What Stalled the Gender Revolution? Child Care That Costs More Than College Tuition

By Tamara Straus

I am probably a familiar type to you. I went to college, got a master’s degree, started a career, married, and had my first child late, at 35. I was working as editor-in-chief of a fiction magazine called Zoetrope: All-Story when I became pregnant. The magazine, founded and published by Francis Ford Coppola, had long struggled to get a financial foothold. Under my editorship it achieved just shy of breakeven and earned a number of literary awards. In my last trimester, however, I found myself fighting for my job. During the last month of my pregnancy, on the day of my baby shower, I was fired.

When I was pregnant, I also was the main breadwinner. My husband had just finished his Ph.D. and was on the academic job market. Not only did I have to hustle to find another job while hiding the fact that I was a breast-feeding humanoid, I had to threaten a lawsuit in order to extend my health insurance. I won. Yet I could see I already had lost. My mother’s generation—the Gloria Steinem generation of equal opportunity feminists—had fought and failed to create a system for working mothers, i.e., affordable day care for infants and toddlers, preschool for kids, and aftercare for school-age children. Instead, we have ended up with three months of maternity leave, 16 days of vacation, and a hodgepodge of “choices” that depend on whether we have a man, money, or family to help us along.

I was raised by a feminist and pretty much always considered myself a feminist. But “feminist” didn’t mean much to me until I was booted out of my office carrying 30 pounds on my belly. Looking back, I now find it spectacularly ridiculous that I was oblivious to a key battleground of American feminism: child care, with its barnacled tentacles around labor, class, and biology.

Americans have lots of opinions about working moms. Yet regardless of how they feel, 71 percent of those mothers are working outside the home, according to Pew Research’s latest numbers. And regardless of whether taxpayers think the government should subsidize child care, the cost of that child care is skyrocketing and creating seeds for downward economic mobility. Vox reported in August that child care costs are growing at nearly twice the rate of prices economywide. A 2013 report from Child Care Aware noted that as of 2012, in 31 states and the District of Columbia, day care is more expensive than one year of public college tuition—and that was among a cohort of faculty, people with the highest levels of education.

Today more than 40 per­cent of first-time moth­ers are un­mar­ried and more than half split from their mate by the time their child is 5.

For people with less education and lower incomes, the news is much worse. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that only one in six federally eligible children received child care assistance in 2006, the most recent year for which data are available. In the Golden State, according to a June 2014 study from the California Budget Project, funding for child care and preschool was cut by roughly 40 percent (after adjusting for inflation) compared to 2007–08. The result? Approximately 110,000 child care and preschool slots disappeared—a decline of nearly one-quarter since the Great Recession. There are just too many studies to cite here showing that when parents can’t find affordable child care, they give up working or looking for work.

Even at Berkeley, mecca of progressive politics, full-time day care for infants is $2,060 a month, $1,846 for toddlers, and $1,528 for Pre-K. Subsidies have never been available to faculty, staff, or students unless their income is below poverty level. And when government money does flow to care for children of poor students or staff, “it doesn’t cover half of what it costs to provide services,” said Mary-Ann Spencer Cogan, director of Human Resources and Organizational Services in UC Berkeley’s Residential & Student Services Program.

The only time the United States got anywhere near a comprehensive, universal system of birth-to-12 child care was when the whole nation was at war. In 1943, The Lanham Act created a system of all-day, government-subsidized child care centers that enabled women to take men’s places in fields, factories, and offices. The centers were affordable and wildly popular, according to a 2013 study by Arizona State University Professor Chris M. Herbst. He found that more than half a million children passed through the centers between 1943 and 1946, costing the U.S. government nearly $100 million (in 1940s dollars). Then the war ended and the centers were shut down. The issue remained largely moribund until 1971, when President Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development Bill, which would have created a national day-care system, largely for single parents.

In our current polarized and debt-rattled government, such a bill is unlikely to be resuscitated. But it would make a lot of demographic sense. Today more than 40 percent of first-time mothers are unmarried and more than half split from their mate by the time their child is 5. Meanwhile, evidence is mounting for the social and economic benefits of child care. A large body of scholarly research indicates that child care and preschool availability positively affects women’s employment options, professional advancement, and overall family economic security—and is a proven means to ensure school readiness among children. And better-paid women put more tax dollars into government coffers.

Arlie Hochschild, professor emeritus of sociology at UC Berkeley, has been writing around these issues for decades. In the new afterword to her 1989 book, The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home, she argues that the lack of affordable day care is a significant part of “the stalled gender revolution.” Hochschild says the culprit for this stalled revolution is not any one group, but a system.

“American capitalism over time embraced empowerment and sidetracked care,” she writes. “So in the absence of a countermovement, care has often become a hand-me-down job. Men hand it down to women. High-income women to low-income women.… The big challenge in the years ahead,” Hochschild concludes, “is to value and share the duties for caring for loved ones.”

What we have is elite wo­men (and men) blath­er­ing on about choice, and bil­lion­aire ex­ec­ut­ives passing them­selves off as role mod­els for work­ing wo­men, while re­fus­ing to ac­know­ledge, let alone cel­eb­rate the wo­men who help raise their chil­dren and man­age their homes.

Unfortunately, most Americans don’t talk about the tensions among care, economic mobility, and female empowerment the way Hochschild does. The narrative I tend to hear is of middle- and upper-class women who choose between staying at home to care for their kids or remaining on the job and spending spectacular amounts of money on nannies, day cares, preschools, summer and holiday camps, and afterschools. This summer, my husband and I spent more than $2,000 a month on summer camp for our two kids.

Nonetheless, I see myself as lucky. Since Zoetrope, I’ve had a string of excellent supervisors and employers who have given me the flexibility I need to earn money and raise young children. But I remain pissed off about what happens to many other mothers.

When my daughter was 10 months old, I landed a job as an editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. Through Craigslist, I hired a new mother who traded in her job as a social worker to care for her infant son and my daughter. Jen quit working for one simple reason: Her day care costs were wiping out her income. I found her choice unfair, but the results were clear: My earnings and savings went up, and Jen’s went down. When the time came for preschool, I could afford to send my daughter to a good one. Meanwhile, Jen and her husband, also a social worker, had accumulated no savings, could not afford preschool, and went broke. Within a year, they fled San Francisco and moved in with relatives on the East Coast.

What is to be done? If we are stuck with a system that privileges small government (except for military expenses) and low taxes (particularly for the rich), we certainly will never be able to afford subsidized childcare. And if we continue to uphold a corporate culture that pushes workers to sacrifice family time for continued employment and/or higher earnings, care for children will remain in a vise. This vise, as Hochschild points out, devalues human connection and care. It also ignores the vast demographic changes in employment and American families over the last 40 years, and can be used by conservatives and traditionalists to blame women and poor people for society’s failings.

Feminism isn’t a prominent social movement in this country anymore. And one reason for this is blazingly clear: We don’t have an affordable, taxpayer-subsidized system of infant-to-12 child care that levels the playing field for all women, their partners, and their children. What we have is elite women (and men) blathering on about choice, and billionaire executives passing themselves off as role models for working women, while refusing to acknowledge, let alone celebrate the women who help raise their children and manage their homes.

I don’t entirely blame my mother’s generation for eliding or giving up on creating a system of child care. The political tides have been against them. But it scares the heck out of me that consciousness-raising circles have devolved into Lean In circles (as Sheryl Sandberg calls her female empowerment groups)—and that many women and men have come to accept the status quo.

My plea to the remaining feminists out there is this: Let’s find some class solidarity and make government-subsidized child care a campaign issue. Let’s identify and vote for candidates who see affordable child care as a legislative necessity. Such family-friendly demands would make sense to low- and middle-income women. They would bring more people back into the feminist fold, and they might even revitalize a movement.

Tamara Straus is editorial director of the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley.

More from Gender Assumptions, the Winter 2014 issue of CALIFORNIA magazine:

The Stay-at-Home Dilemma: Modern Dads Can Pay a Steep Price for Bonding with Baby

Men are running into a problem that has bedeviled women in the workplace for decades: the flexibility stigma. Not to mention what some experts call the “femininity stigma.”
By Glen Martin
Read more »

Engendering Sons: Is It Doable—or Even Desirable—to Raise Gender-Neutral Children?

Growing a boy or girl from XY or XX chromosomes requires constant interaction with the environment, which ceaselessly reinforces the gender-divide.
By Alina Tugend
Read more »

The Politics of Consent: At UC Campuses, Why ‘No Means No’ Was No Longer Enough

States and campuses are adopting a new standard of assent in hopes of thwarting what some call a culture of rape.
By Stacy Finz
Read more »

Radicalizing Life Events: If I Was Truly Feminist, What Was I Doing About It?

A young journalist and new bride wonders what feminism means to her—and why so many of her peers have failed to embrace it.
By Sophie Brickman
Read more »

My Scarf, Myself, and You: Hijab Is About More, and Less, than Religious Expression

A Muslim journalist ponders the significance of her scarf, in terms of your perceptions and her choices.
By Yousur Alhlou
Read more »

Trans Identity Meditation: Exploding the Notion that Anyone Is Simply Male or Female

The T in LGBTQ has now taken center stage. Its aim: To explode the notion that any of us is exclusively masculine or feminine—culturally, neurologically, or biologically.
By Frank Browning
Read more »

From the Winter 2014 Gender Assumptions issue of California.
Filed under: Human Behavior
Image source: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis
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Comments

I have written a great deal on CALIFORNIA and Berkeley blogs about women’s issues so I won’t waste your time by repeating my thoughts, except to reemphasize that the future for our newest generations depends on equal rights for women around the world today. If ever there was an issue for Berkeley professors and scholars to unite for and promote, this movement most imperative.
Children are a choice. With that choice comes the responsibility to pay for them. While most of us will not balk at financially helping those in need, we will balk at inancially helping those who are not in need. Life is full of choices. Don’t make the ones that you can’t afford.
Corporate America needs to step up to the plate on this issue. My husband and I are corporate refugees. We were successful but decided to run a small business to get away from the politics and greed of the corporate world. We allow our employees (mostly women) to bring their children to work while they are infants. Safety issues prohibit older children but it’s a start. We have very little absenteeism and and our employees have become very local. We have little turnover. Larger corprations could do alot more and they should. It’s not only the right thing to do but it’s good business. (Berkely class of 1968)
In general I withold myself from comments to such elaborate posts, but I have to admit that CK’s comment made me reconsider this time: in my opinion , seen from a general perspective, children are NOT a choice, there are a necessity to uphold the system going. Since I write from Europe (and from a non-english speaking country, which you have probably already noticed), I certainly have a totaly different view on this topic. There are countries and systems in the world, where a 12-15 Months maternity leave, reasonably affordable daycare with government subsidized prices depending on the parents’ income and job security for pregnant women are standard. This is what I would call a choice, a political choice not to make having children affordable only to the highest class and the poorest who have nothing to loose.
The Sheryl Sandberg-bashing is unwarranted. You talk about “class solidarity” but proceed to exclude the successful women among us. Feminism IS a prominent social movement again, and she has helped to make it so. As to the child care issue, I don’t think we are ever going to have broad-based subsidized child care for middle-class members of the academy. How do you think that would play in Congress? I think Hochschild’s “valuing and sharing” child care focus is the right one.
In general, I believe that children are a choice… but this is only true when women have rights over their own reproductive health and family planning. In the U.S., abortion and other family planning methods are quickly falling out of reach for many women. An equally difficult issue (not mentioned here) is elder care. Providing care for aging and disabled parents/siblings really is *not* a choice, since we’re all born with parents. Much of this care is provided by women (to the detriment of their careers). And as with infant care, the costs of elder care have skyrocketed, rendering government subsidies quite inadequate. Creating programs for child and elder care could potentially improve employment outcomes for women, but we might also need to raise the retirement age and reform immigration policy. We need a larger labor pool. And with so many humans in other parts of the planet, we perhaps have a duty to help people migrate to the U.S. (ideally while continuing to lower our per-capita carbon emissions).
Anna: I think it’s terrific that Sheryl Sandberg is COO of Facebook and has inspired elite women to aggressively pursue their careers. But I think she has made a grave mistake in refusing to talk about the people whom she pays to take care of her children and household. By making these people (likely lower income women) nameless and faceless—and arguing that a man would never be asked details about domestic help—Sandberg exhibits low class and gender solidarity. In essence, her message to women is “get powerful, make money, pass on care, and pretend that care is invisible.” I find this outrageous and politically regressive. It is the road to an even more stratified society. But it makes sense coming from a post-feminist American female billionaire.
“Feminism” is disappearing? Could’ve told Beyonce and her millions of fans that.
Also, what is preventing men from “leaning in” at home and pitching in more around the house? No one seems to be willing to discuss why men are refusing to share the burden of sick days with infants and hours of cooking and cleaning after work. The simplest fix here would be extending the school day until 5:00 PM (like many Asian countries already have), nixing the hours of largely pointless “homework” that only makes teaching large classes more difficult and doesn’t seem to provide much benefit to students per current research, and starting pre-K programs for children ages 3-5 in public schools. This would allow most middle and low income families to work a normal 8 or 9 to 5 schedule, while nixing the homework and pointless “extracurriculars” would leave time after school for family bonding. A large part of the problem, culturally, is the way we’ve redefined motherhood to mean near constant, “helicopter”-style overinvolvement with children, especially before the age of 10. In the 1950s, that GoldenEera where everything was ostensibly wonderful for children, stay at home mothers didn’t hover over their children, they didn’t treat them like little CEOs and overschedule them with pointless “activity”, and they didn’t fret over every bite of food they ate and every interaction they had with other children. European women manage much better, even in countries where there are not state-subsidies for childcare, because they haven’t succumbed to the American competitive helicopter parenting craze.
Lots of good points, Nope. My husband is a Stay At Home Dad, so this is a subject dear to me. I do worry that if feminism becomes equated with demands for expensive benefits, we are never going to make progress. And as Sandberg points out in her book, European-style benefits help to keep women in the workforce, but have not helped them advance to management or other leadership positions. We already have to fight against the perception that women are less productive and more expensive to hire. So I’m not in favor of subsidized child care for the middle class. Tamara, I don’t understand why you think Sandberg should name her nanny publicly in the national media? How would that help? Not to mention being an invasion of the nanny’s privacy. I agree care should not be invisible, but she’s right that men are never asked such questions, so why should she have to explain herself until men do? The constant references to Sandberg as an elite billionaire are infuriating. She is a self-made woman. Why is that a bad thing? Self-made men are admired. But woe to the self-made woman. The knives come out — and sadly, many of them are held by other women.
In many places women’s career is considered to be disposable. There is no accountability for destroying woman’s career. For example, San Francisco, can’t place many children in public schools near their home, forcing parents to drive across the entire town, almost invariably the woman is the one that has to stay home. My daughter was placed so far from our home, it takes me 90 min to drop off my kids and 2 hours to pick them up. After months and months of pleading with the placement office, Darlene Lim, the the Executive Director of the Educational Placement Office, told me that she will not do anything for us, that she makes no exceptions. Despite the fact that I pleaded with her not to destroy another woman’s career. How is one to be the single parent breadwinner and spend almost 4 hours per day driving the children to school? Somehow this is legal! Note: not getting into “school of choice” really means that the child did not get in anywhere but Visitacion Valley, a school rated 1/10, on the outskirts of the city. The worst school in San Francisco, in an area of the highest crime. People rather sell their houses, quite their careers, and leave the city, than to send their children there. What SFUSD is doing is clearing the city of families, by severely limiting the number of schools and forcing whoever doesn’t get in to move. http://youtu.be/F_Nk1TaFlXE http://youtu.be/dT39ch-PnK4 http://www.yelp.com/biz/san-francisco-unifi...
You have raised some wonderful points but I don’t agree that feminists or non-feminists are the cause of poor childcare alternatives in the USA. Despite the rhetoric, children are not a priority in this country. If they truly mattered, we would have outstanding daycare for them from birth to high school. If children mattered, the excellence of our public schools would not be determined by their zip codes. If children mattered, we would have a centralized NASA -like, fully funded program creating best practice for all kids. If children mattered…
I went looking for a job with a master’s degree in 1967 and was always asked, “Can you type?” So that’s where women’s professional lives were then and, yes, we early feminists made changing that a priority. But you think we didn’t bother about childcare? Very few schools had extended day programs back then. Very few nursery schools had hours to accommodate working mothers. And, while I could deduct the expenses of a chauffeur (had I one) I couldn’t deduct child care expenses from my taxes. So yes: we bothered. Those things are changed now. Do we need more affordable options for daycare? Of course. Absolutely, we do. We also need to pay daycare workers (almost all women) more as well, and I’m not sure how that figures into the equation. But I think you also need to respect the women who have come before you. You said you don’t “entirely blame” your mother’s generation. Nice of you. How about thanking us?
You have hit the proverbial nail on the head! We will never have affordable and good child care until we value children, and we don’t. Almost fifty years ago I decided to go into the field of child development and child care because it was clear to me that that was where real hope lay - hope for change, hope to end poverty, hope to change racism, hope for decency and humanity. It did not happen because not enough people cared. How long will it take to create a culture that does care? Can it even be done?
Yes! Many challenges continue, but the recession of feminism cannot be blamed on lack of affordable child care or the work of the women who preceded you. It was the apathy of a generation of young women who were able to take advantage of our advancements in the strong economic environment of the mid 80s-2000s. (Madonna through Beyoncé fans) Countless younger women told me they “didn’t need to be feminists” while salaries continued to lag.
How about either mother or father staying home for the first five years? Our children are being raised by strangers and the generation of violent kids we are producing tells me something isn’t right. I take care of my grandchildren five days a week for free because I do not want them in daycare. I know stories from a daughter who worked in daycare that would blow your mind. The almighty dollar has taken over. If your career can’t wait then make the choice - no kids. My own daughters work and I can see the difference between their kids and them - I stayed home. I wish they would. Instead of subsidizing daycare we should pay mothers or dads to stay home.
While I see the need for affordable child care, I also see the need to pay child care workers a decent wage. Too often we want the best care for our children but we balk at paying someone to do it. What’s a reasonable fee for helping me raise one of the most important things I’ve ever made? Thoughts to ponder…
Someone brought up the point that women being “more expensive” to hire will inhibit feminism’s goals for equality. I think this is a valid point but that we are thinking about the issue all wrong if this becomes the case. I do not think that treating care and children as solely a women’s issue is helpful. Men should be demanding parental benefits as well. Men need paternity leave and need to be demanding their employers help cover child care just as much as women do. The issue I take with the whole view of parenting is that it solely falls onto women and that men have no skin in this game. No wonder we seem to think of women as more expensive, we are placing the burden of childcare solely on their shoulders and that is regressive.
This is a simplistic response. The fact is that as parents we know that it is our responsibility to pay for our children. The real issue is the affordability of doing so. For example, we are a household that far exceeds the national median household income by 300%. However, living in New York City this is nearly chump change after you factor in the cost of housing, transportation commuting costs and the $2K/mo daycare bill to top it off. We’ve toyed with daycare vs. one of us staying at home, but one of us stayed at home, we would not have money for rent. If we both go to work, our net at the end of the month is barely enough to constitute any semblance of “discretionary money.” And, by staying at home, one of us is setting ourselves back in the professional realm, further decreasing any hope of making more money and bettering our economic state and financial abilities to care for a child. Oh, and we have just one child. Why is it that a six figure family income is barely scraping by in this country’s largest cities, unable to save money to ever buy a house or college tuition? With your logic, the only people fit to reproduce are the extraordinarily wealthy. And, well, what a world that would be.
As I said before, I think it’s great that Sandberg has reached the C suite at a top company. And she has seems to have given valuable advice to women who want to follow in her footsteps. But she represents corporate, not humanist feminism. Corporate feminism works for very few people, because it privileges individual over societal socioeconomic gains. And there’s proof: Women in the C Suite haven’t done much to improve work-life balance or influence public policy. And my point (fantasy) about Sandberg’s domestic workers is that if she named and praised them, she would shine a light on the value and importance of care.
I have often encountered this exact reply when I talk to my childless colleagues who say “those with children get to leave early for soccer games, I should be able to leave early for a yoga class.” I think this comment posted by CK is exactly what Tamara Straus means when she talks about the lack of solidarity and understanding that the pioneer feminists failed to make a part of their legacy. Yes, children are a choice. But, what if we all decided to not have children? What would happen to the world? I believe in the saying “it takes a village.” Parents are first and foremost responsible for raising their children, but children also live in the world outside of their parents’ grasp. It our responsibility as a society to ensure this world for them too. They are the ones who, even if not in our lifetimes, will be making decisions, deciding our childrens’ childrens’ future. Caring for children and making the world a livable place for them is not just an individual choice or something that happens in a bubble. I am responsible. You are responsible. We are responsible.
My expensive choice may be your future proctologist. You’re welcome. (You better hope people continue having intelligent and kind children while you figure out how the species will die out and then get consensus for your brilliant plan.)
A first point: Anyone who thinks that children are a choice either doesn’t have a menstrual cycle or has a preternaturally regular one. No birth control is 100% effective, and ovulation is such a subtle and variable event for most women that planning sex around it is costly, time-consuming, and in many cases impossible. Also, in most human relationships the timing of sex is not entirely up to the woman. So, for those of you who keep saying that children are a choice, kindly crack open a biology textbook and get yourself some education on the topic. Second: Many studies (see the work of Hazel Markus at Stanford and Nicole Stephens at Northwestern) now show that framing people’s bad outcomes (e.g., women exiting the workforce) as the result of their bad choices (e.g., they “chose” to opt out) blinds observers to the many institutional and situational factors driving those choices and deadens observers’ empathy. Sure, at any given moment, people are making decisions, but which decisions they get to make, how many other voices they must account for in their decisions, and the consequences of their decisions vary vastly by their socioeconomic position, gender, region, religion, etc. For example, compared to many middle-class women, many more working-class women must “choose” between staying in abusive relationships or slipping into poverty, between feeding their children regularly in the near term or improving their family’s long-term prospects by getting an education. Likewise, many middle- and even upper-class women must “choose” between raising their children themselves or maintaining their income, between tolerating harassment or discrimination in the workplace or forfeiting their careers. These are crappy choices, and the sooner we change the conversation to improving options for women, rather than blaming women for choosing the devil over the deep blue sea, the better off everyone will be.
No one is bashing success itself, just the belief that extremely high-income success is available to everyone; no teacher, journalist, or family care doctor I know of makes the kind of income required to pay for good early childhood care. It’s silly to argue about choices when parents in no other industrialized country face this bind. Just do the numbers: The first $24, 000 of income goes to care for ONE infant; if you have two toddlers you want to keep safe and stimulated while you work, it’ll take the first $40,000. Including child care tax supports, those numbers drop to about $21,000 and $34,000. So, after paying minimal commute expenses and income taxes, you need to make $55,000to $60,000 to get yourself and two little kids out the door every morning. That’s more than the total US median household income ($53,891 as of August). In the Bay Area, rent on a safe 2BR apt starts at $3000 a month (that’s Oakland and Berkeley, not SF or the Peninsula), another $36,000 at a minimum. Figuring groceries are $1,000 a month, it takes $98,000 to be safe and eat. That is, more than half of Americans can’t even contemplate providing their kids quality care, so they “choose” not to. And those teachers, journalists, and even community doctors are barely making it, even in two-parent households.
It is a very interesting article . In my opinion ,men is being left out on this issue and should not be the case . A proper family raise should be a job for both parents .Financial security ,career opportunity and self realization should not be on top of the children’s right to be loved and direct care from those who bring them into this world . I think a new model has to be developed in our society to favor the equal participation of man on this responsibility . What do you think ???
Children are a choice, but they are also our future. The responsibility of raising responsible young citizens does not fall solely on parents, it also falls upon a community and society. Failure to provide adequate resources for quality education (and this includes early education as the early years have proven to be the most formative) will have devastating results in the future.
Unfortunately this comes down to dollars and cents. There is not enough money to have subsidized day care for everyone. Either the common tax payer has to have their taxes raised or corporations have to foot the bill or both. With global competition as fierce as it is, and the economy as it is, what company would want to add this to the balance sheet? In the article above it states “more than 40 percent of first-time mothers are unmarried and more than half split from their mate by the time their child is 5” why should their poor decision making be subsidized? this sounds like poor decision making and it is not right to have this burden shifted away from the person, be accountable for your decisions. I am in my thirties and am childless, for a reason! If I do decide to have children it will be with a person who will be stable and I will do so when I can afford it, if I can’t do either of these things I will not have children and I am heading that way. In some comments above there is talk about we need children and society should raise children as they are the future? Get over yourself and your idea that your children are amazing, this world has 7 billion people in it and is over populated, we don’t need more children, we are headed for 14 billion people in my lifetime. Lets relax the immigration policy so we can increase the labour pool that way, and if you can’t afford to have children, then don’t. I like dogs, so I don’t expect society to pay for a kennel so that can have many dogs looked after and still be able to work 9-5 and be a productive employee. The deal is that if I get dogs it will make travel more difficult, take up my time,I will either have to have the dog outside or at a kennel while at work or pay someone to check in on the dog and feed it. If I can’t afford it I guess I am not getting a dog. I am fine with a 12 month paid maternity/paternity leave, after that either stay at home (mother or father, you can work that out with your partner) or pay the child care expenses. I don’t think the burden should be shifted away from the parents beyond a 12 month parental leave. I choose to not have children, therefore I should be financially better off and not have to pay higher taxes to take care of your amazing children that the overpopulated world does not need. I may sound mean but tell me why I should subsidize your child care? Any why won’t you subsidize my dog to be at a kennel while I am at work? is the system against dog owners?
Other than the gratuitous Sheryl Sandberg bashing, this is a cogent, persuasive, and well-written piece on a critical part of the feminist agenda. While I understand your point, Ms. Straus, concerning Sandberg’s failure to discuss her domestic help, you seem to be misinterpreting Sandberg’s message and reason for writing Lean In. As Sandberg states in the Introduction to Lean In, she is aware of the external factors (such as lack of affordable child care) that hold women back but she did not write Lean In to address those factors. Rather, Sandberg’s passion is exploring how we women hold ourselves back by shrinking away from professional challenges out of fear and anxiety and then developing strategies to increase our self-confidence. This message is equally important as the one you are putting out there.
Children and family are a choice but that choice is a fundamental human right. A family is not a commodity or a privilege.
CK. Yes it’s a choice. And governments are very interested in them…..Why economists spend so much time looking at demographic transformations????
I get a little tired of people claiming that the solution to daycare costs is having on parent stay home. Folks, most of us work at-will, we can be laid off or fired at any time. For those of us under 40, the cycle of job loss is nearly constant even in many professional fields (I am a lawyer). Both parents need to work in middle class families because, odds are, someone will be laid off and the second income can keep a family minimally afloat. Moreover, as my mother’s and grandmother’s generations learned, that stay-at-home parent is in a terrible economic situation if their working spouse dies, gets too ill to work, or leaves them. You know, we live in a country with incredible prosperity, we should be able to afford decent child care and early education for all children.
I agree totally, Elizabeth. I was a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom. When my husband and I decided to adopt after ten years’ infertility, we knew that the best thing FOR OUR CHILDREN was to raise them ourselves. Why would we want to send the children that we believe God blessed us with to someone else to care for everyday? We made a point to make adjustments in our spending habits and attitudes as far as financial expectations to accommodate our choice. We felt it was that important. I frequently hear parents complain about the lousy care given children at daycare centers. I don’t understand how it’s any different than the lack of care that they’re giving them by literally giving them to someone else to raise.
Couldn’t agree more. Well said
To the person responding to my comment about children as the future: FYI I don’t have children either, but I too have a dog who I love very much. However I don’t expect him or any of his friends to be our future teachers or doctors or lawyers or leaders of our nation. The fact is that children ARE our future, it’s undeniable. Also, thanks for telling me to get over myself… Way to show respect for someone just because they have a different opinion than you.
Liked the article but wish it discussed the fact that day care workers get paid shit. It really needs to be subsidized so we can also have quality day care workers who can support their own families.
I could have afforded my son if my son’s father contributed like he promised. Instead, he disappeared, leaving me to shoulder all childcare & financial responsibility for my son solo. I tried to get child support but was told I would never get it when I went to family court, because he is on a certain type of disability even though he is capable of working & just chooses not to. This is a very ignorant comment that ignores the fact that most people who can’t afford childcare but also need to work are single mothers who receive no help for their children from the father and from whom the government refuses to demand child support to help the child. Educate yourself before commenting…make that choice!
Saying “children are a choice” is as preposterous as saying having a culture or indoor plumbing is a choice. Western civilization is a choice. Evolution is a choice. Having an economy at all, by this thinking, is a choice. Children and families ARE the civilization, regardless of whether you have them. For an enlightened humanity to survive, at least. Otherwise we are all apes and slaves. Which is rather apt if you’ve survived the first five years of life as a single mother. Which is why women age more in the first five years of their children’s lives than a president does in his term in office. Now there’s a before and after picture. To know this time period destroys the earning power of more than half our workers? And costs more than paying for college? And do nothing about that? Oh let’s call it a choice. So now it’s her fault and her moral inferiority and her problem. The struggle and insanity of paying for the first five years of each child’s life has taken a shocking toll on the lives of American women, both spiritually and economically. The lack of support is so destructive to them and unnecessary—the rest of the civilized world does so much better. Thank god someone is talking about it. Great article.
The unspoken issue causing childcare to be so expensive are the regulatory rules requiring certain ratios for care-givers to kids. Here’s the math: California law requires an infant to caregiver ratio no greater than 4:1. Most child care facilities have 10 hour days (8-6) and have to pay for 11 hours to give an hour to setup and cleanup the facility after care ends. Minimum wage in SF is rising to $15/hr in the next few years, and time and a half mandated after 8 hrs. So an 11 hour day means, at minimum wage, you have to pay $187.50/day. multiply that by 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, and you get a minimum wage for a full time child giver of $46,875/year. By the time you add in payroll taxes and benefits that the employer has to pay, that’s roughly $60,000/year just to hire a full time caregiver AT MINIMUM WAGE. so if you divide that by the 4 kids that the caregiver can care for, that’s $15,000/year per kid! and realistically, you should increase the number 20%, because most child care facilities only hire folks with college degrees and they aren’t earning minimum wage. And that doesn’t even factor other overhead expenses, like rent, utilities, toys, cleaners, etc. which will probably get you to the $20,000/year. I know it’s tempting to say, wow, that’s expensive, we should get the government to pay for it because it’s “free” money. But the bigger issue is that the cost is crazy because of the mandated ratios. we have a hard enough time paying for schools, where ratios are 25:1 or more. imagine how it will be trying to create child care for infants where a 4:1 ratio is required?
it’s definitely a solution to control costs by lowering wages, but i doubt that will fly here politically, especially given the recent minimum wage increases.
Wow. Children are a choice so those who have them are solely responsible for raising them? Society ( made up of individuals mutually benefitting from the existence and contributions of other individuals) has no responsibly towards raising the children of other members of society? I’m African and not college educated so forgive me for failing to understand this kind of thinking. America is after all the wealthiest nation on earth, so perhaps this (what i believe is) selfish kind of thinking is what we need to adopt in third world countries if we wish to advance to becoming first world. But really? Is it okay to go to a hospital and expect to be treated by a doctor whose existence is somebody else’s choice and whose upbringing and education were somebody else’s sole responsibility and not your own? Whose own children are her/his own choice and whose decision to not stay at home and not look after them (or perhaps, like a dog, she/he has them tied up to the fire hydrant outside?) and instead come to work and treat your cancer is entirely their own problem and not your own? Someone asked why they should have to help pay for someone else’s kids. Why not open up immigration and bring in grown ups from other countries, they asked? So what they’re actually suggesting is that people in other counties should make the choice to have children, work hard to raise them and school them and when they are ripe, I mean old enough, export them to the states because, as the whole world knows, third world parents don’t love their children and nothing makes them happier than breeding people for the American labour force? Surely a nation as advanced as the states should be able to figure out a way to raise its own children without having either to outsource or relegate the job to the wealthiest and the poorest.
There are many reasons that the feminist movement has stalled, not the least of which is that women are way too busy trying to work and maintain their families to be active in social issues. Plus, there are so many facets of feminism that still need to be addressed — motherhood and work being only one of many — and quality, affordable childcare is only one of many facets of that issue. That said, while the idea of valuing caregiving is a valid and nice idea that absolutely should have its due, it’s not terribly likely to sway corporate or Congressional decision-makers. Someone should do an economic study on the impact of women opting out of the workforce due to lack of affordable childcare, flexibility, etc. That kind of turnover has real hard-dollar costs for companies and our country. I doubt we’ll have much movement on these issues until someone can make a compelling economic argument.
Looking at the costs for child care, they seem very similar to the amounts paid to adjunct faculty in the UC system. So if adjuncts with children are hired, they are getting paid nothing if they have a child that needs to be put in child care to teach. I find it very said that people who would be excellent parents can’t even think about having children in their 20s because education and low wages for new hires in such fields as humanities, part-time faculty and adjuncts make having children financially impossible for many well-educated parents.
My goodness, that’s it! Only rich people breed! You’ve solved EVERYTHING!
Every time I think/read/talk about this issue, it makes me so angry that I just want to move to another country. Now with 2 kids (and a PhD), it is even more deeply personal. I have written about the high cost of childcare on my own blog, so I won’t elaborate here. Here is my blog if anyone wants to read it. http://www.green-colored-glasses.com/the-high-cost-of-childcare-part-1/
My reaction to an initial reading of the article was generally positive, with the exception of my deep discomfort that there was no mention by the author of a parallel issue—the need for people who work in child care settings to be making salaries that reflect the education and skills needed to provide the care and education young children require to thrive and learn. I read the comments to see if respondents had picked up on that. There were two brief comments about the abysmal wages of child care workers, but one respondent that bemoaned the effect raising the minimum wage will have on trying to lower the wages of those who work in child care and other early education settings to make it less expensive for families. Furthermore, feminism was a part of the American social and political landscape long before Gloria Steinem—long before. Similarly, beyond the Lanham Act blip during WW II (I attended one), efforts to make high quality child care more widely available were underway before and during the seventies and eighties. In the early seventies a comprehensive federal law was passed by Congress and vetoed by the sitting president. The fight has gone on. But, think about how hard it is for people who make less than the minimum wage to muster the fiscal and social capital necessary to bring about the level of change necessary to both improve access and quality and to improve their own circumstances—that is, to make wages that would keep them off food stamps. So please—apply all the education and position that you all have had access to because of the efforts of our foremothers (an a few forefathers) to view this issue from a bigger perspective. Take a little time to learn more about what child care teachers endure in this fragmented non-system—low wages barely above minimum wage in many cases, limited benefits such as access to health insurance, vacations, etc. Make certain that any efforts to improve access and subsidies for families include fair salaries and benefits for those who do the work.
We call pay for things that don’t directly pertain to us in this country so this argument is highly naive. As a CNA and nursing student I can say from experience that it’s going to be someone elses kids that will have to take care of you when you’re old and can no longer wipe your own rear end. I bet you’ll be grateful someone had those kids then.
No, Tamara, you are not I a familiar type to me. I stayed at home for 15 years to raise my first two children while caring for other people’s children. Then, after my third child was born, 11 years later, I decided to go back to work and then started college, founded an early childhood center (which is now celebrating its 33rd year) then, got an associate’s degree. It took me 10 more years to get my bachelor’s degree and another 2 years to earn my master’s degree. I was CEO, director, and chief cook and bottle washer. In those days early childhood centers were called day care centers (I never understood why, as I never cared for a ‘day’ in my life). The center had a long struggle to get a financial foothold, however, I endured and went on to own 3 early childhood centers. Under my leadership we achieved NAEYC accreditation and best business of the year award. I also became the main breadwinner. I strongly disagree with your statement “My mother’s generation—the Gloria Steinem generation of equal opportunity feminists—had fought and failed to create a system for working mothers, i.e., affordable day care for infants and toddlers, preschool for kids, and aftercare for school-age children.” Your mother’s generation, my generation, had to struggle out of the ‘keep them barefoot and pregnant’ mentality. I was a feminist and worked hard to neutralize stereotypical male behaviors. I was not oblivious to a key battleground of American feminism: child care, with its barnacled tentacles around labor, class, and biology. I started the early childhood centers to make a difference for the many people who needed quality care for their children. Parent’s, grandparent’s, foster parent’s, etc. I would venture to believe that is feminism in action. Tamara please ease up on the criticism of those of us who struggled before you!
What a naive comment. To say that men need to help more around the house is a pretty shallow stroke. Sorry you married a lazy man, but most of the men I know do more than their fair share. I, for one, cook, clean the kitchen, and do laundry 90% of the time. And take care of the yard, and take the two kids to school. It’s no sharing of labor agreement my wife and I have, it’s simple responsibility.

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