The Mommy Tax

the price of motherhood

The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is still the Least Valued

By Ann Crittenden

Henry Holt and Company (2001)

Book Review

The Price of Motherhood is about the refusal of English-speaking countries to acknowledge the vast amount of unpaid labor women invest in their children. Economists agree that two-thirds of society’s wealth is created by human skills, aka human capital. Yet they also refuse to acknowledge thirty years of psychology research demonstrating that the most critical education producing this “human capital” occurs in the first five years of life.

Not only is most of this work unpaid, but mothers who require part time or flexible work arrangements to address their children’s needs pay an enormous penalty in terms of lifelong earning potential. Crittenden refers to this penalty as the “mommy tax.”

According to Crittendon, while the pay differential between men and women continues to narrow, there has been virtually no change in the pay gap between mothers and unencumbered men and women. Numerous studies identify this “mommy tax,” consistently highest in English-speaking countries, as the primary cause of child poverty in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Likewise a woman’s “choice” to become a parent is the number one cause of poverty in old age.

Crittenden contrasts the US with France and various Scandinavian countries that support working mothers through policies such as free health care, one year paid maternity leave*, and free childcare. Child poverty virtually unknown in France and Scandinavia. In contrast 22% of American and 25% of New Zealand kids grow up in poverty.

The book is also highly critical of economists’ failure to count women’s unpaid labor in the GDP, given its high importance in creating a skilled workforce.** Despite the US refusal to keep data on “non-market” labor (where no money changes hands), more civilized countries do. Crittenden cites figures from Australia (where it comprises 48-64% of GDP), Germany (where it comprises 55% of GDP, Canada (where it comprises 40% of GDP), and Finland (where it comprises 46% of GDP).

Besides including “non-market” labor in the GDP calculations, the book proposes a number of other policy changes to reduce or eliminate the mommy tax. They include federal laws mandating one year paid parental leave, free health care for all children and primary caregivers, and free preschool for three and four year olds; a shorter work week; and equal pay and benefits for part time work. They also include a federal ban on discrimination against parents in the workplace, a universal child benefit, the creation of a single federal agency to collect child support obligations, and a federal mandate requiring divorce courts to award both parents an equal standard of living where there are dependent children.


*The only six countries that fail to mandate paid maternity leave are the US, Australia, New Zealand, Lesotho, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea.

**See review of Marilyn Waring film Whose Counting

The Refusal of Global Economists to Recognize Women’s Unpaid Labor

marilyn waring_working_class_hero

Whose Counting?

Directed by Terre Nash (1995)

Film Review

 

Whose Counting is a 1995 Canadian documentary about the early life of New Zealand feminist Marilyn Waring. With her 1988 book If Women Counted, Waring was the first to challenge whether GDP (gross domestic product) is an effective way to measure the performance of a national economy.

New Zealand’s Antinuclear Ban

The film begins with Waring’s election to the New Zealand parliament in 1977. The youngest member of Parliament (at 23), she was elected to a safe National (conservative) seat in rural Waikato. After serving three 3-year terms, she brought the government down by “crossing the floor” (ie signaling her intention to vote with the Labour opposition on the anti-nuclear issue).

Then prime minister Robert Muldoon called a snap election. He was voted out of office, with 72% of New Zealanders supporting Labour’s platform of permanently outlawing nuclear weapons and nuclear power in New Zealand.

Because the US government refuses to disclose whether their ships are nuclear powered or carry nuclear weapons, as of 1984 all US naval vessels are banned from New Zealand sovereign waters.

Negating Half the Planet

During her term in Parliament, Waring served on the Public Expenditure Committee and was troubled by was she learned was the UN System of National Accounts. As a condition of belonging to the UN, IMF and World Bank, all countries must use this system, developed by economists Maynard Keynes and Nicholas Stern after World War II.

Because this accounting system only attributes value to cash generating activities, it negates the productive activity of over half the planet – and of the planet itself.*

The film has a really humorous scene in rural Africa where women grow and cook all the food, collect all the firewood and water, and do all the housework and child and elder care – while the men lie around all day “supervising” them.

However it stresses that women also work far harder than men in the developed world. Two-thirds of all primary health care is delivered by women in the home. Yet because they receive no cash payments, all this work is virtually invisible.

Counting Environmental Damage as Growth

Waring is also extremely critical of a global accounting system that counts the immense environmental damage caused by the Exxon Valdez spill as positive GDP Growth. Given that the five permanent UN Security Council members (US, UK, France, Russia and China) are also the world’s biggest arms exporters, she finds it no surprise that the carnage of war counts as GDP growth.


*Waring was also an early promoter of the concept of “ecosystem services,” essential services provided by nature in purifying water and air, sequestering carbon, stabilizing climate, providing for food crop pollination, etc.

The film can’t be embedded for copyright reasons. However it can be viewed free at https://www.nfb.ca/film/whos_counting