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Soraya Chemaly

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Ann Or Hilary: Either Way, Motherhood Is a Dismal Financial Decision for American Women

Posted: 04/13/2012 5:04 pm

BREAKING NEWS GUYS: It is "arguable" that one of the single worst financial decisions a woman can make in this country is to become a mother. Regardless of whether she gets paid for work that she does. And one of the most disastrous economic growth policies governments can pursue is to impede women's ability to plan their families and be paid fairly for their participation in the labor force. And yet this is exactly what the Republican party is dedicated to doing. The result of "secondary" in importance "social issues" is to ensure that stay-at-home or not, women pay and pay and pay for their reproductive choices or lack thereof.

Today's cynical Hilary Rosen/Ann Romney "Gasp!" is nothing more than this week's politically flavored sexist-media-loves-a-"cat"-fight. What is "working woman" versus "stay-at-home" code for? For the most part it is code for "what is a woman's relationship to a man and what is his earning potential?" It's a paternalistic, sexist framework that subordinates women either way.

That's why this is not about a mommy war. It's about keeping women dependent, especially by DEvaluing the work of women who are mothers and caretakers (in and out of the home) -- their time, their labor, their productivity -- by making balancing work and family as hard as possible. It's the way we penalize women for taking on the bulk of our society's reproduction responsibilities while simultaneously telling them "it's the most important job in the world."

You want to create jobs, stimulate and grow the economy? Stop harassing and penalizing women seeking independence and financial security. Allow people to plan their families and create systematized, institutional and cultural approaches to work/life balance for both men and women.

What I am not hearing anyone say loudly and clearly in this Rosen/Romney snafu is that women's ability -- not desire or choice -- to take part in the economy, to be productive in the economy, to help stimulate the economy is based on her freedom to make reproductive decisions or lack thereof and on the more active, unpunished by culture, participation of men in child care.

Motherhood in America , taking place as it does in a vacuum of cultural, corporate and governmental support, and idealized as part of a paternalistic, heterosexual and gender-hierarchical social structure, is why women -- most of whom have to earn a living either as supplemental or primary -- have to stop working, work part-time, and cycle in and out of the work force. It's why we have a debilitating gender pay gap -- really a maternal pay gap when you examine it closely -- and why women make up the majority of the poor.

Consider these facts:

  • Women make up more than 50 percent of the American workforce.

  • 40 percent of wives earn more than their husbands.

  • Women are more and more often heads of households, now 22 percent.

  • The highest earning window for women, practically the only time they are not subject to the wage gap, is when they are single and childless, usually in their twenties. They have to live in cities and have gone to college.

  • More than 50 percent of children born to women under 30 are born to single mothers.

  • 60 percent of women with children under the age of three and 77 percent of mothers with school-age children remain in the workforce.

  • When a woman has a baby, her chances of being hired go down, compared to a single woman, by 44 percent.

  • When a woman has a child her pay drops by 11 percent.

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, mothers works fewer hours, have to work part time more and cannot take on overtime.

  • Fully 55 percent of stay at home moms would like to work, for pay, out of the home.

  • Working mothers are penalized in terms of long-term success by having to work in an interrupted fashion that perpetually erodes their career tenures or experiences.

  • The distribution of retirement income is gendered and unbalanced.

  • If a woman "chooses" to be a stay at home mom, because entrenched pay discrepancy, cultural habits and a gender segregated workforce make that "choice" the most logical and financially rational, she is not compensated, either through pay or benefits, for her investment of time and effort and risks her long term financial security.
  • This is why money is not "more important to men" and why bickering about mommy wars is a red herring. Ignoring demographic trends because they erode your privileges (which is different from being oppressive) does not make them go away.

    Mitt Romney and Republican legislators would like us to focus on what really matters to women. Ann Romney, because apparently women are either a different species or speak a form of English that Mitt et al. cannot understand in their particular female-deaf form of manliness, has assured them that, based on what she is hearing, it's "the economy." So -- let's talk about women, work and the economy.

    First, women's work is often invisible and unpaid. Let's pretend that Ann Romney is, like the 143 million other women in the country, not the wife of a multimillionaire Mormon Bishop and talk about her unpaid work as a stay-at-home mom. According to the Wall Street Journal, an average housewife would make $138,095 if she were paid for her labor (that is what she would have to pay someone else). Ann Romney is not your average housewife, but, let's go with it. Ann Romney's lost wages for 30 years of providing 24 hour unpaid childcare for her husband, running a household, nursing sick children, being a chauffeur, food shopping, cooking, being executive assistant to six boys and men and other assorted duties is $4,142,850. She also did this, graciously, while struggling with major illness. Ann Romney, like all "non-working" mothers, is not financially compensated for her labor. (She is however, also like other married women who work, taxed for her efforts.) Many women in this position are thought of as parasites and a net drag by abusive husbands. In addition, Romney gave up any hope of related benefits for social security, for example, and put her trust in Mitt Romney's long-term good graces. For women involved in the 50 percent of marriages that will end in divorce, however, this is a terrible economic scenario. For unmarried women or those depending on dual incomes to survive, this is also not an option. For women not married to a multi-millionaire Mormon bishop -- that would be well over 99 percent of the 142 million of the rest of us -- the real costs of being an unpaid, full-time, hard-working stay-at-home mom is too high. I don't begrudge Ann Romney her choice. She has not only put her financial well being but also her salvation into Mitt Romney's hands. But that is not either available or desirable to the overwhelming majority of women.

    Second, family planning is the key to financial survival and security. Around 50 percent of pregnancies currently in the U.S. are unplanned (it's a side effect of not teaching people how they get pregnant). Why do women seek abortions? Studies have shown that it's because they have families and are more often than not financially strapped, tired, responsible for children and/or other family members, trying to improve their lot in life. It is because pregnancy and motherhood affects a woman's health and healthcare costs, child and child-care related expenses, her pursuit of higher education, her ability to work productively and for financial gain, her ability to parent other children, her chances of relying on the state help for support and her risk of long-term poverty. You know what the real entitlement program I worry about is? The fact that the reproductive control experiences of the people advocating anti-family friendly policies is primarily limited to the changing of the temperature of their tighty-whiteys.

    You know what the opposite of PLANNED parenthood is, UNPLANNED parenthood. And you know what that costs to women, families, the government, and "the important economy" will be when they increase as they will if the Republican Party leadership has its way with women?

    • More unplanned pregnancies than virtually anywhere else in the industrialized world
    • An increase in abortions (whether safe and legal or not)
    • Decreased maternal health
    • Decreased relationship stability
    • Lower educational aspirations and accomplishments for women and their children, impaired female workforce participation
    • Increased health care costs related to poor prenatal and neonatal care
    • Increases in welfare program participation
    • Higher maternal death rates.

    It is safe to assume that unplanned pregnancies and reduced maternal health have the effect of
    reducing women's workforce participation and reducing the social and economic status of women and children with all kinds of impacts on market stimulation, economic growth and government spending. By the way, poor, sick, tired and dead women cannot contribute to what is "really important" -- that would be "the economy."

    Third, gender equality, which requires reproductive freedom, justice and autonomy for women, means INCREASED ECONOMIC ACTIVITY. Women's ability to plan and manage their pregnancies -- with or without men -- spurs economic growth. This is true all over the world. Countries with high gender equity indices usually have stronger economies because they understand the value of the human capital that women represent. As noted here, "In mature economies, attitudes toward gender equality and the actual possibilities for combining parenthood with gainful employment are decisive. Countries governed by traditional male-dominant attitudes run the risk of long-term economic stagnation."

    If you do not support a woman's right to choose when to become a mother, and you actively seek to deny her reproductive health options and reduce her ability to be paid fairly for her work, then you actively work against economic growth and prosperity, for individuals, families and the country. If you insist on modeling economic policy on an outdated, sluggish, pater-familia model then you will get an outdated, sluggish mater-familia bashing economy. The "less important social issue" policies -- "getting rid" of Planned Parenthood, eliminating abortion, reducing access to contraception and affordable healthcare, abstinence-only miseducation, and more -- through which Mitt Romney and the Republican party are eliminating women's options (and therefore their families options) are an ECONOMIC DISASTER.

    In these ways Mitt Romney and the Republican party are committed to infringing on all women's ability to live freely and healthily and to making sure that women continue to be penalized for their maternity to the detriment of families and THE ECONOMY.

     

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