Making motherhood a career

Girls outperform boys in school; women are more likely to go to college and earn a degree. Men have been hit much harder by the recession and the changing economy. But a growing number of career women are choosing to make child-raising and home-making into a career, according to Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity,

Disillusioned workers are “opting into a slower, more sustainable, and more self-sufficient lifestyle,”  writes Ann Friedman in a New Republic review.

The woman who leaves the public workplace is “the Brooklyn hipster who quit her PR job to sell hand-knitted scarves at craft fairs,” Matchar writes. “She’s the dreadlocked ‘radical homemaker’ who raises her own chickens to reduce her carbon footprint. She’s the thirty-one-year-old new mom who starts an artisan cupcake company from her home kitchen rather than return to her law firm. He’s the hard-driven Ivy Leaguer fleeing corporate life for a Vermont farm.”

Thanks to technology, the new homemaker can sell her crafts online and chronicle her quilting, baking and homeschooling projects online.

 “This lifestyle wouldn’t work if women were raising their perfect, happy, locavore children in the middle of the woods with no internet connection,” one professor tells Matchar.

From my point of view, the new homemakers are making their jobs a lot harder than they need to be. They grow their own vegetables, raise chickens and goats  (and slaughter their own meat!), weave, knit, quilt and sew and practice attachment parenting. Letting babies go diaperless is the latest fad. “Elimination communication” requires a a hyper-alert caregiver.

It’s hard to balance child-raising with a career in the U.S. But, women work less, earn less and are less likely to hold managerial and professional jobs in countries with family-friendly policies, writes Christina Hoff Sommers.

Sweden offers 16 months of paid parental leave, special protections for part-time workers, and state-subsidized preschools. Gender equality is government policy.

In a 2012 report, the World Economic Forum found that when it comes to closing the gender gap in “economic participation and opportunity,” the United States is ahead of not only Sweden but also Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Iceland, Germany, and the United Kingdom. . . .  Though the United States has fewer women in the workforce (68 percent compared to Sweden’s 77 percent), American women who choose to be employed are far more likely to work full-time and to hold high-level jobs as managers or professionals. They also own more businesses, launch more start start-ups, and more often work in traditionally male fields. As for breaking the glass ceiling in business, American women are well in the lead . . .

Mothers are much more likely than fathers to take long parental leaves and work part-time, according to a study by Cornell economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn.

. . . most seem to enjoy the flex-time arrangement (once known as the “mommy track”) and never find their way back to full-time or high-level employment.

Employers prefer to hire man, knowing they are less likely to take a long leave and then work part-time, add Blau and Kahn.

When illiteracy pays the bills

In the hills of Appalachia, parents pull their children out of literacy classes for fear they’ll lose their “learning disability” label and the federal check that goes with it, writes Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times.

Many people in hillside mobile homes here are poor and desperate, and a $698 monthly check per child from the Supplemental Security Income program goes a long way — and those checks continue until the child turns 18.

“The kids get taken out of the program because the parents are going to lose the check,” said Billie Oaks, who runs a literacy program here in Breathitt County, a poor part of Kentucky. “It’s heartbreaking.”

America’s safety net can entangle the poor by rewarding failure and discouraging marriage, writes Kristof.

When SSI was extended to children 40 years ago, only 1 percent of poor children qualified, writes Kristof. They had severe physical or mental handicaps that required intensive parental care. Now 55 percent of children on SSI have vaguely defined “learning disabilities” that essentially mean they’re not retarded and aren’t doing well in school. Eight  percent of low-income children now receive SSI disability at an annual cost of more than $9 billion.

. . . a 2009 study found that nearly two-thirds of these children make the transition at age 18 into SSI for the adult disabled. They may never hold a job in their entire lives and are condemned to a life of poverty on the dole . . .

Kristof recommends community visitors to help low-income mothers, pre-kindergarten and encouraging marriage. (Marriage! It’s not just for gays!)

I’d suggest eliminating SSI disability for children unless their disability imposes extra costs on the family.

When I reported on welfare reform, I met a teenage mother who supplemented her welfare income with SSI for her son, who’d been born three months early, before the mother’s 15th birthday. When he was two, the pediatrician decided he wasn’t disabled after all. Though happy her son was developing normally, she was distraught at losing the extra money. Still, she got a half-time job at the community college, where she was learning office technology.  She discovered that she loved working.  I don’t know if she worked her way out of poverty. She came from a very messed-up family and her boyfriend had abandoned her. But she had a shot.

Study: Kids do well with pre-k and half-k

Children who attend pre-k and half-day kindergarten are better readers in third grade than children with no preschool but full-day kindergarten, concludes Starting Out Right by Jim Hull of the Center for Public Education. Third-grade reading is a strong predictor of school success.

The benefit was the greatest for the neediest students, children from low-income, Hispanic, black and immigrant families. English Language Learners showed especially strong gains. However, children of less-educated mothers did not  benefit as much as others.

The study didn’t try to evaluate the quality of children’s pre-K program, notes NCTQ, which speculates children of less-educated mothers were more likely to attend pre-K programs with ineffective teachers.

 The feds should require pre-k programs such as Head Start to evaluate teacher quality, NCTQ advocates, citing Watching Teachers Work, a study on observing pre-k and early elementary teachers in the classroom.

 Disadvantaged children rarely participate in ”stimulating, content-rich conversations that provide them with the cognitive and social-emotional skills they need to succeed throughout their years in school,” Watching Teachers Work finds.  “Observation tools allow for measurements that are far less subjective than many of the checklists and rubrics currently used today,” the report says.

Maternity is destiny?

Mothers’ education predicts children’s academic achievement — and the pattern is set by the age of three, writes University of Chicago economist James Heckman.

Children of mothers with less than a high school education score about half a standard deviation below the mean by the time they’re three, according to Heckman’s data.  As they go through school, they do slightly worse compared to children of educated mothers. (Researchers don’t track fathers’ education because so many children are growing up without their fathers.)

Gaps in test scores classified by social and economic status of the family emerge at early ages, before schooling starts, and they persist. Similar gaps emerge and persist in indices of soft skills classified by social and economic status. Again, schooling does little to widen or narrow these gaps.

John Goodman’s Health Policy Blog has the depressing chart. 

 Of course, disadvantaged children usually attend struggling schools (or schools that have stopped struggling).  It’s possible to believe that high-quality schooling would make a difference for the children of uneducated parents.

Study: Women scientists don’t face bias

Women’s choices — not male bias — explain why so few women advance in science careers, concludes a study by Cornell researchers Stephen Ceci and Wendy Williams, which is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  The focus on “sex discrimination in reviewing, interviewing, and hiring represents costly, misplaced effort,” they argue. “Society is engaged in the present in solving problems of the past, rather than in addressing meaningful limitations deterring women’s participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers today.”

Looking at two decades of data, the researchers found that women scientists are more likely than men to step off the career track.

This situation is caused mainly by women’s choices, both freely made and constrained by biology and society, such as choices to defer careers to raise children, follow spouses’ career moves, care for elderly parents, limit job searches geographically, and enhance work-home balance.

Family-friendly policies, such as the option to work part-time and delay the tenure clock, could help women advance in science careers, they write.

Ceci and Williams are married to each other and have three daughters, notes Lisa Belkin in the New York Times.

She links to an interview with Dr. Janet Davison Rowley, now 85, “the matriarch of modern cancer genetics.”  The mother of four, Dr. Rowley worked part-time until her youngest child was 12.

Why God made mothers

Second graders answer the question: Why did God make mothers?

1. She’s the only one who knows where the scotch tape is.

2. Mostly to clean the house.

3. To help us out of there when we were getting born.

Why did God give you your mother and not some other mom?

1. We’re related.

2. God knew she likes me a lot more than other people’s mom like me.

What kind of a little girl was your mom?

1. My mom has always been my mom and none of that other stuff.

2. I don’t know because I wasn’t there, but my guess would be pretty bossy.

3. They say she used to be nice.

What would it take to make your mom perfect?

1. On the inside she’s already perfect. Outside, I think some kind of plastic surgery.
2. Diet. You know, her hair. I’d diet, maybe blue.

And there’s more on Cree Tees.

Via Patterico.

To make Mom happy, Dad needs bacon bucks

In What a Mom Wants in the Wall Street Journal, Megan Basham argues that the recession is not helping women by laying off their husbands and make them primary breadwinners. She looks at a Good Morning Profile of the Hemmert family: Mom is working 14 hours a day while Dad is home with the kids. Eleanor Hemmert isn’t happy about the role change. Most women “prefer a husband who’s more interested in bringing home the bacon than in cooking it,” Basham writes.

Virtually every reputable poll taken on mothers and work reveals that a strong majority of moms prefer to work part time or fewer hours. Reflecting the results of many other polling organizations, the Pew Research Center’s most recent survey found that only 21% of mothers with children under the age of 18 say full-time employment is the ideal situation for them. The rest prefer either part-time work or not working at all. In contrast, fully 72% of fathers say a full-time job is the best option for them.

. . . In 2006, a University of Virginia study found that contrary to many feminists’ preoccupation with equal division of household tasks, dishwashing men do not happy women make. Along with a spouse who offers affection, attention and empathy, what really makes women happy is one who earns at least two-thirds of the family income.

I’m married to a man who earns far more than I do — and is an excellent bacon chef. And I am happy.

Parents are trying too hard

Mom and Dad are spending more time caring for their kids, writes economist Bryan Caplan in Chronicle of Higher Education.  But is it worth it?

Time-diary studies show fathers and mothers spend more time caring for their kids than they did 40 years ago.

But the benefits of parental attention wear off as children grow up, Caplan argues.  In the long run, nature beats nurture.  And parents who do too much may burn out, which isn’t much fun for children or parents.


One notable study by Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute found that while most parents believe their children want more face time, only a tiny minority of children actually do. In contrast, about a third of children wish their parents were less stressed and tired. What kids seem to want from their parents isn’t more time; it’s a better attitude.

In other words: Take it easy, Mom and Dad. Your kids will be fine.

Hmm. I’m not convinced that parents have so little lasting effect on their children. On the other hand, neglectful parents probably aren’t reading the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Via Division of Labor.