The Price of Motherhood Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued

Ann Crittenden




Trade Paperback

336 Pages



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In the pathbreaking tradition of  Backlash and The Second Shift, this provocative book shows how mothers are systematically disadvantaged and made dependent by a society that exploits those who perform its most critical work. Drawing on hundreds of interviews and research in economics, history, child development, and law, Ann Crittenden proves definitively that although women have been liberated, mothers have not.

With passion and clarity, Crittenden dismantles the principal argument for the status quo: that motherhood is a woman's "choice." She presents a powerful case for maternal equality on the grounds that proper recognition and reward for mothers' essential contributions would enhance the welfare of not only women and children, but of everyone.
Bold, galvanizing, and full of innovative solutions, the 10th anniversary edition of The Price of Motherhood includes a new preface by the author, and offers a much-needed accounting of the price that mothers pay for performing the most important job in the world.


Praise for The Price of Motherhood

"Powerful and important . . . Written with a fine passion, The Price of Motherhood challenges the received ideas of economists, feminists and conservatives alike and ought to be read by all of them."—Paul Starr, The New York Times Book Review

"Fascinating . . . shows how women have been consistently denied social and, more importantly, monetary equality for raising their families."—Susan Straight, Los Angeles Times

"A scathing indictment of policies that cheat mothers . . . Crittenden turns out a fresh, persuasive argument. Sure to inspire vigorous debate."—Megan Rutherford, Time

"A landmark book."—The San Francisco Chronicle

"Motherhood may be sacred to Americans, but actual mothering is consistently devalued and disrespected. This profoundly important book challenges us to examine how much we really care about children—or about the work of caring in general."—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed

"Those who nurture young children are essentially punished for performing the very task that everyone agrees is essential . . . Crittenden proposes a unique solution to the motherhood penalty: Consider the work done by mothers a vital national service akin to that performed by soldiers."—Glamour

"Welcome to America, the land where having a child is the worst economic decision a woman can make . . . an important and well-argued study of the huge disparity between the value that mothers produce and the price they are forced to pay."—Catherine Arnst, Business Week

"How do we bring children up without putting women down? In this important, well-written book, Ann Crittenden offers serious answers to this preeminent feminist-and human-question. A must read."—Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of The Time Bind and The Second Shift

"A bracing call to arms . . . Crittenden rows against the ideological current and 0has the temerity to suggest a mind-blowingly sensible alteration of America's present parenting arrangements."—Ben Dickinson, Elle

"A lively and compelling account of the ways maternal altruism subsidizes our entire economy but imposes high costs on mothers themselves. Ann Crittenden deftly combines facts, figures, interviews, and personal stories to document the unfair—and inefficient—distribution of the costs of rearing children. She has written a great and important book."—Nancy Folbre, author of The Invisible Heart

"Passionately argued and closely researched, this manifesto for mothers should spark plenty of debate over all the right issues."—Katha Pollitt, author of Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism

"Heavily supported with studies, her clearly stated, intelligently developed arguments include historical background and anecdotal evidence that conduces to making the thought-provoking book easy to read. Crittenden explores motherhood in the U.S. from shortly after the country was founded to the present. She demonstrates that, in white-collar as well as blue-collar jobs, the earning gap between childless women and working mothers is significantly greater than the one between childless women and men, and she describes the types of discrimination working mothers typically encounter in the workplace and society at large. She maintains that feminists, afraid of being stereotyped by their detractors, have abandoned working mothers, focusing instead on women who have chosen career over family—in other words, who have chosen to take on the traditional male role. Crittenden's critique of our treatment of mothers, working or otherwise, may prove vital to continued efforts to improve the status of all women in the U.S."—Bonnie Johnston, Booklist

"This exemplary book covers the economic myths of motherhood through the stark testimonies of childcare hardships and financial inequality in marriage . . . A wonderful resource for students of economics, women's studies, politics . . . this book should be a wake-up call to America."—Kay Meredith Dusheck, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Library Journal
"Americans extol motherhood as 'the most important job in the world,' yet when couples divorce, mothers' and their children's standards of living usually decline precipitously, while fathers' rise. Crittenden, a former economics reporter for the New York Times, lays out the going rate for a woman's time: '$150 an hour or more as a professional, $50 an hour or more in some businesses, $15 an hour or so as a teacher, $5 to $8 an hour as a day-care worker and zero as a mother.' Mothers (whose labor is not calculated in any official economic index) have no unemployment insurance to tide them over after divorce, no workers' compensation if they're injured and no Social Security benefits for the work they do, although a housekeeper or nanny paid for the same work would earn such benefits. In a breezy, journalistic style, Crittenden chronicles how the Industrial Revolution created the idea of the 'unproductive housewife,' how this concept penalizes women after divorce and how tax policies encourage mothers to quit work. Crittenden proposes several remedies, some available in most industrialized countries (paid maternity leave, flexible work hours for parents, universal preschool, free health coverage for children) and others seemingly utopian (Social Security credits for mothering, remedying the tax bias against married working mothers). This thoroughly documented and incisive book is must reading."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

A newspaper reporter told me that his wife used to be his boss before she quit to raise their two children. She now makes one-fourth of his salary, working as a part-time consultant. "It was her choice," he says.

But mothers' choices are not made in a vacuum. They are made according to rules mothers didn't write. Married working mothers pay the highest taxes in the country on their earned income, which powerfully affects their choice of whether to work or not. And what many mothers really want is a good part-time job, yet there is no rich and vibrant part-time labor market in the United
Read the full excerpt


  • Ann Crittenden

  • Ann Critten is the author of Killing the Sacred Cows: Bold Ideas for a New Economy. A former reporter for The New York Times and a Pulitzer Prize nominee, she has also been a financial writer for Newsweek, a visiting lecturer at M.I.T. and Yale, and an economics commentator on CBS News. Her articles have appeared in Fortune, The Nation, Foreign Affairs, McCalls, and Working Woman, among others. She lives with her husband and son in Washington, D.C.




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