Friday, April 4, 2008

Should Mommyhood Afford Special Privileges?

Women's advocates from the Left and the Right argue that mommyhood should afford women special privileges:
-- The Left fights for the right for women to take years off or half-off (the mommy track) without it hurting their chances for career advancement.
-- The Right champions women being a stay-at-home (cynics would say "play-at-home") mom without society viewing them as second-class citizens.

Women's advocates from both the Left and Right argue :
  • for more taxpayer- and employer-paid childcare
  • for paid leave for new parents (overwhelmingly, it is women who take advantage of this. )
  • that parents (again, overwhelmingly women) should have the right to--without consequence-- leave work early to, for example, watch their kids' soccer game, even though it may leave the remaining workers in the lurch.
Are such practices in society's best interest?

Environmentalists agree that the greatest threat to the environment is overpopulation. The more the taxpayer and employer subsidizes childbearing, the greater the likelihood people will have babies. For example, if women know their careers won't suffer, they'll have free or low-cost childcare, be able to leave work early when desired, etc., additional women will choose to have a child or additional children. It's ironic that the same people who vociferously advocate for the environment are likely to advocate for policies that would contribute to overpopulation.

Many moms argue that they should only work part-time if at all "because it's better for the kids." Fact is, the data is equivocal on that, which isn't surprising because so many factors affect a child's well-being and success that it is very difficult to empirically parse out the effects of being a stay-at-home mom. In such situations, logical reasoning trumps empiricism, and logically, it is clear that, on average, kids are better off if mom works outside the home. Too often, the stay-at-home mom becomes co-dependent and overly protective--the so-called helicopter (hovering) mom. Too, the child of a stay-at-home mom doesn't get to see the role model of a woman who can be productive other than as housewife.

Men suffer because of "family-friendly" policies. Their wives insist on being stay-at-home mothers, forcing the husbands to carry all the family's financial responsibilities. At work, they must pick up the slack for the many women who take extended maternity leave and leave work early so they can pick up their kids from school, etc. They pay tax dollars and increased prices of goods and services to fund the myriad parental subsidies that primarily benefit women: the aforementioned paid family leave, subsidized child care, etc.

Of course, some men want children as much as do women, but that's not the question here. The question is, overall, in a society with so many crying needs, are we best served by allocating so many resources to mommyhood?


Anonymous said...

Parenthood (or mommyhood, as you put it) will likely still get all the special privileges. Mothers are still feeling, or at least claiming, discrimination because they're mothers. I spent some time talking to a mother a few days ago, and she said that during a job interview, she was hesitant to bring up the fact that she has children and, as she put it, the fact that they come first in her life.

I've never understood why parenthood is largely seen as an obligation and not a choice, which it is for most in America. Some people choose to become parents, and some don't. In my opinion, women (and men) should not receive most of the special privileges currently allocated for this choice. Or at least, not from the government.

If a particular company decides to make accommodations for employees with children, that should be left up to that company, not the government. And it should be up to the parent(s) to find such places to work if they decide such accommodations are desired or necessary.

And whoever is making the argument that women (or men) should be able to take years off from their job without hurting their chances for advancement is not living in reality, I think. If a mother decides to stay at home for 4 or 5 years until her children are in school, and then expects to pick up right where she left off, she's wrong. Whether the government says so or not, the world has moved on without her. I don't see why others who chose to advance their careers should wait for such people to catch up. And if they want to get back to where they were, they need to earn it. If a man took time off, I'd expect the same of him.

Charles said...

>Dr. Nemko stated: "Logically, it is clear that, on average, kids are better off if mom works outside the home. Too often, the stay-at-home mom becomes co-dependent and overly protective--the so-called helicoper (hovering) mom."

There has been a fair amount of coverage in the media about "millenials" (Generation Y) being poor/difficult employees because of their narcissism, selfishness, and sense of entitlement (examples: here, here, and here). The prevailing theory about the cause of this seems to be that millenials were sheltered, coddled, or spoiled as children (and in some cases as adults still living with their parents). Yet, in recent decades, parents are spending less and less time with their children.

Nationwide 62 percent of kids 6 and under have both parents working. In 1998, the average was 51 percent.

Interesting statistics that I found courtesy of the Census Bureau:

82.8 million - estimated number of mothers in the U.S as of 2004

5.6 million - number of stay-at-home moms in 2006

So, roughly 7 percent of mothers are stay-at-home moms.

It makes me wonder...

1.) How does spending their formative years in daycare affect children?

2.) Are parents spoiling their children because they feel guilty about not being there for them?

Marty Nemko said...


As I wrote, there are so many covariates affecting why people--for example--the millennials--are the way they are, it's near-impossible to pin it on a single factor that isn't super potent--that is, stay-at-home moms versus working moms. Hence it's wiser to rely on logic, which argues for the benefits of having a working mom. More important, especially in a tight economy, there's certainly not enough evidence to support the importance of moms staying at home to justify the enormous societal costs of taxpayer and consumer subsidized child care, paid family leave, etc.

Charles said...

Is your logical argument about what is fiscally responsible?

You dedicated a couple of paragraphs arguing against stay-at-home moms/wives. Yet, we have been steadily trending away from stay-at-home moms for decades. We are waiting longer to get married and staying single in greater numbers. We are having less children.

What is the concern? Is it that you don't want your tax dollars being spent on raising other people's kids? I get that. No argument needed.

Self-Reliance said...

I think the question is focusing in the wrong place.

I think we should be asking "Should being an employee afford special privileges?"

I took a few years "off" to have kids, but my career didn't miss a beat. Why? Because I am self-employed, and I had already learned how to generate opportunities, provide excellent value for my clients, and build my brand.

I worked as much or as little as I wanted to, depending on the needs of my kids, and I still do.

I did not require "paid maternity leave" because being self-employed had taught me how to save my project payments and make them last through the times when I was working on a project, sometimes for a couple of months, and payment would come at the end.

Being an employee cripples most people's ability to be self-reliant and financially responsible.

That means that they then "need" special consideration and payments when they aren't getting their weekly or monthly "fix" of cash.

What we need to do is to turn out a generation of entrepreneurs who know how to create value, rather than a generation who can't do anything to generate wealth for themselves, and in the absence of an employer, can't think of anything to do but lie on their parents' couch.

My kids already know that the minute they stop full-time education, we expect rent. Lying on our couch is simply not an option.

In fact, they are spreading the message to their peers, as I related in a recent blog post:

If everyone was self-reliant, the whole "mommyhood" debate would be a non-event.

Jenny Ford
Blogging at

Anonymous said...

Actually, most developed nations are having the opposite problem - a declining birth rate. Hence the emphasis on migration as an option to at least maintain if not increase population size.

I'm not an economist but I'm pretty sure that people having kids (but okay, let's say not too many) is a good thing for society unless you think we should all stop reproducing till the human race dies out.

And given the decline of extended families and the rise of nuclear families, having children is very challenging *especially* for mothers who want to have a career as well.

I think this whole 'mommies leave work early and other people have to pick up the slack' misses a greater point - we are *all* entitled to work-life balance. We are ostensibly adults and I really don't see why work can't be adjusted to fit people's lives as opposed to people having a life fitted into the gaps that work allows us.

I don't believe in 70 hour weeks - I think that is just a demonstration of inefficiency or under-resourcing and I don't believe in a culture that says you have to prove your worth to a company by the number of hours a week you're willing to sacrifice to your company. I certainly don't believe in a culture which expects you to place your work as a priority above everything else, including your children and family. I don't think that sort of culture actually produces better results.

I'd be interested to know what the numbers are on 'wives who insist on being stay-at-home moms'. Is it an epidemic? Admittedly, I live in a different country - the situation here is probably different. The cost of child-care is prohibitive and non-tax deductible. It's a catch-22: if you don't work, unless you have a really rich husband, you're going to struggle. If you do work, half your wages goes in child-care costs making the whole enterprise seem somewhat futile. At least the work culture is understanding - people aren't given a hard time about setting up alternative arrangements such as working part-time, starting & leaving earlier, working from home etc.

While I think a discussion of the types and magnitude of benefits is worth having, I don't really have a problem with mothers receiving privileges. At the very least, we're a society for god's sake, sometimes we're meant to just help each other as opposed to doing actuarial calculations on the marginal utility of each additional person.

Marty Nemko said...

I just want to thank all of you wonderfully thoughtful people for your comments. This, I believe, is what blogs should be about.

While I could argue with some of your points, I believe it's wisest to let them stand. I've said enough, for now on the topic, and simply want to say thank you.

Charles said...

@Dr. Nemko
Ah, you're being too nice. Let us have it!

Seriously though, I appreciate the forum. I'm glad to see you blogging, and I hope you enjoy it enough to continue doing it.

echo said...

Great post. After being an entrepreneur for 10 years I am now at a Fortune 500 company and have been sometimes shocked at how complacent or non-customer-service oriented some employees are. They seem like they would be ill-equipped if they were a consultant or had to justify their value. I think it is good advice to pretend you are a consultant always. This goes too for interviews, there is often little discussion of what the candidate can do to solve the specific burning need of the employer that led to the job req in the first place. Whereas consultant interviews usually center on the need/value being transferred.

Regarding the "leaving early because of kids" or night school etc I have no issue with people working more or less hours, as long as they are getting paid commensurate with their hours and value per hour, and everyone knows that this is the company policy.


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