The XX Factor

“Poor Mom” May Need To Check Back in Another Economy

The NYT ‘s Economix blog yesterday posted the results of a recent study suggesting that while the “motherhood penalty” for a working woman may apply across most of the economic spectrum, women with the lowest earning suffer the “biggest percentage loss in hourly wages.” The poorer the mom, the study suggests, the more she pays for the privilege of parenthood. Author Nancy Folbre and the study authors speculate that because of their access to more family-friendly jobs and ability to pay for more help, more highly paid women are able to stay that way-and she suggests that the “mama grizzlies,” high-paid career women all, “don’t fully appreciate the difficulties many mothers face holding down difficult jobs while caring for children,” which may be one reason (aside from ideological opposition to some government-funded social programs) that those women oppose spending on “programs that could help parents balance paid employment with family work.”

Her point is a good one, and the study itself intriguingly counterintuitive: I, too, would have thought that the more money you made before becoming a mother, the higher a “motherhood penalty” you’d face in the end. But what’s really telling about the blog post are the comments. Of the first 25 comments on the Times ’ Web site (the remaining 18 can’t be seen as I’m writing, because of a glitch on the site itself), a majority of those opining on this bastion of the urban liberal media say, in effect, too bad for the poor mothers. Only seven profess agreement with Folbre’s point (and one of those is from Belgium and presumably won’t vote here next week). The view that comes across most strongly suggests that the higher-paid women earned those benefits, and those at the lower end of the economic spectrum probably suffer from poor choices, weak partnerships, and a lousy economy: none of which will be fixed by additional government programs.

These are the straws that show the way the wind blows. More government spending, even in the form of help for those the economy has blindsided, is a tough sell in a tough economy. A few years ago, a blog post like this on the NYT site would have been singing to the choir; now, even the choir is professing doubts. All of which suggests we’re going to be looking at a whole pack of incumbent mama grizzlies when the next election rolls around.

Photograph of a pregnant woman by Wikimedia Commons.