| What made you decide to write this book?By the time I had a child, I had already had a successful career in journalism, as a reporter for Fortune, as a writer and foreign correspondent for Newsweek, and as an economic reporter for The New York Times. Becoming a mother struck me as both the most important and most challenging job I had ever had. I think many professional women tend to have that reaction they take their job as a mother as seriously as they take the other jobs they have had. Yet they discover that our society, despite the lip service paid to motherhood, doesn’t seem to agree. I was shocked at the lack of respect, status, and economic independence that go with being a conscientious parent. A few years after I left my job at the Times, I ran into someone at a party who said, “Didn’t you used to be Ann Crittenden?” That’s when I knew I had to write this book.
So your first point is that raising children is important, highly skilled work?
Absolutely. As the book explains, child-rearing calls on the same qualities that characterize the best teachers, psychologists, coaches, ministers. And the work produces more wealth than any other job in the economy. Economists used to believe that national wealth came from three factors: land, labor, and capital. Now they reccognize that human capital, or human knowledge, skills, and entrepreneurship, are more important than all others put together. What is still not acknowledged, by economists or the society, is that most human capital is created by mothers and other early teachers and caregivers. Mothers are the most valuable producers in the entire economy. Yet what they do is not even considered work at all.
What are the most shocking things a new mother is likely to discover when she has a child? What is likely to surprise her the most?
I think the first thing is how much time as well as money a child requires, and how time and money are interchangable. Many women without children think they can have a kid and continue more or less as before, after a brief maternity leave. But then they have the “I had no idea” reaction. They have no idea that they will fall in love with that baby, and that it will become the focus of their universe.
But this very good thing for human cultureæa mother’s desire to nurtureæis turned into a very bad thing for women. Many women discover that they either have to go back to word full time right away, and leave their baby behind, or quit or shift to a less demanding schedule, and leave their dreams and ambitions behind. Even the most highly educated, “modern” women may be surprised to discover that having a baby throws them back into economic dependency on their husbands. In the book I describe how maternal dependency is the dark little secret of family life. The typical college educated mother in America loses roughly one million dollars in a lifetime earnings after having one child.
But don’t modern women choose to become mothers, and therefore choose the trade-offs that with motherhood?
First, as the book points out, the penalties on American mothers are now so high that many women decide not to have kids at all. Childlessness among educated American women is now higher than it has been since the turn of the 20th century.
Secondly, women definitely do not choose the financial consequences of motherhood in America. Motherhood is now the single greatest risk factor for poverty among American women. That is not by women’s choice it’s the choice of employers, ofgovernment, of unequal marriage laws and judges. In no other county is motherhood such a threat to a woman’s financial well-being.
Why is a mother’s financial security more at risk than a father’s?
Take old age. I recently got in the mail an estimate of my future Social Security, and there were all these zeros for the years I spent primarily caring for my child. A nanny gets Social Security credits, but mothers don’t, even though the workers they produce pay for everyone’s Social Security. This costs women hundreds of dollars a month in individual pensions.
Or take divorce. One thing I discovered during my research is that a person earns no credit in marriage for being the parent who cares for the kids and the home. The parent who does this can’t count on any compensation for her financial sacrifices for the sake of the family. In the vast majority of states, a mother can’t even count on receiving half the family’s assets, if there are significant assets. Marriage is still not an equal partnership. This is why the care-giving partner, even in middle and upper middle income families, is often impoverished by divorce. I tell the story of one corporate lawyer with two young children who almost had to go on welfare. One-third to one-half of all divorced women do.
Are you suggesting that mothers should be paid?
I’m saying that their work, which creates enormous material wealth, should receive some material recognition. I’m saying that caring for dependents æ the traditional female service for society æ is at least as important as soldiering æ the traditional male service to society. We lavish huge benefits on soldiers, and impose huge penalties on caregivers. This amounts to gender discrimination. As things now stand, our country is free riding on the unpaid or cheap labor of women.
But isn’t caring for one’s child a labor of love? Isn’t virtue its own reward?
I haven’t found that virtue will pay the rent or satisfy the supermarket. Nor is maternal self-sacrifice good for children. One of the most interesting things I discovered is that in countries where mothers are relatively secure financially, they actually spend more time with their children.
What are the most controversial findings in the book?
I discovered, to my surprise, that mothers are clearly more willing to spend family income on children than fathers are. This is a powerful finding that cuts across all cultures. It is also universally true that the more education a woman has, the more time she is likely to devote to her children. This means that “women’s liberation” is the best thing that has ever happened to children. The people who argue that mothers should subordinate their own interests and autonomy “for the sake of the kids” have it exactly backwards.
What can be done to improve the situation of mothers?
Read the book! I have lots of ideas on how we can bring children up without putting women down. The big point is that women who chose to be mothers can and should be the respected equal of any other worker, rather than defined as “dependents.” As I explain in the book, the first American feminists tried to achieve this goal, but they were defeated. It’s time to finish the job.