Summer Book Review #10: The Price of Motherhood

What a week!  It started with a minor hand injury that has left me with a few splinted fingers.   At the funeral of a dear family friend – also this week — I had to duck a few crushing hand shakes given that the blow was to my right hand.   My visiting mother-in-law queried me about how we plan to raise our children given that my husband and I hail from different faiths.  Caught a bee sting today while watching our two little stars at a ‘mock’ swim meet.  Did I mention that this was a family vacation week?

Amidst this swirl I read, The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued, by Ann Crittenden.   I struggled to get through this book even though at times it was quite provocative.  For example, a good 25% of the book is dedicated to the economics of divorce.  Crittenden makes a serious case about how women and children are systematically screwed in divorce settlements.  I hope the decade that has passed since the book’s publication has corrected some of this distortion.  Perhaps not.   If you or a friend are involved in divorce PLEASE read this book.  My guess is that you’ll find it very worthwhile.

The book is the source of the term “mommy tax”  whose roots I hadn’t really understood until this week.   Crittenden argues that several factors like the burden of unpaid work or the renunciation of careers in favor of greater commitments to parenting culminate in, on average,  a life-time negative earnings differential of >$600,000 for women.  Hence, the mommy tax.  At ten years old the book’s economic arguments seem a bit dated but the basic facts seem sadly valid.

Crittenden like many others that we’ve read this summer makes a great case for establishing a vibrant part-time labor market to allow parents greater flexibility.  In her analysis continued earnings prospects for all wage earners – even part-time opportunities – will assist in eliminating the prospect of a mommy tax for 50% of us.

At one point Crittenden shares a personal vignette:  “I took what I thought was a relatively short break, assuming it would be easy to get back into journalism after a few years.  I was wrong.  As it turned out I sacrificed more than half of my lifetime earnings.”  (Price of Motherhood, pg 89)   Poignant words for all of us who adjust our work life due to the demands of one of our non-career roles.

Oddly enough this week I also caught a great article about Sheryl Sandberg, the #2 person at Facebook.  I couldn’t have been a greater juxtaposition to Crittenden’s book.  The article was  A Woman’s Place: Can Sheryl Sandberg Upend Silicon Valley’s Male Dominated Culture? by Ken Auletta.  (The New Yorker, July 11-18, 20011, pg 55+)  Sandberg doesn’t acknowledge any systemic issues facing women.  Instead she challenges women to approach issues from the affirmative:   she believes that women can do anything as long as we make all barriers external, not internal.  Or, said another way, we need to eradicate our own self-limiting beliefs.  The rest they say is elementary.     Perhaps at an estimated net worth at close to $1Bn she can hop into a bracket that eliminates the mommy tax entirely.

Not sure where I fall out on barriers – real or imagined.  I do know that I’ve stepped away from the C-suite table and more than a few times since I’ve had a Crittenden-esque moment of doubt.  Maybe this week I can attribute it to the pain killers for my hand.

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2 responses to “Summer Book Review #10: The Price of Motherhood

  1. Chock full of things to consider and think about….or, since I generally describe things in terms of food……so much food for thought. Keep going Linda!

  2. Sounds like a heck of a week. And to be reminded of the costs of choices is no fun either. Two thoughts. 1) It seems that we women are particularly hard on ourselves with the “whatifs” and opportunity costs and I wonder how helpful that is sometimes. I don’t see too many books or articles that tally up the cost to men’s health and marriage therapy bills when they make work over family decisions (versus our family over work ones). 2) Sandberg seems to be getting a lot of press lately, seems she is the only high placed woman left in large technology companies. Her talk at TedWomen last December on why there aren’t more women at the top was very interesing and if you haven’t seen it, here is the link.

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