Engaged listeners lined the back wall of Hale Auditorium Oct. 10 to hear economic journalist and former New York Times reporter Ann Crittenden speak on her latest book, The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued.
Crittenden illustrated disadvantages of being a mother in a society that values child rearing but consistently exploits those who do it.
Although she worked as a professional journalist for 15 years, Crittenden said that raising her son was without any question the most challenging, difficult, highly skilled work I had ever done in my entire life . . . and the professional world wasnt really acknowledging it.
In the United States, Crittenden said, we keep the resources out of the hands of the mothers and this is first seen in the employment realm.
She explained how an invisibility of mothers work exists. I was at a cocktail party and a guy came running up to me, who I didnt know, and said hey, didnt you used to be Ann Crittenden? At that point I said Ive got to write this book.
Her book includes findings on how human capital is created by mothers and other early teachers and caregivers. The people who raise children in the early years are the biggest wealth producers, Crittenden said. About one-third to a half of economic production takes place at home and most of it is done by women.
Crittenden believes that primary caregivers play a vital role in the economy but are not acknowledged for their work.
She cited an increase in hours for the American workweek by one full workload, causing primary caregivers to either drop out of the labor market or work part time.
We are one of six countries in the entire world that doesnt have a paid leave for child bearing, said Crittenden. Without a paid leave, we have more women returning to work after two weeks than any other country. We have an enormous disincentive for spending any time with our child.
Not only are children expensive, but women lose money when they have children. The bottom line is that if youre a primary caregiver and have a college degree, you can expect to lose about a million dollars in lifetime earnings. In the United States, the single biggest risk factor for poverty is having a child, Crittenden said.
She noted, however, that resources in the hands of mothers are more likely to be spent on children than resources in the hands of fathers, such as on childrens health and education.
Since it is difficult for primary caregivers to work full time, they lose many benefits. Only individuals who have worked full-time earn Social Security. Part-time workers dont get disability if they fall and hurt themselves, Crittenden said.
The government compounds the difficulty by not recognizing motherhood as work. It is classified officially as unskilled labor, Crittenden said. Many people acknowledge that raising a child is the most important job in the world, but this is contradicted by the idea that this is not serious at all, she added.
Crittenden has written for Fortune, Newsweek and The New York Times. She is the author of Killing the Sacred Cows: Bold Ideas for a New Economy and is an economics commentator for CBS News. She lives with her husband and son in Washington, D.C.
The lecture was co-sponsored by the Center for the Education of Women, the Business School, the U-M Family Care Resources Program and the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies.