The Motherhood Discounting

This is the second in a series examining a post written by Chamber of Commerce Senior Communications Director Brad Peck, and the subsequent apologies for it by himself and Chamber COO David Chavern.

Peck decided to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the recognition of women’s right to vote by writing that the well-documented gender pay gap is mostly due to “individual choice,” then suggesting that women who want equal pay have a “fetish for money,” and recommending that women focus their energies on “choosing the right partner at home.” The apologies were cold comfort, considering the Chamber’s lobbying history. Part 1, here.

Numerous workplace studies, including those conducted by government agencies, have demonstrated that given equal levels of education and experience, women get paid less than men.

Mothers have it worse. Not only are they paid less than men, mothers are usually paid less than women without children, while fathers are usually paid more than childless men. (If you were wondering, no, the premium paid to fathers wouldn’t make up for the lower wages of mothers even in families with both a mother and father in paid employment.) Since about 80 percent of women become mothers this represents a quite large and consistent shift of wealth away from working women compared to their male peers.

Peck dismissively referred to taking time off work as a lifestyle choice, but it can be hard to go right back to work after having a child. Especially following a c-section, which is something like being given a 4-8 inch perforated hernia with a scalpel.

(I realize that’s not a pleasant image, but it isn’t as bad to think about as it is to go through. Women are hard pressed to afford having decisions made about their economic worth by people who have the luxury of not thinking about their experiences.)

If the job market punishes time away from work equally, but 80 percent of women will find it extremely difficult to have a continuous employment record, the effect of this supposedly neutral punishment is to mark mothers out as bad employees. When the only two explanations for persistent inequality are either that a practice is unfair or that something is wrong with the group that keeps coming up short, arguing that the practices are fair is very nearly the same as blaming those who fail to thrive under them.

Oh, but no one made her quit her job, you hear people say. Maybe.

Or maybe, when 51 percent of new mothers don’t have paid leave and about that many don’t have paid sick leave, when taking unpaid leave can get you fired, when there’s a nationwide lack of affordable child care and not everyone has a convenient relative with time on their hands, women’s choices can sometimes boil down to …

a) going right back to work after a punishing physical ordeal and maybe with a 6-inch perforated hernia, or

b) going right back to work with no one to watch the new baby, or

c) going back to a workplace where it was made clear during your pregnancy, possibly through overt intimidation, that your personal life is a huge inconvenience to your coworkers, or

d) getting fired, or

e) quitting.

Wow. What great options. It’s enough to make a person feel super-empowered.

Or, women could just all stop having babies. It’d certainly be cheaper. And then they’d only lose out on a few percentage points of their earnings that are hardly worth mentioning, unless you’re stingy.

Since mothers are almost universally considered worse employees, just because, they also become discount employees. Extra discount, because after all, they were already women. Their bosses can then pay them an average of $11,000 less than an equivalent male worker and pocket the difference.

That’s a great discount for employers, not so much for mothers.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that having a baby is a leading cause of poverty.

Which is an interesting statement about the U.S., one of only 4 countries in the world not to offer paid maternity leave. It’s perfectly acceptable here to cut off resources to the families of young children and then put the blame for any resulting poverty on the choices of their parents.

Cross posted from SEIU Early Learning.

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12 comments for “The Motherhood Discounting

  1. karak
    August 26, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    It’s curious that people with children shouldn’t want money. Those little holders of the future of humanity should feast on air and wear sunlight.

    Seriously, as our culture has changed, children have shifted from a future investment to a luxury expense. Therefore, people who have children are choosing a luxury–like buying a BMW. And you can feel superior to people who choose luxuries and then have the audacity to complain about it.

    Nevermind that childrearing is necessary for the overall continuing existence of humanity. Or that many women are trained to view child-rearing as something you MUST do with your life. This man has a disgusting attitude and clearly doesn’t give a shit about real human beings–mothers or children. (And I can’t imagine his attitude towards any kind of nontraditional family that dares to have children).

  2. Alexandra Lynch
    August 27, 2010 at 12:13 am

    And this intersects with the fact that it’s way easier to decide when you have babies when you have access to money. It can buy you contraceptives. It can buy you an abortion. It can buy you the freedom not to have to trade access to your sexual favors for housing or transportation.

    It’s all related to everything else.

  3. August 27, 2010 at 3:39 am

    I can’t believe that such a brilliant post, one so thought provoking, evidence based and relevant has received so few comments.

    There seems to have been a morass of navel gazing posts at Feministe lately, yet something truly important like this gets overlooked.

  4. Samantha b.
    August 27, 2010 at 5:21 am

    Karak, are you really going to compare children to BMW’s? Do you not see how closely that attitude resembles the classic conservative schtick on welfare mothers who dare to have too many children. You’ve skipped over the underlying societal choices that make motherhood such an economic hardship and instead focused judgment on individual women. I’m not clear on when you envision this shift as happening, the shift from “future investment” to “luxury expense.” When where these glory days when our society did value women with children? I think the noteworthy shift that’s happened here is that putative liberals and feminists seem to now consider it appropriate to adopt classically conservative attitudes towards women with children, i.e. that they are like expensive purchases that smart people wouldn’t make if they couldn’t properly afford them.

  5. Natasha
    August 27, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    @Samantha b: I think karak was pointing out that it’s a common attitude towards children, while not agreeing and instead pointing out that it’s essential. Anyway, I think you may be agreeing past each other, if I’m reading you both right.

    And it’s true that the economic calculus behind having children has changed. Doesn’t make it any less important to continue the enterprise of human civilization in a responsible manner.

    You’re also very correct about treating children as a privilege that only people who can properly afford them should get to enjoy. Whatever a given speaker means by ‘properly.’ The right to have children should be as well respected as the right not to have them, though conservatives are very often in the position of not respecting either as a right.

  6. Jadey
    August 27, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Safiya Outlines: I can’t believe that such a brilliant post, one so thought provoking, evidence based and relevant has received so few comments.There seems to have been a morass of navel gazing posts at Feministe lately, yet something truly important like this gets overlooked.  

    Damn, but I’m really sick and tired of the suggestion that “not commenting” = “not caring”. It’s an inappropriate metric – the most important posts I’ve ever read are the ones that left me without words, the posts where it’s not my place to talk, but to LISTEN. I also curtail my commenting on posts that I want to link to friends and family, because it of the kinds of online identity risks I discussed in Joy’s The Digital Me and the Digital You – I make a nominal effort to keep these identities separate. If I commented on every single post that I appreciated with “Wow, this is awesome”, I’m pretty sure I would (rightly) get called out on not adding anything substantial to the conversation, and I can’t invent a thoughtful response that I haven’t been able to have or articulate.

    Sorry for continuing the derail on your post, Natasha, but I am just dead tired of the bullshit comment counting to show who’s being a good activist or not. I’m very much appreciating your posting series, and I hope your page views are clear on that.

  7. Miss S
    August 27, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Samantha I think you and Kayak agree. I do think that people see kids as a luxury expense, like a luxury car, in that only people who can afford them should have them. I think it’s worth examining why that is.

    Raising kids is expensive here in the U.S. Incredibly expensive. Women with children get almost no social/economic support, unlike many other developed nations. No federally mandated maternity leave, no subsidized daycare (unless you’re extremely poor in which case the waiting list is like 2 years OR you’re in the armed forces), very little professional part time jobs (law, engineering). We have made having kids a luxury.

    Also, families don’t always live near each other. I think this part may be cultural. I know in class when we were discussing how we would handle the work life balance, especially right after child birth, the women of color (myself included) said that we would likely have our mothers and mother in laws to help and likely move in temporarily. This also helps cut down on daycare costs. When I was a child, the only time I was in daycare is when my mom worked at one. The rest of the time I was with my grandmother.

    But not everyone has family close by, and not everyone speaks to their family. Raising children is alot easier when you have help, and many couples have none.

  8. Miss S
    August 27, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Also, the reason people aren’t responding is because many feministe readers made is painfully obvious that they don’t see motherhood issues as feminist issues. Somehow the fact that some women don’t want children and others can’t have them means that feminism should remain for the child free.

    • August 27, 2010 at 2:26 pm

      Also, the reason people aren’t responding is because many feministe readers made is painfully obvious that they don’t see motherhood issues as feminist issues. Somehow the fact that some women don’t want children and others can’t have them means that feminism should remain for the child free.

      Well hello, strawman! I don’t think feministe regulars have said that at all, but ok.

  9. Miss S
    August 27, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    Jadey, I realize that not commenting doesn’t always mean not caring, although it sometimes does. But given the comments on the last motherhood thread, I think it’s safe to say that many do not see motherhood or children as a feminist issue. In fact, many commenters said just that.

    The argument is always “well mothers get special treament.” But when you lay out the statistics that prove that the “special treatment” is “discrimination, alienation, and scorn” the argument turns to “well not all women can have them.” But not all commenters on here are of color and I have seen them discuss race issues. Not all commenters are trans, but they discuss those.

    No one wants to admit mothers are marginalized because no one wants to stop marginalizing them.

  10. Miss S
    August 27, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    Really Jill? You didn’t notice any animosity to the idea that mothers and children are marginalized around here? I’m not referring to the bloggers and writers. I’m referring to the commenters and I was agreeing with another commenter that issues like this are overlooked.

    Back on topic: I also wanted to comment on “finding the right partner.” There is a racial implication here because it’s not an option for many women of color. Historically, black women don’t “marry up” as much as they “marry across” because most of the wealth is concentrated among white men.

  11. August 28, 2010 at 3:16 am

    Jadey – Generally, whenver motherhood has been mentioned on Feministe, particularly in the guise of mothers talking about their lived experiences, the comment threads have stretched into the hundreds.

    Many of those comments will completely deny any disadvantages being visted upon mothers. Despite people pointing out otherwise, they will refuse to believe that many mothers are poorly treated in society and that children are an oppressed class (because being forced to live in poverty is pretty damn oppressive).

    So, in the face of all that, I think it is acceptable to wonder why a post which statistically explains the problems faced by motherhood, doesn’t get the same reaction. It’s not a personal attack on you.

    Jill – Feministe regulars may not have made those statements, but there definitely have been comments on here to that effect.

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