Put “The Price of Motherhood” In Your Stocking


Seems like only yesterday…

price-of-motherhood-ecard…but it was really 10 years ago that Ann Crittenden wrote The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued. A special 10th anniversary paperback edition has just hit bookstores, and makes the perfect holiday gift for any and all family caregivers you know, and the people who love them!
What’s changed since this study of motherhood’s effect on women’s status was first published? Not as much as we’d hoped. Unlike mothers in any other modern country, US mothers only get paid maternity leave at the whim of the

employer. Most of us work outside the home for money, but still make less than men in the same occupations, working the same hours. We remain severely underrepresented in state, local, and federal government, in boardrooms, and other policy-making posts. In spite of years of discussion about family caregiver credits, Social Security only rewards paid work, so women’s childbearing and child rearing entitle them to nothing in retirement. As a result, women suffer greater poverty in old age, in spite of the fact that all aspects of our common welfare, economic security and national interest are entirely dependent on their willingness to birth and nurture the next generation.

Is Price of Motherhood still relevant? Clearly yes, which is a sobering commentary itself on our lack of real change. But Crittenden’s clear-eyed and compelling analysis has made true believers and committed feminists out of more women than I can count. It will do so with the next generation of mothers as well. These women will know that the difficulty they encounter is not the result of their personal incompetence or some previously unrecognized character flaw. Rather, it is the systemic and institutionalized preference for “the ideal worker” that is pitted against them. So-called “family friendly policies” have failed to take hold in the US to any real extent. Employers expect an “all or nothing” worker with no obligations outside of the job. No way to work and breastfeed your new baby, unless you can afford to quit work and stay home. No paid sick leave, so you can go to the doctor for your flu, or take your child for a strep test. If you are the sole provider for your children, and your mother is sick or lands in the hospital, you can’t be there. Maternity medical care is not covered by your health insurance. You need help paying for child care, but you make too much money to qualify, yet not enough to pay for the care available in your community. If you are home full-time with your children, you don’t get credits towards Social Security. If you pay a nanny to do the job, she will.

If children are so important, and “family values” occupy the center of our national priorities, why do we have such shockingly high rates of maternal and infant death? Why is 1 out of every 5 children living at or below the poverty line? Why is the work of families, who raise, teach, feed, house, and nurture children from birth to productive adulthood, not included in any measure of our national economic output? Because the work of creating human beings, seeing to their physical, mental and emotional needs, is done mostly by women and therefore held in lower regard. Motherhood as it exists in the US, exacts a steep price.

The inequality is stark when comparing income levels of men and childless women. Paycheck parity is more likely until the point that a women becomes a mother. While a man actually sees an uptick in his income upon the arrival of the stork, the woman’s income loses pace at that point, and for most mothers, never recovers. Her lifetime loss of earnings ranges from hundreds of thousands of dollars to over a million. Erroneously cast as a “lifestyle choice”, the issue is actually one of out and out discrimination. If one gender is assigned the bulk of childcare, and if that labor is seen as without value, there’s not a lot of choosing going on. If compensated work and family caregiving were equally valued, and both genders were able to segue in and out of the labor force without materially endangering their economic security, then we’d be talking about choices. Until then, the risks of motherhood are generally borne by the individual mother and have thus been effectively “privatized”. Until then, the assets her child produces in terms of tax revenue, productive work and solid citizenship, are enjoyed by the public. Until then, The Price of Motherhood remains a must-read.

Here’s a link to Amazon’s page on the 10th anniversary edition.

‘Til next time,

Your (Wo)Man in Washington


  • goodreason

    This really is a fabulous book, on my list of top 10 books I have ever read. Not only are the facts presented provocative, but Crittenden is a skilled writer, and so the book is also a pleasure to read. If anyone following this blog has not yet red this book, really, you must give it to yourself for Christmas!!

  • Kaylie

    I first read this book several years ago, and I wish it had made more of a difference, or at least that we'd made enough progress to make it irrelevant. Crittenden is right on, and no one articulates the problem better than she does.