The truth about women who “choose” to leave the workforce
Millennial women aren’t having kids. Or they’re at least not becoming mothers at as young an age as their predecessors did. In 1976, 18 percent of 30-year-old women were childless. Fast-forward 40 years to 2016, and nearly 50 percent of 30-year-old women are childless.
What millennial women are doing, however, is going to school and working. The number of women with college degrees in 1970 was just one-fourth of the number of women with college degrees in 2016. And in 1976, 43 percent of women were a part of the civilian labor force, compared to the 54 percent women who are part of the labor force in 2016. It seems reasonable to expect this number will rise as more women complete their education.
While some celebrate these findings as evidence of our culture’s progress toward shattering sexist, gendered expectations, others mourn the loss of traditionalism. Twenty-one percent of American men fall into the latter category, believing that women should stay at home and focus on their family instead of working, according to research by the International Labour Organization and Gallup. While 21 percent is hardly a majority, it’s clear the stigma against working women is still present. The normalization of this stigma also likely contributes to the belief held by 37 percent of women that motherhood will disrupt their careers, while only 13 percent of men believe that being a father would disrupt their careers. This is reiterated when some employers even ask female employees if they are planning on having children, as if their choice about parenthood would impact their longevity and/or performance at the company.
These attitudes indicate that while women are entering the workforce more than ever before, they do so in a culture that still expects them to be mothers and doesn’t give them the resources or support to do both. Author Pamela Stone, who conducted interviews with white, straight, upper-class working women about why they left the workforce, found that many did so because of the climate at their workplaces rather than their domestic aspirations. In one of Stone’s interviews with senior publicist of a prominent media conglomerate and a new mother, Stone concluded that while the mother “did, in fact, feel a strong urge to care for her baby, she decided to quit [her job] because of an inflexible workplace, not because of her attraction to home and hearth.”
Stone discusses the idea of choice in her book, “Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home.” Instead of making an actual “choice,” Stone argues, women are faced with a “choice gap.” This gap is created by the illusion of choice conflicting with the reality of being a working mother, which is in actuality very difficult. While it’s obviously hard work to raise kids, there is also a lot of pressure on mothers “to expend a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money in raising their children,” according to sociologist Sharon Hays. And so these once-working women end up at home, with the kids they love but mourning the loss of work they loved.
Of course, there are some who have a different take on working mothers’ decisions. Fox News contributor Gavin McInnes, for example, claims that “Women do earn less in America because they choose to. They would rather go to their daughter’s piano recital than stay all night at work … so they end up earning less because they are less ambitious. I think this is God’s way of saying women should be at home with the kids. They are happier there.”
McInnes’ theory, which he further discusses in his book, Why Men Earn More,
is disturbing for several reasons. First, while McInnes frames this issue as one made completely by women, he fails to acknowledge that men hardly grapple with the same expectations as fathers. For example, going to a child’s recital certainly doesn’t feel like a choice to many women, who know they will face social stigma and shame for choosing their career over their child in any scenario. Secondly, the idea of a mother being inherently more important than a father is a social construct, not a religious mandate. Thirdly, staying at home instead of working isn’t purely a choice for everyone, as McInnes suggests, because it’s impossible for single mothers and/or low-income mothers to make that choice. If conservatives like McInnes really did value good parenting and children’s best interest, as it seems they are claiming they are based on their reasoning for mothers to stay at home, they wouldn’t oppose raising the minimum wage, which would help mothers better provide for their children, and would also advocate for paid maternity leave and better grade-school education for children.
All of these components make it quite clear that mothers face difficulty in the workplace because our patriarchal society is still intimidated by women who do not conform to a conventional, domestic role of femininity. “Family values” is a hoax. Women’s decisions about working and having children and the economic situations they find themselves based on these choices has nothing to do with “god” but rather a capitalist system that penalizes women for simply being women.
More articles by Category: Economy, Feminism
More articles by Tag: Equal Pay, paid sick leave, parenthood, work life balance