many of these young whippersnappers that want to live rich with no work.

Maybe I'm just a grumpy old "Gen X"er. If I start my next comment with "Back in my day..." and end it with "These youngsters don't know just how good they have it", just slap me.

Marty Nemko said...

Yes, I believe there are more parasites among Get Y'ers because they saw their boomer parents work hard in the workplace and not feel so good about it.

Anonymous said...

Marty has hit the nail on the head. Yes, I know parasites from both genders, but it is overwhelmingly the case that women fit the profile. Does this sound misogynistic to you? Don't believe me. Read this article from the liberal (read, avidly pro-Feminist) New York Times (October 26, 2003 NYT Magazine) by Lisa Belkin entitled: Opt Out of Work Revoluttion

Here are some quotes:

“A survey of women from the classes of [Harvard Business School] 1981, 1985 and 1991 found that only 38 percent were working full time” - while 95% of male graduates were working full time.

“Look at the United States Census, which shows that the number of children being cared for by stay-at-home moms has increased nearly 13 percent in less than a decade. At the same time, the percentage of new mothers who go back to work fell from 59 percent in 1998 to 55 percent in 2000.”

“As these women look up at the ‘top,,’ they are increasingly deciding that they don't want to do what it takes to get there..”

This is hard data, not mere opinion. There are other surveys and studies that show the same Opt-Out-of-Work phenomenon. Even women who don’t have kids, with MBAs from prestigious universities do not work full time to anywhere near the same degree as men. One would have thought, as the article says, that these MBAs would have been the most career oriented.

Women contribute less to Social Security than men but they are the major beneficiaries. They retire on average earlier than men and they live longer than men by about 5 to 6 years, all the while collecting Social Security. Is it any wonder men die of stress related diseases (suicide, high blood pressure etc. ) at much higher rates and much earlier than women?

Marty Nemko is one of those clear sighted observers of current day America and, as far as I can discern, he has the documented facts on his side.

What’s the solution to the parasite syndrome? Well, the first step, clearly, is to get all these facts, and more, out on the table for discussion. That, in and of itself, won’t necessarily change anything, but it will give people a chance to make conscious decisions in their lives instead of basing their lives on unexamined assumptions. That’s a beginning at least. Men should go into marriage knowing the consequences and women, and men, should be held accountable for the choices they make when they have been made aware of all the facts.

Markku said...

Most of the women and men I know are hardworking. For example, my wife, Dr. Barbara Nemko, Napa County Superintendent of Schools, works 60 hours a week while being a good wife and mother.

Mathematics says otherwise. 60 hours per week translates into either five twelwe hour workdays, six ten hour workdays, or seven eight-and-a-half hour workdays. If your number is correct, your wife basically never has a day off from work or if she has, she's for all practical purposes not around (at least not conscious) during the days she's working. And your wife is not even an investment banker, a young lawyer in a prestigeous law firm, or the owner of a start- up.

Many of you Americans have no balance in your lifes. No wonder a growing number of you are dropping out completely like those you call parasites. A similar phenomenon occurs in Japan.

Marty Nemko said...

My wife, as well as the many other people who work 60 hours a week are:
1. As productive in hour 60 as in hour 1.

2. Has plenty of time for a life.

3. Feels more vibrant about work and about life than most people who work 40 hour workweeks because they feel so productive and valued. It feels better for her to help a principal or parent than to watch TV, play golf, etc.

Markku said...

Feels more vibrant about work and about life than most people who work 40 hour workweeks because they feel so productive and valued. It feels better for her to help a principal or parent than to watch TV, play golf, etc.

Good for your wife that she has found a line of work so satisfying for her. It is nice to know that she's working so hard because she loves her work so much. Much of your wife's time at work is like volunteering but with pay.

So I think calling your wife hardworking is a mischaracterization if what she does feels like playing golf to an enthusiastic golf player. (Heck, playing golf is also hard work: aiming, swinging a club, a lot of walking etc. It's not easy get the ball into the hole with as few hits as possible.) She's one of those fortunate individuals whose work is also their hobby.

Many people who work 60 hours per week are not doing so out of love for their jobs. Many are doing so to be able to afford a house in a good neighbourhood where their children are safe to go to school away from gangs and other dangers and bad influences.

According to a recent Swedish study, hard work is a major source of happiness but only if that the work suits the strengths of the individual. If one's work is interesting and challenging enough but not too challenging, being hardworking is the easiest thing in the world.

Marty Nemko said...

It would be too strong to say she loves her work. She likes it and is very good at it, but her motivation to work long hours primarily derives from a sense of responsibility to society, and yes, she'd glad she's paid fairly for her work.

She gets more pleasure from out-of-work things, such as our hanging out with our dog, having dinner with friends, taking hikes with the dog, etc, but she has made a decision that her life will have been more wisely led if she spends work hours 40 through 60 being productive rather than relaxing. We have enough time to relax after hour #60.

Anonymous said...

Hi Marty

I am going to buck the trend here. I enjoyed the article; and I think I have parasitic behavior; but I am somewhat proud of it.
Let me clarify, before the screen bursts into flames.

I went to university for a long time; I paid for it myself working nights, and I got a "useless" arts degree. But I loved it; every moment of it; and I have a great deal of interest in the areas I studied and still follow them to this day.

I went overseas and found an "easy" job with low pay (for my level of education) and I enjoy working a little, and then spending my time doing things I love, that no one is going to pay me for. I wrote a book (admittedly, at about the skill of a monkey with crayons) over the past 2 years, I box 3 nights a week (am far far too old to actually get in a paid competitive ring), have a small plot and tend a few beets, read like a madman, enjoy watching old movies, practicising to get my motorcycle license....and so on.

I guess my point is that, I don't feel any drive to "put in 60 hour weeks" nor do I feel that there is any "pride" in that.
I have one life; it is my choice on how to use it. I like to take a casual approach, live my days peacefully and filled with leisure and pleasure.

I guess this makes me a parasite; and as much as I enjoy your articles, I guess I am on the outs with this one. I do enjoy your blog though; keep it up!


Marty Nemko said...

Dear Joe,
You don't sound like a parasite. You're not living off a spouse, parent, or govt. You're just living simply. You may not be making as much of a societal contribution as you might, but that doesn't make you a parasite.

All best,


Anonymous said...

Soooooo.... if I get a job, it's because some reverse discrimination was at play. If I stay home to raise a family, I'm a parasite. I'm confused.

Marty Nemko said...

I never said nor implied that all women get jobs because of reverse discrimination.

My message is clear: the world is better with both men and women in the workplace and that each job candidate should be judged on her or his merits, with no favoritism based on race, gender, or sexual orientation.

Noumenon said...

You didn't get near as much heat from this post as you deserved. It's like an echo chamber in here. Heck, I totally disagree with your whole philosophy here, and even I kind of agree with you.

Anonymous said...

Hey, what do you call all those divorced women who live off of their alimony and child support? The ones that don't work or remarry or live with a partner for the fear of losing an easy no-effort income?

Anonymous said...

Despite this thread being very old, I will echo the echo chamber comment and give the article some heat.

First, for each your sources that posits that children raised in daycare are just as well off as children raised by stay at home parents, I have read a source (peer-reviewed) that posits the opposite.

By your definition, I suppose I am a parasite who wasted her degree in geology and her career in geotechnical engineering.

I didn't trick my husband into paternity, though. He has always wanted children. And I don't spend a lot. We have no debt other than the mortgage because I budget well. (our house is smaller than our budget could allow, because we want my husband to be able to retire early).

Because I am home, we save a considerable amount of money on the cost of childcare and on the cost of home assistance for our ailing mothers.

I homeschool, I teach an after-school science program at our local elementary, I garden vegetables, I have a part-time job (from home-it's engineering-based), I caretake adults, the kids and I volunteer with local environmental projects, I do all the chores so my husband has time with the me and kids and to pursue his hobbies (no honey-do list).

I don't know where I would find the time to go get a particular Indian spice if it weren't at my local grocery store.

And I am a parasite.

You're right. Lazy stay-at-homes are parasites. But I think the stay-at-home in your article is a straw man (or woman). Easy to pick on to prove your point that all adults should have a 9-5 (or more) job or they are bad.