Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.
search  
 
Subscribe   Subscribe   MI on Facebook Find us on Twitter Find us on Instagram      
 
 
   
 
     
 

New York Daily News

 

Call a Truce in the Mommy Wars

May 13, 2012

By Kay S. Hymowitz

Stay-at-home moms vs. working moms? Wrong. The supposed enemy camps are often the same women

Don’t be surprised if Mom wakes up a little cranky today. No, it’s not the to-do list that now includes changing the sheets after little Jakey spilled the coffee on the Mother’s Day breakfast tray. It’s the return of the zombie Mommy Wars.

Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen set off this latest battle when she said on CNN last month that Ann Romney, well-to-do stay-at-home mother of five, was in no position to advise her husband on economic issues since she had "never worked a day in her life."

The stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) forces jumped into action with the familiar objections: Raising kids is hard work, women’s choices deserve respect, etc. With the exception of a few anti-SAHM radicals, Rosen and her ilk quickly retreated. Now, pondering this weakness in the enemy’s left flank, a Romney-supporting Super PAC has delivered another punch with an ad featuring Rosen and Romney.

It ends with a mock card that opens to say, caustically, "Happy Mother’s Day from Barack Obama’s team."

For the majority of women, I suspect, the flare-up seems as senseless as a Coke and Pepsi taste-off. The truth is so much more complex and interesting than this absurd war lets on.

Over the decades they have children in the house, mothers frequently cycle in and out of the full and part time workforce. Today’s "stay at home mom" becomes next year’s "working mother" and vice versa. To put it a little differently, the mommy wars are over, but not because one side won. It’s because women keep moving between the mythical enemy camps.

Let’s parse the numbers. The mommy wars began in the 1970’s, a time when a majority of Americans feared that working mothers were a threat to domestic and social stability.

That’s no longer the case. According to a 2009 Pew study, more than 80% of Americans say that, overall, the presence of women in the workforce has been a positive development; the number was even higher among the younger population. The vast majority of mothers (over 70%) are actually in the workforce.

Working mothers include both red mommies and blue, evangelical and liberal, married and single, Republican and Democrat. Ann Romney notwithstanding, many Mormon moms are spending time at the office.

Stay-at-home moms, about 30% of all mothers, are an equally diverse group.

Some are low-income Hispanic women with little education. These women are choosing between raising kids full-time and going into a workplace with minimal financial rewards and no real career track. Given those two alternatives, motherhood often wins out as the emotionally richer way of life.

But other mothers are also tending the home fires. Many married mothers, including high-powered professionals like First Lady Michelle Obama, interrupt their careers to stay home for a year or two — or 10, for that matter. (Single mothers dependent on one income, of course, usually don’t have that flexibility.)

The general rule has been that the younger her child, the more likely a mother is to be at home. In 2011, about 45% of mothers with children under a year and 36% of mothers with children under 6 were not in the workforce. Many of those mothers are likely return to work once their kids are in school; only 25% of the mothers of 6-to-17-year-old kids are stay-at-homes.

But even the rule that mothers of younger children are more inclined to stay home is in flux. A recent New York Fed report discovered an increase in the percentage of college educated mothers married to high earning men who are leaving their jobs mid-career to oversee their children’s tennis, SAT, college essay, foreign language and Advanced Placement classes.

Further complicating the Mommy War battle lines are the part-timers. Fifty-five percent of mothers with kids under one are officially in the labor force, but over 30% of them are on the job only part-time. A similar percentage holds for the 60% of mothers of children under 3 who work.

In all, 26% of mothers work less than 35 hours a week, the official definition of part-time. Another Pew study found that 60% of working married mothers saw part-time work as the ideal arrangement for them, very different from the 12% of fathers who said the same.

In fact, the percentage of mothers wanting to be on the job full-time declined between 1997 and 2007; that was particularly the case among those who were actually working full time.

Harvard Law grad Angie Kim discovered the irrelevance of the stay at home/working mom hostilities for herself. As she wrote in a 2010 article in Slate, Kim had been editor of the law review, worked at tony corporate jobs and eventually co-founded a dot com company where she oversaw 200 employees; in other words, she was the most unlikely of potential SAHMs.

Still, when she was 32, she had a child and took a "sabbatical" after her company was sold. "One month turned to one year," and she had a second child. After that child recovered from a serious illness, a third child arrived, and she spent yet more time at home.

Out of curiosity, she surveyed her 226 fellow female Harvard Law graduates. What she found shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with academic studies of professional women in the workplace: 30% were at home — probably temporarily — with the kids, another 30% had what she calls "mommy track jobs," either part-time or job sharing with unconventional hours.

Which side of the Mommy Wars should Angie and her ilk join?

If so many women have no stake in the Mommy Wars, why do they keep erupting?

The most obvious answer is petty politics. Organizational feminists, some of whom cut their teeth in Washington during the height of the conflict in the 1970’s and 80’s, are a powerful subgroup in the Democratic Party. Republicans are happy to pounce when they fall into the mommy trap, as Hilary Rosen did on that recent fateful Sunday.

They can then accuse the Democrats of out-of-touch elitism and, if they want to bring out the really heavy artillery, a Democratic war on women. The result is a war without end, with both sides endlessly looking for chinks in the other side’s armor.

But it’s not just partisanship that fuels the fire. The feminist dream has always been full equality between men and women. One crucial measure of equality is income, which often stands as a proxy for power. That dream is shattered if large numbers of mothers take time off or reduce hours when they have children.

Feminists see two solutions for the dilemma. First, men should take equal responsibility for childcare. Second, Americans should have far more, European-style parental leave and child care policies.

Would their proposals make women work more? There’s no reason to think so. Though the percentage of men who are primary parents has increased, their numbers remain very small. At any rate, when 40% of American children are born to unmarried mothers, a large number of women have no men around to share the burden.

As for family leave and child care, they haven’t equalized things for men and women where they’ve been tried. In Sweden and Iceland, two of the most female friendly countries in the world, women continue to prefer part time hours. And researchers have observed that generous family leave policies have the unintended consequence of interrupting women’s careers and adding to their own stubborn wage gap.

Given that the feminist vision of absolute parity between the sexes is at stake, I’d venture to predict that the zombie Mommy Wars will continue for a long time to come. That’s too bad, because it’s Mother’s Day and Mommy has a headache.

Original Source: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/call-a-truce-mommy-wars-article-1.1076756

 

 
PRINTER FRIENDLY
 
LATEST FROM OUR SCHOLARS

5 Reasons Janet Yellen Shouldnt Focus On Income Inequality
Diana Furchtgott-Roth, 10-20-14

Why The Comptroller Race Matters
Nicole Gelinas, 10-20-14

Obama Should Have Picked Ebola Czar With Public-Health Experience
Paul Howard, 10-18-14

Success Of Parent Trigger Is UnclearJust As Foes Want
Ben Boychuk, 10-18-14

On Obamacare's Second Birthday, Whither The HSA?
Paul Howard, 10-16-14

You Can Repeal Obamacare And Keep Kentucky's Insurance Exchange
Avik Roy, 10-15-14

Are Private Exchanges The Future Of Health Insurance?
Yevgeniy Feyman, 10-15-14

This Nobel Prize-Worthy Economist Figured Out How To Destroy Terrorism
Diana Furchtgott-Roth, 10-15-14

 
 
 

The Manhattan Institute, a 501(c)(3), is a think tank whose mission is to develop and disseminate new ideas
that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility.

Copyright © 2014 Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Inc. All rights reserved.

52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017
phone (212) 599-7000 / fax (212) 599-3494