Thursday, January 7, 2010
We Did It! What happens when women are over half of the workforce
“We Did It!” screams the headline on the cover of this week’s Economist showing the famous picture of the woman flexing her right arm muscles. This drawing was used extensively during World War II to encourage women to take jobs, freeing men to fight.
Women hold 49 percent of the jobs in America and earn almost 60 percent of university degrees. Their workforce percentages are increasing now that jobs require more brainpower and less muscle power. The benefits of these new opportunities, however, are not spread evenly among women.
"Childless women in corporate America earn almost as much as men. Mothers with partners earn less and single mothers much less. The cost of motherhood is particularly steep for fast-track women. …Professional-services firms have an up-or-out system which rewards the most dedicated with lucrative partnerships.… This Hobson’s choice is imposing a high cost on both individuals and society. Many professional women reject motherhood entirely…. Others delay child-bearing for so long they are forced into the arms of the booming fertility industry."
The United States, the world’s biggest economy, lags behind other developed nations in accommodating working mothers. It provides no statutory maternity leave and only 12 weeks of unpaid leave. The US spends only 1.2 percent of its GNP on family benefits compared to France’s 3.75 percent and Britain’s 3.5 percent.
With the fate of the Health Care bill still undecided, it doesn’t look like the situation will get better for working moms any time soon. Fearful of cries that they are leading America into the jaws of socialism, politicians are reluctant to increase subsidies for day care, family leave, and other benefits which make it easier for women to provide for their children. It’s ironic that the most outspoken critics of family benefits are those like Glenn Beck who also proclaim the sacredness of the family.
The implications for adoption are clear. When the fertility doctors run out of tricks, women start knocking on the doors of adoption agencies. While they once wanted their own child, now any healthy baby will do. Agencies, ever anxious to meet the demands of their affluent clients, pressure poor women to “think of their babies before themselves and do what’s right for their child.”
The rush to adopt has slowed in the past year, however, apparently because the poor economy has dampened enthusiasm for other people’s children and foreign countries have imposed tighter standards as stories of rampant corruption have come to light.
Some of us adoption critics have postulated that the world envisioned by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid's Tale (1985) where a class of women are chosen to procreate for the benefit of the majority of people who can no longer have children may come to pass. Certainly society’s casual acceptance of adoption as reflected in Juno and Then She Found Me and the highly publicized adoptions by Angelina Jolie and Madonna portend a culture where the re-distribution of infants from the poor to the rich is common place. (Lauryn Galindo who facilitated Angelina’s adoption of Maddox from Cambodia in 2002 was sent to prison for fraudulent adoption practices.)
Now I’m thinking that if adoption continues to lose its popularity and women continue to outpace men in the workforce, we may instead develop into a sort of bee society. Talented but sterile women will do most of the work. Less educated women will bear and raise children at the subsistence level. Men will do, well, what men like to do.