The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued

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9780805066180: The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued

In the pathbreaking tradition of Backlash and The Second Shift, Labor of Love opens the last frontier in the fight for women's equality: the economic penalties of motherhood.

In this provocative book, award-winning economics journalist Ann Critten argues that although women have been liberated, mothers have not. Drawing on hundreds of interviews around the country and the most current research in economics, history, child development, and law, she shows how mothers are systematically disadvantaged and made depent by a society that praises the labor of love but undervalues and even exploits those who perform it.

The costs of motherhood are apparent everywhere. College-educated women pay a "mommy tax" of more than a million dollars in lost income when they have a child. Family law deprives mothers of financial equality in marriage. Most child care is excluded from the GDP, at-home mothers are not counted in the labor force, and the social safety net simply leaves them out. With passion and clarity, Critten dismantles the principal argument for the status quo: that it's a woman's "choice." She demonstrates, on the contrary, that proper recognition and reward for mothers' essential contributions would only enhance the welfare of all.

Bold and galvanizing, full of innovative solutions, Labor of Love offers a much-needed accounting of the price mothers pay to carry out society's most important job.

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Review:

Many mothers have long suspected that they're getting the short end of the deal--and finally, a highly respected economics journalist proves they're not just griping. Despite all the lip service given to the importance of motherhood, American mothers are not only not paid for all the work they do, but also penalized for it. "The gift of care can be both selfless and exploited," writes Ann Crittenden in this intrepid and groundbreaking work. Motherhood is dangerously undervalued--it's now the single biggest risk factor for poverty in old age. Mothers lose out in forgone income if they stay at home, an inflexible job market makes part-time work scarce or inadequately paid, and in the case of divorce, they're refused family assets by divorce laws that don't count their unpaid work.

Crittenden is fond of pointing out the hypocrisies plaguing America, and one is the belief in a welfare state enabling single mothers. The true welfare state, she says, protects paid workers from unforeseen risks through social security, unemployment insurance, and workman's compensation. Mothers who work part-time or not at all have no such safety net and typically take a nosedive into poverty, along with their children, after divorce or the death of their spouse. Married working moms are also punished--they pay the highest taxes on earned income in America. Crittenden's impassioned argument is based on research in a variety of fields, from economics to child development to demography. She shows how mothers were demoted from an economic asset to dependents, why welfare for only a certain group of mothers bred bitterness among the rest, and why there is currently an exodus of highly trained women from the work force.

Crittenden also travels far and wide for solutions. She finds them not only in such European nations as Sweden--which has abolished child poverty by giving mothers a year's paid leave, cash subsidies, and flexible work schedules--but in the U.S. military, which runs the best subsidized child-care program in the country and knows the value of providing special benefits to those who selflessly serve their country. Ultimately, Crittenden insists, the equality women have been fighting for will only be achieved when mothers are recognized as productive citizens creating a much-needed public good--human capital, or in layman's terms, well-raised children who grow into productive, law abiding citizens (and who pay into social security). This is an admirable--and charged--defense of motherhood, reminding us that unpaid female labor is "the priceless, invisible heart of the economy," and those who engage in this labor deserve the same rights, and the same respect, as other workers. --Lesley Reed

About the Author:

Ann Critten is the author of Killing the Sacred Cows: Bold Ideas for a New Economy. A former reporter for The New York Times and a Pulitzer Prize nominee, she has also been a financial writer for Newsweek, a visiting lecturer at M.I.T. and Yale, and an economics commentator on CBS News. Her articles have appeared in Fortune, The Nation, Foreign Affairs, McCalls, and Working Woman, among others. She lives with her husband and son in Washington, D.C.

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