If the media hysteria surrounding Beyoncé’s potential pregnancy and Kate Middleton’s “spare to the heir” is any indication, baby fever is booming when it comes to the Hollywood and social elite; within hours of the announcement from Clarence House, #RoyalBaby was a worldwide trending topic on Twitter. And if you type “Beyoncé” into Google, the top automated result is “Beyoncé pregnant again?”
I join the ranks of millions of young women who can’t wait to see Kate’s maternity wear or Jay-Z (potentially) embracing the growing Beyoncé, but all the joy and celebration surrounding these pregnancies struck me as contrary to what I’ve commonly witnessed in large metropolitan American and European cities. For the average or underprivileged woman, rather than face joy and fanfare at pregnancy and childbirth, they often instead meet skepticism. Consider the case of a woman who is in poverty or faces other stresses which might make motherhood a trial—a tiny apartment, college loans, long hours at work. The same people who rejoiced at the birth of Prince George will furrow their brows and tensely ask, “How are you going to do it?”
Have children become an accessory, the sum of achievement, and a nice thing to have…but only for women who meet certain qualifications?
A large majority of the women in the United States desire and/or choose to be mothers. According to a 2013 Gallup poll, Americans want an average of 2.6 children, significantly more than the current American birth rate of 1.9 children per household. Among their reasons for not having more, 65% report concern about the cost. Yet a study done by the Institute of American Values shows that among women who do choose to become mothers, they find motherhood deeply rewarding. In fact, 97% of mothers report being very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their choice. So why would the average American woman celebrate Beyoncé’s or Kate Middleton’s baby, but not choose to have her own?
The average woman faces a social stigma for embracing motherhood. Of women who choose to be mothers, The Motherhood Study reported that fewer than half—only 48% of women—report feeling appreciated and externally validated most of the time. Sadly, one in five women on average feels less valued by society since becoming mothers. This “women’s intuition” about a social bias is now confirmed by the numbers.
According to a recent article in The New York Times, The Motherhood Penalty vs The Fatherhood Bonus, “one of the worst career moves a woman can make is to have children.” Unmarried women on average make .96 cents for every man’s 1.00 while married women with children will earn just .76 cents, widening the gap. Low-income mothers pay the biggest price according to a new study out by University of Massachusetts sociologist Michelle Budig, who researched the gender pay gap for 15 years. Budig reports that the norm is for average working women to experience a 4% pay decrease as a result of their choice to have children. For the average woman, choosing to leave the workforce on maternity leave may face a severe career penalty. How’s that for an incentive?
According to Stanford University Sociologist, Dr. Shelley Correll, at the onset of any new job, mothers will be offered on average $11,000 less than their male counterparts. If they get an offer at all. Women who indicate on their résumé that they are mothers are half as likely to be called in to interview. The clear message to women is: don’t mention that you are a member of the PTA.
With the current bias, the average American woman has permission to celebrate the children of other, “more qualified” women such as celebrities and royalty, but should think twice about the choice to have her own.
With Western culture facing a slew of economic consequences resulting from lower birth rates, and a widening gap between social classes, the privilege of childbirth should not just be an acceptable choice or bonus for the elite. Instead, mothers should receive corporate and monetary compensatory equality and social support when they need it most, instead of their social and corporate communities “throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” as it were. Let’s hope the birth of Prince George’s sibling motivates more American women to follow suit—without having to take a pay cut.
This article appeared first at Acculturated by yours truly.