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Earning Power!: Yale's "Secret" Motherhood Path

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Yale's "Secret" Motherhood Path

Louise Story of the New York Times recently published results of a Yale survey that had many women up in arms. E.J. Graff, who most recently co-authored Evelyn Murphy’s book “Getting Even” stated, “The elite media declare yet again that feminism is dead, and that most women yearn to stay at home and tend babies.”

The truth according to the census is 90% of American women do have babies before the age of 40, but it doesn’t preclude them from wanting equality with men.

Graff claimed women wereupset that the Yale study of 138 freshman and senior females revealed that 85, or 60% said they planned to cut back or quit work when they had kids. This would leave 40% of them responding with plans to work full time.

Incredibly, rather than being preposterous, this survey seems to accurately reflect the present workforce. According to Catalyst Research, about 38% of married mothers work full time. The others have cut back or live off of other sources of income.

What IS disturbing about the NYT article is the quote they used from a student saying, “My mother’s always told me you can’t be the best career woman and the best mother at the same time. You always have to choose one over the other.”

Just turn the quote around and try something no one was ever quoted as saying, “My father always told me you can’t be the best career man and the best father at the same time.” It sounds completely silly. Also, would really discourage or upset all of the great career fathers out there. No guy would get away with giving that advice to his son. What would the result be?

There is a disconnect between the idea that women and men can both be good parents and good workers, despite the fact that most parents have to work. Bringing home money is part of being a good parent.

The article doesn’t mention if the Yale women in question plan on returning to work after 4 years when the kids start school. But surveys show that even if women do leave work to give babies attention in the first years, the same intensity isn’t required in the later year’s child-raising. Most women return to combine work and kids quite well.

What women don’t choose is to be paid 2.5% less per child for the same jobs once they have children, to face speculation about their commitment to work (or their kids), to be penalized for asking for flexible hours while the kids were infants, or to be sidelined to less important positions because of bias.

The Congressional Budget Office found that women’s earnings were 98% of men’s when looking at people’s wages from ages 27 to 33 that never had a child. A National Center for Policy Awareness report says, “When women behave in the workplace as men do, the wage gap between them is small.” But having no children is NOT how men behave.

As a nation, we hold out the hope that someone will hold the raising of our children as a priority over career advancement. Historically, we’ve wanted that person to be a woman. But the truth is, when families insist the children come first, both men and women agree that they work to live, not live to work.

Pregnancy, having a child, and raising a child is a 50/50 responsibility of the mother and father. The wage gap cannot continue to be 100% blamed angrily on men, especially when human resource departments that set or monitor wages are made up predominantly of women. Nor can blame be shifted 100% to women simply because of the pre-knowledge that there is a bias against women with children that will affect their pay.

Instead, we can correct the bias through increased awareness and participation of both men and women toward eliminating the wage gap for the next generation.

See both stories at


At 9:34 AM, Anonymous Leigh B. said...

One angle I would love to see you consider is that employers of men with children participate in the discrimination of women with children by intentionally providing men with more work opportunity. When a woman has a child, even progressive employers reflexively know that the woman will be absent from work for a time (at the very least to recover physically from the birth), and will likely want flexibility when or if she returns. But the same generousity is not afforded to men. Is it because employers of men know that new fathers now "have a family to support" and will want to work more, not less, and thus give them more earning opportunity while curtailing women's?

This is a topic I would like to see explored more, since it's a reality that few people seem to discuss. I personally feel that it's not just employers of women who are causing these problems, but employers of men, as well. Because employers of men do not expect their employees to cut back on their work load, want "flex-time" or want to work from home, they do not offer these choices to men and men do not demand them. So, not only are new mothers feeling pressure to quit or cut back by their own employers, but also indirectly get the same pressure from their husbands' employers.

But ths reality is not necessary malicious as it is misguided. An employer of a man who knows his wife may be taking time off from work to be with a baby may feel empathetic that the previously duel-earning family is, for a time at least, a single-earner family. The employer may feel he/she is helping by offering the father more opportunity to earn, but the problem with such benevolence is it's more likely to encourage the family to become more dependent on the father's income -- and give the wife less reason to hurry back to work.

So what we really need, contrary to what critics of feminism claim feminists want, is not "more rights" for working women. We need more options (aka, rights) for working fathers regarding how they are allowed to handle the birth of a new child. Some fathers may feel it's their duty to "make up" for a loss of income, but increased income for the father now could mean a loss of income for his wife in the future. Rather, if working fathers had the option of extended paternity leave, flex time, and the ability to work from home (as is sometimes the case for white-collar working mothers), then this relieves some burden from the mothers and allows both parents to resume normal workloads faster. The mother loses less traction in her career because she's gone for a shorter amount of time, the father feels less of a burden to support the entire family by himself, and industry overall wins because two good workers have been retained. Studies have been done to prove that companies that offer parental leave and flex options experience more employee loyalty, so while companies might not enjoy short-term pinches, in the long term it is really a win-win situation.


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