Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A crying shame

Yet another article about the 'baby shortfall'. I blogged about parenting a while back but some of the arguments are worth repeating.

Women do still want to have families but don't feel able to do so in their twenties (or at all) in sufficient numbers. Meanwhile, the UK has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Western Europe whilst the Blairs have four children.

Caring for children has a high economic penalty (as per the article) and a penalty in reducing the prospects for promotion and career success. A disturbing number of women are downgraded or fired when pregnant and many are forced to take lower skilled jobs with shorter hours to fit in with child-caring. Child-care is expensive and mothers worry about the effects of nursery care on their children.

Lower skilled women and teenagers with low aspirations are less bothered by limited career prospects - childcare is often more satisfying and fulfilling than a low-skilled job (I'm ignoring the problem of able women with low aspirations sacrificing their potential by having children. From their position it's a 'rational' trade-off). Low skilled employed women have to decide if they can afford to choose their dream of home-making, although they often want to return part-time to maintain social contact with work colleagues. Low skilled women are generally less geographically mobile than university educated women and are more likely to have relatives nearby who can take over part-time childcare duties.

Mrs Blair, Mrs Cameron and Nicola Horlick don't clean up their children's sick. They pay someone. They are paid enough to 'have it all' - work long hours, achieve career success AND have children. It is unsurprising that they have several children. Women like these have never been enslaved by motherhood - Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire was politically active because she did not have to look after her own children.

This leaves women 'in the middle' and these are the women who have the strongest incentive to remain child-free because they have to choose between having a child or having a career. They have been competing on par with men all their lives - they do not want to be reduced to a dependent 'Stepford Wife'. Their jobs are sufficiently interesting that they derive self-esteem and purpose from their career. Their wages give them economic and personal freedom. Unambitious mid-skilled women and those with a romantic notion of homemaking will still choose full-time childcare or the 'mummy track' of part-time work and limited promotion... but may not be able to afford children. Many of this 'middle' group have been to university which saddles them with debt and delays their entry into the workplace.

In the 1950s women saw self-sacrifice as a duty - it is something to celebrate that women no longer feel obliged to sacrifice their own career potential to care for children (a low-skilled job). It is NOT something to celebrate that many career-orientated couples have to make an either/or decision since most women can't 'have it all'. Perhaps this will be something of a solution. Perhaps we could encourage the aging population to contribute by paying them to take on some childcare duties. The one thing we musn't accept is that all women who want children should be in the domestic sphere... unless they want to be.

[Word-soup thanks to Antonia's blog]

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