Sunday, June 04, 2006

Motherhood Discrimination or Special Privileges for Breeders?

For every dollar a man makes, most women make about 90 cents...but women who are also mothers working outside their homes average 73 cents. Single mothers who are employed only make about 55-66 cents for every man's dollar. Stay-at-home mothers, of course, earn nothing, and get no social security credit (and little or no respect?) independent of their husbands. If they had a career before having a baby (or two) and "opting out", they are likely to lose ground in it, perhaps irredeemably.

You can probably guess how I feel about these issues. Read Motherhood Discrimination on AlterNet, by Joan Blades and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner (the authors of The Motherhood Manifesto) if you're interested. The "Special Privileges for Breeders" phrase came from the mostly inane comments posted on the AlterNet article.

Although I disagreed with several of the points in Mary Riddell's Let's Celebrate. There's Never Been a Better Time for Mothers article (which also provides an interesting British perspective on some of the same issues), I think she's right on the money when she notes that the value of children has been downgraded in modern society. I think she's right when she says that children "recalibrate adults' soured outlook and remake their world", too.


S. Lynne Fremont said...

I have a lot to say about the motherhood discrimination article. I think that it's very title hits at the heart of the issue. *Motherhood* discrimination. The real question is are mothers paid less than single women and men because of actual discrimination or is it because they are less productive workers? I suspect that at least part of the wage gap is because mothers are less productive workers at their places of employment.

Most women who are married with children and who work still end up doing the majority of the child rearing and household tasks. They go to work all day and then come home and work for most of the evening. They spend some or part of their weekends cleaning the house. If a woman with kids is single than even more of the household chores falls on her shoulders. Also, mothers are generally the ones who are expected to leave work if a child is sick. I am sorry but anyone who has to do all that work at home and also work 40 hours a week just isnt going to be as productive as someone who doesnt. Leisure time isnt just fun, it makes for better workers.

If I were into doing research (and I am not), a good way to test my thesis would be to compare the incomes of single fathers who have custody of their kids with single mothers who have custody of their kids. A wage gap there might more accurately reflect discrimination. Even so it would be important to correct for any periods of time a parent took off from work to be a primary care giver. This is because anyone who leaves the labor force for any reason ends up earning less for the rest of their careers. Women are much more likely than men to take time off from work.

All in all, I would expect to find some employer discrimination but not nearly as much as the article you linked to says there is. I think that the real problem is a cultural expectation that mothers need be the primary caregivers of children when there is no reason fathers cant do their fair share of the work.

With that said, I generally agree with most of the suggestions that the motherhood manifesto people believe should occur although I believe that such changes should apply to everyone and not just parents. For instance, everyone benefits when employers offer flexible work time. I think that rather than paid parental leave, everyone should be able to take long periods of paid leave from time to time. I also think that national health insurance would allow people to be more flexible in their employment choices and would allow for alternative work schedules such as a six hour work day. It isnt just parents who would or should benefit from such things.

Anjali said...

Sandy, thanks for always giving me something to think about! I'd be so uneducated if it weren't for your blog!

I own Motherhood Manifesto, and couldn't agree more with the authors.

Sandy said...

I'm sure that there is some discrimination - I have heard too many stories of women getting fired before there is any drop in productivity, or because of a perceived loss of productivity when none could be documented. It is a cultural stereotype, this loss of productivity, that may or may not be true for a given individual.

For some jobs, it is difficult to measure productivity - I've worked a couple places where the non-smokers were all fuming (pun intended) because they they didn't get cigarette breaks, as saw themselves as picking up their co-worker's slack - although if the smokers worked longer, what difference does it make?

Obviously an individual worker's productivity has to be measured on an individual basis, and I agree that someone who isn't doing their job should not have to be "carried" by their childless peers.

It would be interesting to see the statistics for parents in general as well as fathers. My perception is that as more fathers become hands-on parents, there is more discrimination against parents in general (as opposed to mothers).

I think the problem is that parenting in general is not compatible with some employer's expectations. And you are quite right in that the workplace changes would benefit anyone with a life outside their job. Since good parenting is so crucial to making good people - and basically the only way for culture to reproduce over the long term - I do think that there should be some special benefits for breeders.

Sandy said...

Also, the single mothers part is interesting - Mary Riddell talks about a fascinating article by Alison Wolf, about British social class and motherhood. Part of the reason single mothers (in both the US & the UK) average so much less per hour is because of their lower average education levels.

The article's called "Working Girls" and is here:

Wolf's article also highlights a cultural gap between parents and the child-free.

MommyWithAttitude said...

I have a pretty conservative point of view on this issue. I think that population growth is NECESSARY for a sustainable economy and that therefore "breeders" are providing a valuable service to the country.

If not for immigration the American economy would be struggling in the same ways some of the European economies (with negative population growth)are currently.

Also, I believe that intelligence is in large part hereditary and (trying not to sound like too much of an elitist here), it will be a sad day in America when most of the highly intelligent women decide it's not really worth it to reproduce in our culture.