I want to take just a minute to look forward, right here in the middle of Women’s History Month. It’s time we made some history of our own, right here and right now. Motherhood is becoming something different than it ever was before. Rather than being swept along, we should place ourselves firmly in the driver’s seat for what’s ahead.
First a few facts from the US Census bureau:
- Women have moved into the paid workforce in record numbers. Their wages drive economic growth and keep their households financially afloat. If it was ever true that we worked for “pin money” (gag me) or to afford a second car (what?) or a luxury vacation (puh-leeze), it clearly isn’t true now.
- Women are better educated than men. We graduate from high school in greater numbers and earn more undergraduate and graduate degrees than men. And we are 47% of the labor force.
- There are 5 million more women in the US than men. From age 85 on up, there are twice as many women as men because we live longer.
- More women report voting in the 2014 election than men – 43% of us, and 40% of them.
- Somewhere in the midst of our education and employment, we are still having children – 85% of US women are mothers by the time they reach their 40’s, and the average number of children is 2.
So, that’s the good news. We do it all, all the time. Now, the facts we mustn’t ignore:
- Mothers are less likely to be in the workforce than fathers. There is a 20% gap between mothers and fathers.
- Women make up most of the part-time workforce because they are juggling care for children, or spouses, or older family members. (Do note that part-time work is disproportionately underpaid, and rarely comes with employer-sponsored health insurance and retirement savings plans.)
- There are 5 million stay at home mothers, and 199,000 stay at home fathers.
- Women make up 20% of the US Congress, 5% of Fortune 500 CEO’s, and only 17% of Fortune 500 board members.
- We are getting married later. The average age at first marriage for women is now 27, up from 22 in 1960.
- Motherhood is also happening later – for US women the average age at first birth is 26.
That one year discrepancy between age of marriage and motherhood points out a significant shift. While teen births have dropped by half in the past 20 years, the number of single women having children has climbed remarkably. Now 44% of births are to unmarried women. Obviously, women’s higher education levels, increased income and employment play a role. But the US is simply not designed for women with children. How do we know?
Just look at the statistics for single parent households – 80% of the 12 million solo parent households are headed by women. And look at children’s poverty rates. In the US, 22% of children live below the federal poverty level of $23,550 for a family of four. However, that rate climbs to nearly half of all children in single mother households. In single father households, children’s poverty rate drops back to about 20%. You can find that at higher incomes too. Motherhood tends to decrease women’s earnings, while at the same time boosting men’s.
So, why should we take matters in hand and change direction now? Because women who are providing both cash and care for their families can’t afford to be paid unfairly.
Because women who’ve borrowed money to finance the costs of their education shouldn’t have to pay thousands of dollars more in interest because it takes them longer to pay those loans off.
Because women at home and at work can’t depend (apparently) on the men in government to understand that access to affordable child care and paid family leave are part of economic policy.
Because a society that idolizes the pursuit of money and trivializes what it takes to look after children and aging parents leaves women out in the cold, which is a silly place for the better educated half of a population that’s more likely to vote to be.
Happy Women’s History Month.
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington