Transcript for: Are Mothers Getting
A Bad Deal? 30 June 1 July 2001 (and other broadcasts)
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MR. WATTENBERG: Hello, I'm Ben Wattenberg. Great children, a great
career. A great family. Today's modern woman can have it all, can't they? A
new book by Ann Crittenden says not really. Crittenden argues that despite
recent economic gains, motherhood is still a pricey and dicey proposition. In
order to have children, a great joy and fulfillment says Crittenden, women
take a big cut in pay, hurt their future job prospects and are often ignored.
It's not right. It's not fair. Do mothers give up too much? If so, what can
be done about it?
To find out, Think Tank is joined by Ann Crittenden,
author of The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job In The World Is
Still The Least Valued. Christina Hoff Somers, senior fellow at the American
Enterprise Institute and author of The War Against Boys: How Misguided
Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men and Stephen Baskerville, professor of
Political Science at Howard University. The topic before the house: Are
Mothers Getting a Bad Deal? This week on Think Tank.
The data about
American women reflect remarkable change. Since 1960, the percentage of women
active in the labor force has climbed from 38 percent to 60 percent. Women
are earning more too and often have career prospects nearly equal to those of
men, unless says author Ann Crittenden, they want to be mothers. In that
case, she argues women face a mommy tax as a result; more women are foregoing
having children altogether. The proportion of women who remain childless into
their forties has almost doubled since 1980, rising from 10 percent to 19
percent. Crittenden writes favorably of a variety of potential fixes,
including a generous paid family leave allowance, a shortened work week,
universal pre-school, and most important, a government funded salary for
mothers. She points to France and Sweden as models of mother-friendly
governments. Her critics applaud motherhood, but also salute fathers and are
skeptical of more government.
Ladies, gentleman, thank you for joining
us. Anne Crittenden, suppose you drive the bus for a while. This is your
book, I spent all weekend and up to late last night reading it, it's very
interesting. It's going to be very controversial. I have some things to
controverse about it, but let's hear it from you. What's it about? What's the
MS. ANN CRITTENDEN: Okay, I'm really trying to make two major
points in this book and the first is that raising children is without any
question, the most important job in the economy. It's creating what
economists call human capital, who are the workers, the taxpayers, the future
of the country. So it's serious economic, highly skilled work. Number two
point I want to make is: That this very heart of the economy is given no
economic recognition at all. So I go through in the book, showing how no
major institution really puts economic value on what is very material work.
It's basically valued as zero. So that's-those are my-that's my thesis. And
that this has, you know, serious ramifications for mothers, for children and
for the economy itself.
MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Does anyone on this panel
disagree with the idea that raising a child is the most important job in the
MS. CHRISTINA HOFF SOMMERS: Well, it's a very important job. There
are many jobs, it's a cooperative effort in creating a dynamic economy and
I've always thought that, for example, a traditional family where one
person, usually the mother, stays home and takes care of the children and the
father goes out and work, or you can have reverse sometimes, men stay home.
That seems to work very well, because it is very, very demanding.
WATTENBERG: But then-let me rephrase it. No one here disagrees with the idea
that motherhood is very important.
DR. STEPHEN BASKERVILLE: No,
MR. WATTENBERG: Okay.
DR. BASKERVILLE: I would
argue that fatherhood is in some ways just as important-
WATTENBERG: About that-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Raising kids is the way I would
put it. Whoever does it.
MR. WATTENBERG: We're going to come to that.
Now, the idea that mothers get no recognition that is in some large measure a
data phenomenon, you say we construct this artificial number called the Gross
Domestic Product and we don't count the value of women's labor, because it is
an account system of what's bought and what's sold.
Right. It's a money transaction too.
MR. WATTENBERG: So that's what it
is. It's not-what's not bought and not sold, why does that trouble you so
MS. CRITTENDEN: I, myself, started out thinking it's not a
really particularly big deal. I came to think it really is, because
other countries, other than the US really do have begun to measure it, and
they are finding out that the amount of work in the unpaid economy is
about one-third to forty, even fifty percent in some countries, the amount of
work in the paid economy. When you see the aggregate picture, all this
unpaid labor, which mostly women are doing and then you take the aggregate
income women are earning, you see that they work longer hours than men in
every country in the world and they make less money than men in every country
in the world. So that's kind of important if you're looking at
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: I'm just a little confused because
there's a lot of unpaid labor. For example, the value of friendship-what
friends do for one another is not part of the-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Usually
the definition of labor does not include friendship-
MS. HOFF SOMMERS:
No, a friend-
MS. CRITTENDEN: It's something-
MS. CRITTENDEN: A
friend can give advice, you sometimes provide the services of a psychologist
or a chauffeur or a parent. Usually if it's work, it's something you can pay
someone else to do for you. It's usually agreed that about 80 percent of the
unpaid work going on is associated with children, with raising
DR. BASKERVILLE: This may be true. I think there's a danger here
and a too narrow definition of what constitutes raising children. I mean,
there are many things any parent can tell you that raising children requires
enormous sacrifice and enormous costs to both parents. These costs are not
limited to mothers. Mothers may take a cut in salary. Fathers may very well
have to take-work at a job that's boring or dull, has long hours in order to
provide for his children.
MS. CRITTENDEN: Mothers don't have any long
or boring jobs-
DR. BASKERVILLE: Fathers-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Never
have long and boring jobs. I mean-
MR. WATTENBERG: The point you make in
the book is that it is in fact the most interesting and fulfilling job in the
MS. CRITTENDEN: It's also hard work.
MR. WATTENBERG: Of
course it's hard work, but-
MS. CRITTENDEN: But fulfilling-if we had a
system in marriage where the income coming in to the adults legally belonged
to both adults and to the children, each one had a claim on it, I think it'd
be a fairer system in what we have now.
DR. BASKERVILLE: But this
seems to be contrary to what the gist of the rest of your book?
CRITTENDEN: Not really.
DR. BASKERVILLE: You seem to be arguing that
mothers should have an independent; you used the word independent quite
MS. CRITTENDEN: Well-
DR. BASKERVILLE: Independent of
men, independent of fathers-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Well, in the
DR. BASKERVILLE: Independent of fathers-
DR. BASKERVILLE: And what you seem to be doing is separating the
work that a woman-typically mothers do from which fathers do and insisting
that the mother's work should be considered to receive legal recognition,
should be regulated by the state-
MS. CRITTENDEN: No. Come on, back
off. I think mothers should be equal in the family. I'm not talking about the
state at all. My point is this: We have a system, a very individualistic
system where an income belongs to he who earns it. He who earns it owns it is
the shorthand and that means that the partner, male or female, I'm not
talking gender here. The partner, who decides to cut back on their income in
order to the work it takes to raise a family, becomes economically
vulnerable. I would argue with you, I'm sure, that an intact marriage, this
is no problem. If it's a good marriage, what's the problem?
BASKERVILLE: Now, you're getting it-
MS. CRITTENDEN: You know, we're
sharing it. Most people share their income. Most men beat their brains out,
share their income with their wives and children, but we just so happen to
live in an individualist society where half of the marriages end in
DR. BASKERVILLE: Precisely.
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: One
question I have the book is why and with some orthodox feminists in general,
is that why wouldn't the women's movement be more concerned with stabilizing
families with a discouraging divorce. We've had a divorce
MS. CRITTENDEN: Oh, I really am. I don't speak for anybody
but myself, and I really think one of the ways to stabilize it and I've been
told this by a lot of people in the family law system, is to have something
that would require more economic equality after divorce, while children are
minors and that would be a huge disincentive to divorce, particularly to the
primary bread winner.
DR. BASKERVILLE: But this-
CRITTENDEN: Because it's going to cost them a lot more-
This is precisely opposite to what you're saying in the book.
CRITTENDEN: No, it isn't.
DR. BASKERVILLE: It's predicated-
CRITTENDEN: Say that-
DR. BASKERVILLE: The whole point is predicated on
the existence of divorce. I mean-the economic vulnerability which you claim
that mothers have is only becomes an issue as you just said a moment ago when
there's divorce. I mean, divorce is the subtext that runs through this entire
book. It's all predicated on what is position of the mothers when they get
divorced and most divorces are filed by mothers.
MS. CRITTENDEN: I
really shy away from making judgments on who's to blame in divorce. I didn't
get into child custody issues. I think we don't know it. It's not my
MR. WATTENBERG: Excuse me-
MS. CRITTENDEN: But I'm
talking about the economic vulnerability of the caregiver because we have
now-we had a phrase called maternalism-feminization of poverty. I think now
we can just call it maternalization of poverty.
DR. BASKERVILLE: But
how does poverty come become an issue unless you're talking about single
parent households? I mean, you're talking about an entire family, then it's
not a gender issue, if you're talking about intact families. In fact, we know
that the greatest anti-poverty program is in intact family.
CRITTENDEN: I think the greatest poverty-
DR. BASKERVILLE: Child poverty
is not a serious problem involving-when you' re talking about entire
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: I would agree the divorce system is
MS. CRITTENDEN: It creates poverty-
DR. BASKERVILLE: It
does create poverty and what we are creating here is added incentives for
divorce. Financial incentives for divorce-
MS. CRITTENDEN: I had a guy
call me from the Brooklyn Court. He's worked in the Brooklyn system for 30
years. He said these guys-he's typically working with minorities. The guy is
a transit worker, whatever. There incomes about $40,000. There are two kids.
The wife makes maybe 10 or 15. Somebody is after him because he's a good,
solid breadwinner. He's tempted, he leaves his marriage.
BASKERVILLE: This is not what is causing most divorces-
She goes into poverty-
DR. BASKERVILLE: I want to go-
CRITTENDEN: If these guys tell me, if these men had to pay equal standard of
living for their children after divorce, they would think far more
MR. WATTENBERG: But Stephen is saying that that most divorces
are engendered by women. You know that is fact-
MS. CRITTENDEN: I
think we know that-
MR. WATTENBERG: I read about 90 percent of this book.
I didn't read every page. Maybe you mentioned it somewhere, but you do not
mention that fact and the clear implication-
MS. CRITTENDEN: I don't
think we know that fact-
MR. WATTENBERG: The clear implication is that
divorce is some almost cavalier act by a guy-
MS. CRITTENDEN: I said
that? I don't say that-
MR. WATTENBERG: I'm telling you my sense of what
you wrote, that it's almost cavalier act by a middle-age guy whose found
another honey and says, see ya. And that is-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Well, in
my age, that's unfortunately common.
DR. BASKERVILLE: It is not common,
excuse me. There have been numerous studies. Sanford Braver, Brenick and
MS. CRITTENDEN: I've read all-
DR. BASKERVILLE: This is not
MS. CRITTENDEN: I agree with-
DR. BASKERVILLE: This
Australian study; there's no dispute that when young children are involved,
the divorces are filed overwhelmingly by mothers and this whether-it's not
just the filing of the divorce, but the initiation of the divorce
MS. CRITTENDEN: I don't think this is to the subject-
BASKERVILLE: This is found by the surveys of couples-
MS. CRITTENDEN: The
subject is what happens when the divorce occurs-
DR. BASKERVILLE: No,
it's precisely the subject-
MS. CRITTENDEN: That's the subject of my
book. I'm not analyzing divorce in this book.
MR. WATTENBERG: I want
to ask a question. You said in this discussion that if a marriage remains
whole that's not really the problem, yet there are long, extended passages in
your book where you talk about intact marriages and you say the fact that
women are not getting money, this changes the balance of power between men
and women and that women again within a whole marriage, get the short end of
MS. CRITTENDEN: I say that what commonly happens in this
country when people have children is the woman will cut back on her paid
labor. They're working. They have kids.
MS. CRITTENDEN: The majority either stop work-paid work
altogether, or they work part time. That amounts to more than half of all
mothers, although the full term working is increasing all the time. But when
that happens, the women's' income falls, obviously. They become dependent on
the bread winner for their standard of living and I do feel that that has a
psychological effect, as well as a loss effect for professional women, not
necessarily if you're not crazy about your job to begin with, which is maybe
most people. And I think the feeling would be ameliorated a great deal if we
had fairer protections in divorce for the care giving and the bread winning
partner. If they were really pairs financially, I think we'd have a lot
better situation-for fairer situation.
DR. BASKERVILLE: This is very
disturbing. There's one phrase that runs through the book which is very
troubling and this runs through the whole family law issue and that is, this
term primary caregiver versus bread winner, I don't believe that it's role of
government officials, and I think we're getting into something very dangerous
here when we talk about government officials going into peoples' homes and
deciding who is the primary caregiver. Who does this job? Who changes the
diapers? Who earns the living? Who fixes the faucets? This sort of
MS. CRITTENDEN: Nobody's talking about that.
BASKERVILLE: This is. We are conducting-
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: Where I would
agree a little bit is that some of the policies that you're asking for are in
place in the European countries, but they have very high tax rates and they
do not have-I heard recently on National Public Radio some economists talking
about the United States having entered a golden age of female
entrepreneurship. That the economic opportunities for women are
unprecedented. Young women in Europe, in Germany, in France, don't have those
economic opportunities. Now, I know they have some protections. They have a
nanny state. They're protected in much more elaborate ways than we are, but
yet we have the most dynamic economy the world has ever seen. The young women
in-I teach at a university and the young women in my classes are more
ambitious and more-have more possibilities than young women there and there's
so much to celebrate. Yes, they're going to have to do some juggling and if
they want to have children, they're going to draw back, but there's so many
benefits from that.
MR. WATTENBERG: Anne's book viewed in a different way
is a pro-natal book, that is it is trying to make it easier for this society
to go about allowing people who want to have children to be able to have
children and I think everybody, liberal and conservative, agrees. It is
difficult now. The childcare deduction has eroded the tax creditors and fully
phased in. Do you think that her proposals make some headway in that
DR. BASKERVILLE: I think some of the proposals in there are
yes, I would say would be desirable. I would like to see a shorter workweek.
I would like to see some parental leave for mothers and fathers.
DR. BASKERVILLE: Paid, some. I think these things have
costs though and we need to debate fully what the costs of these things are.
There's nothing free in this. We've got to accept the fact that people have
accepted since the beginning of civilization that children do have costs.
There are opportunity costs. There are sacrifices that parents have to make.
The sacrifices typically that mothers make are different from the
sacrifices that fathers make and that's probably going to continue as Ms.
Crittenden points out for a while, but there's no way that we can simply say
that one parent makes a disproportional amount of sacrifices in favor of
the children. And that we need to invite the state in to regulate the
family further to even out these supposed inequalities. This is a
MS. CRITTENDEN: I don't understand why you say these
DR. BASKERVILLE: This is a prescription for enormous state
MS. CRITTENDEN: I don't ask the state to regulate the
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: Everybody's got rules and
MR. WATTENBERG: Excuse me, but you have in here a vast
panoply of suggestions-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Look, Ben-
WATTENBERG: Let me just finish then, just hold on a minute. Each of which
involved greater state regulation and change.
MS. CRITTENDEN: Okay, let's
MR. WATTENBERG: I mean it's not Uncle Sam, it's Aunt Samantha
and Auntie Sam is going to take care of these things-it's going to provide
greater daycare services. It's going to provide children's-
CRITTENDEN: No, it's going to-
MR. WATTENBERG: I think is what you're
MS. CRITTENDEN: It's going to help pay the bills. Let me just put
it this way: I haven't heard you complain about the kind of services we
provide the members of our military. Traditionally, men serve the state by
protecting us against external enemies. Great. Traditionally, women have
served the state while protecting us against internal enemies. Raising the
kids. My fundamental bottom line is those two services are national services
and they are equal and it's-
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: A very odd
MS. CRITTENDEN: Vastly different-
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: A
very odd analogy to compare soldiers and mothers-
MS. CRITTENDEN: I don't
think so. I think it's a good one and I would also compare with farmers.
Don't you think raising kids is as important to raising soybeans? And how
many tens of billions of dollars do we throw at farmers, just so they don't
lose their income? We don't do that for children and we are shooting
ourselves in the foot when we do that.
MR. WATTENBERG: Well, of course we
do it for children-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Because kids are our most important
MR. WATTENBERG: We do it through a hundred tax policies, including,
for example, the home mortgage deduction. I mean-in order that people can
own their homes with three or four bedrooms so their children can have a
bedroom and you get a tax deduction. There are hundreds if not
MS. CRITTENDEN: Which is a middle class-
WATTENBERG: Excuse me there are hundreds if not a thousand pieces of this-I
mean, look, between women and children, you're talking about two-thirds to 70
percent of the people in America. This is-of course they're being benefited
and armed. I don't see how you can isolate this thing.
MS. HOFF SOMMERS:
And I also want to say soldiers live often in very threatening and dangerous
environment. It's a massive sacrifice. Whereas having a child and raising a
child is constitutive of the good life. It's part of-
No, I really differ with you. We don't value what women have historically
done as much as we value what men have historically done. That' s where I
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: Well, you know where I do agree in the
sentiment of the book is what for me it was very heartening to find, finally,
a feminist saying something good about having children and raising
MR. WATTENBERG: I agree with that.
MS. HOFF SOMMERS:
We've had a couple of decades of women's movement that told us a lot about
how to get rid of it, how to have an abortion, how to be sterilized, how to
have 24 hour a day daycare, so you don't have to-the women's movement has
been very good about telling us how to distant ourselves from children and
it's wonderful to find finally someone saying-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Let's have
another debate. Let's talk about it differently, because we all can kind of
agree, kids are really important and raising them is important and we have to
look at just exactly how we do deal with this, fathers as well as
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: The problem is even deeper. Let me just say
one thing: Is there's an anti-motherhood sentiment that it's so powerful in
MS. CRITTENDEN: Well that was-
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: For
example, Paul Vitz is a psychologist at NYU, did a content analysis of
textbooks and readers that children use. You cannot find a picture of a
mother with a child. You're more likely to see a woman with a jackhammer in
an American textbook. It has simply been-and partly because the feminists
said well this stereotypes women. We don't want to have celebrate a woman
with a child. I think we have to move away from that and recognize that
having a family and having children is part of a good life for most people,
not everyone, but for most people-
MS. CRITTENDEN: But you know, it's not
at all the feminists who are opposed to that now, it's the anti-child-this
child-free group. That's the only group I run into that is very
MR. WATTENBERG: Would you call-
DR. BASKERVILLE: I
think there's a larger issue here that needs to be taken into consideration
and that is I'm all in favor of extolling motherhood and fatherhood as
anybody else here. But what we're talking about is a general trend here,
which is denigrating parenthood and turning parenthood, especially fatherhood
over to the state for control. We are substituting the state first for the
father and increasingly, it seems like we are substituting the state for the
mother. And parents generally are losing not only rights but their
responsibilities in some ways to the power of the state.
CRITTENDEN: Could you give one specific example?
DR. BASKERVILLE: One
specific example? The whole issue that you go into one chapter on the whole
MS. CRITTENDEN: Give me an example of the state dictating
families, what they do?
DR. BASKERVILLE: Well, the whole issue of the
whole family law system involves the takeover of the parental role, the
removal of the father-
MS. CRITTENDEN: No, let's be very
DR. BASKERVILLE: The removal of the father from the family. I
mean this is what we're basically talking about here-
Nobody is removing the father from the family-
DR. BASKERVILLE: The
entire divorce system is predicated on removing the father from the
MR. WATTENBERG: There is a whole vast body of literature, just as
there is on your side in these various divorce proceedings. You have
community property. You have marital property. You have child support. You
have alimony. You have paternity. It is not as if these women are
MS. CRITTENDEN: They are left poor though, and I
think you can finally cut through all the organs by just looking at the
numbers at the end of the day, and that is divorced women, single and
divorced women are after a divorce, 40 percent of women become poverty level.
We're seeing the impoverishment of women and children under radically reduced
MR. WATTENBERG: There are costs-
MS. CRITTENDEN: So
and that's not the case of men and I'm sorry, I don't want that to happen to
men. I don't want that to happen to anybody-
MR. WATTENBERG: Excuse me.
Hold it. There are parts of your book and you sort of indicated it just now,
that I must say and I say I salute a lot of what you write and say that are
anti-male. Where you-well, excuse me, where you simply say that the
biological facts are these men don't care as much about their children as
women do. If you give men the money they spend it on things like other babes
and drinking. If anyone ever said those things about if a man wrote that
about a woman, we'd have the NOW pickets out there. You' d have big S for
sexist, you know, branded in scarlet on your forehead. Now, are those sexist
attitudes on your part?
MS. CRITTENDEN: No, they are absolutely not. I'm
happily married for more than 20 years and my husband supports everything I
have to say-
MR. WATTENBERG: You can be happily married-
CRITTENDEN: And I would never write such a thing. But what I'm
reading, you're talking about something Larry Somers has given lecture after
lecture to the Third World governments about. There is 30, 40, 50, 60 years
of research as high is this ceiling, showing that resources in the hands
of mothers is more likely to be spent on children's health and education,
then resources in the hands of fathers. I would never, ever have the nerve to
say such things if there weren't that kind of data. I have read too
many studies. It's there. That's the data-
MR. WATTENBERG: And
MS. CRITTENDEN: I'm sorry about that but it's the
MR. WATTENBERG: Women are better than men?
No, I absolutely do not think so whatsoever and, you know, I go-women are not
higher moral creatures, but I think for various reasons, whatever we don't
know the reasons, cultural, acculturation, maybe some kind of fundamental
maternal hormonal instinct at early age, I don't know. This is the
MR. WATTENBERG: Let's just go around the room real quickly and I
need brief answers. What should happen? What will happen?
CRITTENDEN: Well, I think what will happen is what should happen. I think as
women achieve more power and more stature in society, they're going to write
the rules to make it easier to combine being part of the wider world and
raising children and having time and resources for children.
SOMMERS: I think the rules will change and I think more and more young women
are going to decide that having a family and taking care of a home is not a
bad choice, but how do we subsidize it-not necessarily European-style
socialism. It'll have to be a new more creative, dynamic and local
DR. BASKERVILLE: We should do everything we can to encourage
mothers and fathers and parents generally, but if we're going to subsidize
the family, if we're going to involve the state in the family, we need
guarantees that mothers cannot take the children and run whenever they feel
MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Thank you Stephen Baskerville, Anne
Crittenden, Christina Hoff Sommers. Thank you. Please remember to send us
your comments via e-mail. For Think Tank, I'm Ben