Should Mothers Be Paid To Stay Home And Care For Their Children?
Back in April, Democratic Strategist Hilary Rosen reignited the mommy wars for 72 frenzied hours when she said that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, had "never worked a day in her life."
Republicans roared and Democrats bristled. "My career choice was to be a mother," Ann Romney told Fox News. First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted that every mother "works hard." Even former First Lady Barbara Bush chimed in.
But there's one major difference between the job of motherhood and all other jobs. When it comes to the former, you're paid in fulfillment and gratitude. When it comes to the latter, you're paid in money.
That doesn't have to be the case, however. The German parliament soon will be debating a proposed law for the second time that would send mothers a monthly check for 150 euros (around $184) if they decide to stay home with their infants.
Paying women who stay at home was once a feminist idea. In the 1970s, some American women called (rhetorically, for the most part) for stay-at-home moms to earn a salary for their domestic labor. After all, if people were paid for domestic labor, a family's personal income would jump an average of 30 percent, according to a recent paper. And since women do more domestic labor than men, many wives and mothers would win greater financial independence, as well as that sense of reward that comes with the confirmation that what you spend your days doing has economic value.
But critics of the German law say that encouraging women to stay home is contrary to modern family politics. Incentivizing them to stay out of the labor pool also isn't the smartest idea, they say, for a country that's already facing a shortage of workers because of an aging population.
Germany's conservative coalition, helmed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, is pushing for the mom allowance, saying that it would give women more freedom to make the parenting choice that they want. Germany's ideas about motherhood are more traditional than most of its European neighbors, though: A quarter of its citizens believe that mothers should stay at home while their children are young, reports the Economist, and a majority of young Germans support the plan.
The law would also ease the heavy burden on the country's day care facilities, according to The Christian Science Monitor. Next year, German children will have a right to day care after their first birthdays -- and this surge of demand will lead to an estimated shortage of between 130,000 and 400,000 openings for them, reports Die Zeit.
Paying women to stay home is an idea unlikely to take root in the U.S., since our nation's respect for work outside the home usually trumps our respect for work inside it -- as when Mitt Romney declared earlier this year that, as president, he would increase the work requirement for those on federal assistance -- even for mothers of infants -- so that they could have "the dignity of work."
Almost half of employed women in the U.S. don't receive any paid maternity leave, and single mothers in poverty must work 30 hours a week to continue receiving federal aid. This partly explains why 8 of 10 new mothers get back on the job within a month of giving birth, according to census numbers. Developmental psychologists can tout the benefits of mother-baby bonding time, but for most mothers, full-time bonding is a luxury they can't afford.
That isn't the case in a place like Germany, where parents already can take up to three years off from work, and still have their job guaranteed at the end. For a year of that time they're also paid 67 percent of their salary, up to 1,800 euros ($2,824) a month. That means a serious pay cut for most German parents who choose to stay home, but much less than the pay cut that stay-at-home parents in the U.S. face. Their income drops to zero.
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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