The Price of Motherhood Reading Challenge

The Price of Motherhood

I am a social sciences nerd. Give me that data! This book hit on all cylinders for me. The Price of Motherhood is written by Ann Crittenden, former reporter for the New York times, financial writer, lecturer, economics commentator, Pulitzer Prize nominee and mother.  It’s a well researched history and analysis of the impact that motherhood has on the economic and social standing of women. Every page of my copy is covered in notes, highlights, and lots of WTF?! and Really????

In my humble opinion, motherhood is a worthwhile endeavor. I’ve devoted my life to it – without regret.  I also wholeheartedly support every woman’s choice to become a mother or not. That said, there are real and insidious forces that keep mothers from achieving many of the advances of the women’s movement.  Studies have shown that an important element of the gender wage gap is a penalty for bearing children.

Would it have been nice to have more flexible options for being a mother and also remaining in the workforce?  Absolutely. Would I have liked to have opportunities that kept me professionally engaged, while also giving me the flexibility to attend to my children the way I saw fit? Without a doubt. Do I want my daughters to have better options should they decide to become mothers? Bingo. That’s why I’m here.

This book was published in 2001. I have many notes to myself to look into more current statistics, but from my experience and the research Aileen and I have done on the subject, very little has changed over the last 17 years.  We are no closer to family friendly work policies, access to quality, affordable childcare or government policies that do anything but punish women for doing the thing we are expected to do, be mothers.

As I mentioned before, the book is incredibly well researched. There are 30 pages of footnotes. It is a dense and infuriating read. I highly recommend it, but if you’re not into this kind of book, I’ll highlight some of the more interesting/disturbing facts:

  • Motherhood is the single biggest risk factor for poverty in old age.
  • Almost all of the activities of mothers are omitted from the scorecard of capitalism.
  • Mothers typically spend more of their income on their children, so countries who provide subsidies to mothers in the form of paid leave, reduced work hours and subsidized childcare, have much lower rates of childhood poverty.
  • US tax laws discourage two breadwinner families
  • Aside from not being paid for their work, mothers are omitted from other worker benefits like Social Security, disability insurance and workers comp.
  • Divorce laws and child support systems are heavily weighted in favor of the post divorce lifestyle of fathers.
  • Although childcare workers are entrusted with children during the most vulnerable and impactful years of their lives, the work is often classified as unskilled labor and paid an abysmal wage.
  • The US Department of Defense offers the largest and arguably the best subsidized childcare system in the country.
  • Women have often stood in the way of progress on this issue.

The final chapter of the book outlines some excellent policy ideas to improve the economic and social status for mothers.  Some of the ideas are revolutionary and some are simple and straightforward, but in the almost 20 years since the book was published, not a single one of them have been implemented in the US.

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