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The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most…

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

by Ann Crittenden

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I read this book while I was pregnant and kept thinking, "What the hell did I get myself into?!" It is an excellent breakdown of almost every myth that motherhood is the best thing ever. It points out policy and societal flaws that must be changed in order for motherhood to be a state where caring for children is not just a realm for mothers, but for fathers, friends, and neighbors.

  roniweb | May 30, 2019 |
The book was a well-researched exploration of motherhood. I found her discussion of the split in the feminist movement. One part affirmed that certain types of work were beneficial and deserved compensation. This included cooking, child education and nursing. Another segment of feminists, tended to regard womens' work as completely unimportant and inherently demeaning. The latter force tended to have prominence in the '80's creating a large rift between working women and those who stayed at home.
The book seemed a bit out of date in that this rift has gotten better in recent years. Women who grew up knowing they could go into any profession tend to want greater work-life balance and some companies now do a better job of offering it (some of them). Also now that a generation has grown up with no one learning home-ec, it's easier to recognize it's importance.
Her chapter on divorce was truly terrifying. The financial impact on women is large and often leaves them using welfare as a form of "unemployment benefits" when they have to stop work suddenly to care for children.
At the same time, I understand why a man would want to start a second family. The courts might be bad at enforcing child support, but they're also bad about enforcing visitation rights. If a woman is able to force her husband to be secondary in her children's lives, they will almost always choose to care for the parent who they saw more on a day to day basis in old age. This creates a large incentive for men to provide for children who they are able to be around and who are more likely to care for them in their old age. This intangible source of wealth also could be considered.
Most of her solutions were unrealistic, but informative none-the-less. Reforming social security so that both partners got an equal share while they were married could work if it ever got out of committee. ( )
  marikolee | Aug 30, 2010 |
Very thought-provoking. ( )
1 vote Yestare | Jan 18, 2010 |
What you get in The Price of Motherhood is an interesting look at what has become a "hot topic" among what seem to be an endless stream of women leaving high-paying jobs to devote more time to raising their children...they are discovering what the rest of us already know and they aren't any happier about it than the rest of us. Crittenden presents us with information drawn both from her personal experience and from those of dozens of women all over the world and she looks at systems that support (or fail to) women and children in countries the globe over. Distilled, Crittenden's message is that women who have children in the United States sacrifice at least some level of professional advancement, societal status, leisure time, and economic security and/or independence. She believes that college-educated women, who have (or had) the best shot of "having it all", lose the most. If a highly educated women leaves the workforce to have a child, Crittenden cites data that estimates she will lose about a million dollars in overall lifetime earnings; additionally, she will not be economically compensated for parenting and running a household. In this end, she will receive no social security benefits for the work she does at home; she faces an inflexible job market that offers minimal opportunity for adequately paid part-time work; and if she divorces, most state laws will deny her family assets because divorce laws do not count unpaid work.

The Price of Motherhood is interesting and informative while also managing to be deeply depressing. Above all else, I think it is a book all young women should read...this one or one VERY like it. The message that becoming a mother basically incurs a penalty for the rest of a woman's life whether she has "career aspirations" or not is one that I don't think enough young girls and women get. We're all led to believe that motherhood is the highest calling, that it and keeping a solid household is something that's inherently women's work and this work, while being touted as all important, is largely undervalued and unappreciated. Girls and Women everywhere should be going into motherhood with more foreknowledge of what it really means for their long term career goals.

I like that the book acknowledges that the wage gap between single, childless men and women is all but non-existent and that it really doesn't come into play for men or women until they decide to have children. While there is definitely a mommy tax for women (with children) which is not present for men (with children) making 40,000 or more a year, with a stay-at-home wife, I would have liked more time devoted to the fact that there is also a parent penalty (just a mommy tax) for those people who can't or won't put in the hours that single, non-married, childless individuals do. Men are also penalized for taking time out for their families, for going home at the scheduled end of the day and for not having as great a scheduling flexibility as their single co-workers. Crittenden focuses almost solely on women/mothers...but I feel that there is a penalty for both men and women with children in the workplace today. Reading The Price of Motherhood is a good starting place for those people considering undertaking the daunting task of becoming parents. Most of us go into it thinking about the benefits and not so much about the cost or penalties that are also a part of that decision...or we falsely underestimate what being a parent can truly mean long term.

While I feel that Crittenden elucidates the problem quite well, her solutions are bound to stir up controversy, like The Motherhood Manifesto, I found myself cheering on one had and booing on the other. I'd like to see many of the benefits that she lists, but single, childless people already have a big enough problem with paying taxes to support public schools, I just don't see a majority of people (even mothers, working or not) embracing these types of policies/changes and frankly, some are just unrealistic in my opinion. I agree that change is needed and we need women who are willing to work to make these issues more visible and people in office that will be able to take that visibility a reality, I just don't know how quickly that is likely to happen.

I'd recommend this book without reservation, though as I said above, I don't think all of her solutions are viable this IS information that women considering having children should have before they make that decision...which means Crittenden's message needs to be delivered early to young women. I give it an A-, it's well written, easy to understand and highly informative, but falls short on the solution side. A great start, but don't stop here. ( )
  the_hag | Jan 19, 2008 |
Lots to think about with this book. I don't agree with all her solutions to the problems discussed in this book, but it did make me look at the value of the work I do as a homemaker and a mother. ( )
  tjsjohanna | Oct 30, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0805066195, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:42 -0400)

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A former New York Times reporter tackles the difficult issue of gender economic equality, confronting the financial penalties levied on motherhood.

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