Category Mother’s Work

Appendix: Data on Factors. Related to Fertility

A ll of the data in this appendix refer to the discussion of /% relations between female employment, family policy, and fertility in Chapter 5. The data in Figure 1 show. A. a negative relationship of r = — .734. Because we cannot assume that the data in these analyses (average rates of the same group of countries at different time periods) involve independent observations, Pearson’s r cannot be used to test hypotheses or predict future relationships. It is reported here and elsewhere in this section only as a way to summarize the observed relationship between two variables.

Depending which countries and time frame are being analyzed, one can find different patterns. For example, based on the data available for the fifteen original member countries of the European Union, we see in Figures 2 and 3 that a nega­tive relationship between fertility and female employment rates (r = —.545) is clearly evident between 1994 and 1998, and that a positive relationship appears (r = .763) between 1999 and 2004. Still, in 2004 the average fertility rate is far below re­placement and below that in 1980. The data in Figure 4 have a negative relationship of r = —.809.

• Employment


• Fertility


Appendix: Data on Factors. Related to Fertility
Подпись: Fertility Fertility Rate

Appendix: Data on Factors. Related to Fertility

Appendix: Data on Factors. Related to Fertility

Подпись: Employment Employment Rate Rates
Подпись: Fertility Rate Marriage Rates

Figure 3. Average female employment rates and fertility rates among fifteen EU countries, 1999 – 2004. Data are from the Eurostat database, http://epp. eurostat. ec. europa. eu.


чи— Employment —«— Marriage

Appendix: Data on Factors. Related to Fertility

Figure 4. Average female employment rates and marriage rates among fifteen OECD countries, 1980 – 2002. Data are from OECD, Society at a Glance: OECD Social Indicators, 2005, http://www. oecd. org/document/24/0,2340, en_2825_497ii8_267i576_i_i_i_i,00.html.


Appendix: Data on Factors. Related to Fertility

The relationship in Figure 5 is r = —.386. The range of family-friendly benefits on which expenditures in Figure 5 are calculated include the following:

Подпись: FAMILY SERVICES Family day care Personal services Household services Household and other in-kind benefits

Appendix: Data on Factors. Related to Fertility Подпись: Family Expenditure

FAMILY CASH BENEFITS Family allowances for children Family support benefits Maternity and parental leave Lone-parent benefits Other cash benefits

The correlation between fertility and total expenditure in Figure 6 is r = — .655. Based on earlier calculations for fifteen European Union countries the relationship between social ex­penditures and marriage was r = —.788 (from Neil Gilbert, “Conservative Lifestyle Choices: Preference, Class, and Social Policy,” paper presented at the Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs Conference on Women and Conservatism in America, Boston University, May 2004).

Подпись: Fertility Rate —Social Expenditure Year Figure 6. Average fertility rates and total social expenditure as percentage of GDP among seventeen OECD countries, 1980 -2002. Total fertility rates are from OECD, Society at a Glance: OECD Social Indicators, 2005,,2340,en_2649_20ii85_267i576 _i_i_i_i,00.html; public expenditure data are from OECD, Social Expenditure Database (SOCX, 2004), 1980 -2001,,2340, en_2649_20ii85_3i6i2994_i_i_i_i,00.html. 30.00





5.0 0.00

Table і. Difference in Fertility Rates and Female Labor-
Force Participation, 1994-2004

Fertility rates

Female labor-force participation





— 0.05



– 0.03


Source: OECD, Society at

– a Glance: OECD Social Indicator, 2005. http://www. oecd. org/



Table 2. Comparison of Religious Values in Europe and the

United States, 1990-1991

Percentage who rated


the importance of God

who attend

in their lives as “i0”

religious services at

on a i0-point scale

least once a month










East Germany



West Germany



Great Britain



























European Average



United States



Source: Ronald Inglehart and Wayne Baker, "Modernization, Cultural Change, and the Persistence of Cultural Values,” American Sociological Review 65 (February 2000), tables 6 and 7.

Balancing the Ledger of Family Policy

The customary package of family-friendly policies provides the kind of benefits that transmit both public support for and confirmation of the life choices of mothers with young chil­dren who opt for the male model of early entry and continu­ous labor-force participation. At the same time, the state offers few, if any, benefits that aid and endorse mothers inclined to­ward the sequential approach to balancing work and family life. Neither the simultaneous nor the sequential approach to work and family life is so unmistakably superior in promoting private happiness and the public good that it deserves exclu­sive backing from the state. Something needs to be done to correct the current discrepancy in public incentives and sym­bolic approval, which skews the social context of modern life­style choices.

To propose that public officials rethink the conventional design of family-friendly policy is not to dispute the impor­tance and value of subsidized day-care services, paid parental leave, sick leave for dependent care, and other measures that make it possible to manage the concurrent approach to work and family life in the early childrearing years. The objective here is not to reduce public subsidies for existing benefits but rather to increase flexibility and choice by extending family – friendly policies beyond the established realm of work-oriented supports.

Three goals frame various initiatives to balance the ledger of family policy by lending equal weight to the sequential ap­proach to childrearing and paid employment. These goals involve recognizing the economic worth of motherhood, par­ticularly during the preschool years; facilitating the transition of women’s labor from the household to the market after the early years of childrearing; and protecting against the height­ened insecurity faced by mothers who elect to care for their children at home.

Arguably the most essential way to acknowledge the eco­nomic value of motherhood is the same way we recognize the worth of all caring services in society—that is, to pay for it. In 2000 the federal government provided about $16 billion to subsidize a variety of cash and in-kind benefits for working parents who placed their children in day care, and such public spending is on the rise. In addition, a few states have started to provide universal preschool programs, and others are taking the provision of universal preschool under consideration. No equivalent public support is offered to parents caring for their own children at home.

A home-care allowance to full-time homemakers with children up to five years of age would afford mothers greater freedom to choose between caring for their own children and placing them in state-subsidized day care. (Of course, if the provision of a home-care allowance ever came to pass, it should be made available to either parent. It is evident, however, that this benefit—as with Swedish parental leave—would be drawn on mostly by mothers.) Although it is generally naive to as­sume that social benefits can be expanded in one realm of fam­ily policy without constricting the availability of support in other areas, this is not necessarily the case when the objective is to provide choice. Under a publicly subsidized system of universal day care, for example, the state could actually reduce expenditures by giving mothers the choice between consum­ing the public day-care service for which their child is eligible and receiving a cash grant for home care, calculated at 80 per­cent of the cost of the subsidized service.

Various objections to such a measure would no doubt ask: What about welfare mothers? And rich mothers? And gender equality? Regarding welfare mothers and rich mothers, some constraints would have to be set. To guard against home – care benefits that would end up disproportionately subsidizing wealthy families, these schemes could be progressively indexed as a refundable tax credit that tapers off rapidly for those earn­ing more than twice the median family income. In addition, it could be limited to cover the first five years of care for up to three children. This would create a time-limited benefit that is longer than the period of welfare coverage currently available under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, but not as open-ended as the social assistance benefits previ­ously available in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program. Although the home-care allowance might create some incentive for low-income mothers to stay at home during the early years of childrearing, it is not necessarily the case that on balance such an outcome would be harmful to their children or society. (In any case, few if any social policies dealing with family life have no negative side effects.)

As for the issue of gender equality, feminist arguments that allowing mothers to choose between a simultaneous and sequential approach to work and family life is detrimental to women’s interests rest on a wholeheartedly authoritarian claim that what is advantageous for some women, particularly those in the elite professional classes, is best for all women. This ar­gument advances the position that caring for children is a job the government should pay for only when it is performed by strangers, most of whom are women. Publicly subsidized day care, whether in the form of collective arrangements in day-care centers or nannies in individual homes, tends to redistribute the role of mothering. Women best qualified to command high salaries in the marketplace delegate the responsibility to others with less marketable potential. (Some men certainly might enter this work and do it as well as, if not better than, some women. But honestly, how many readers would be comfort­able dropping off their three-year-old daughter in a day-care center staffed by three forty-year-old men whose marketable skills did not commend them to more gainful activities?)

A home-care allowance would probably lead to more mothers staying at home with their children for longer periods of time than at present. This would not mean a return to tra­ditional family life as it was practiced half a century ago. What­ever changes a home-care allowance might bring, birth control technology, market forces, civil rights legislation, and modern sensibilities seem to assure that there is no turning back the clock on gender relations. In this regard, I should repeat for the sake of emphasis that all the measures being discussed here— home-care allowances, social credits, and other benefits—to balance the public incentives of family policy should apply with equal consequence to both mothers and fathers who might elect to provide home care for their children. Moreover, these measures should be flexible, so that parents who so wished could share the benefits by alternating periods in which each assumed the full-time homemaking responsibilities. I would fully expect that in some cases, particularly in families where the mothers were the primary earners, the benefits would be drawn upon mainly by stay-at-home fathers. I discuss these benefits in terms of their use by mothers, however, because of the reality that more often than not mothers would be the ones choosing to invest in the endeavors of childrearing and do­mestic life.

The proposal for a home-care allowance is neither unique nor revolutionary. Many countries provide a cash allowance for home care for the elderly which can be used to pay rela­tives.23 And for decades in the United States, feminist organiz­ers, politicians, religious leaders, and academics have backed the development of policies supporting in-home child care.24 In the 1920s, feminists in the mothers’ pensions movement sought financial aid that was initially described as a childrear­ing salary, which “inevitably raised the possibility of paying all mothers.”25 In 1980 the White House Conference on Families recommended that homemaking be classified as a career, and that tax credits be established for full-time homemakers. These recommendations, however, were buried far down in the list of more than 150 recommendations adopted by the delegates.26 A few years later, in 1983, the Vatican published a “Charter on the Rights of the Family,” which counseled that social measures such as remuneration for work in the home should be taken so that “mothers will not be obliged to work outside the home to the detriment of family life and especially of the education of the children.”27 And in the 1990s various groups proposed the reform of U. S. tax policy to make parents who stayed home to care for their preschool children eligible for the child-care tax credit.28 Despite these encouragements, pro­posals for home-care benefits have not gained much purchase on the modern agenda of U. S. advocates of family-friendly pol­icy. Instead, public discourse tends to focus on nonmaternal care, parental leave, men assuming more household duties, and other arrangements that support the simultaneous per­formance of paid work and childrearing responsibilities.29

In Europe, by contrast, home-care policy has sparked public debate and significant division in the measures taken by governments.30 Indeed, home-care benefits are the centerpiece of the “neofamilialist” model, which is seen as one of the domi­nant European child-care alternatives. Offering long-term pay­ments for in-home care (three to four years per child), the new familialism emphasizes a woman’s right to choose between a housewife-mother role and labor-force participation in the childrearing years, rather than simply choosing from among different types of nonmaternal care. This approach to family policy is followed in Norway, Finland, France, Belgium, and Austria. An alternative approach adheres to the egalitarian model of Denmark and Sweden, which emphasizes the provi­sion of universal nonparental care services and the equal divi­sion of remaining child-care and domestic responsibilities be­tween fathers and mothers.

Although family-friendly policies of the Nordic countries are often spoken of in one breath, on the matter of a woman’s right to spend a significant period as a stay-at-home mother there is a clear division, with Sweden and Denmark on the one side and Norway and Finland on the other.31 When most ad­vocates of family-friendly policies in the United States recom­mend emulating the Nordic model, they are not referring to the decisive lifestyle choices advanced by the essential home – care policies of Finland and Norway.

In 1998, Norway initiated a policy to pay cash benefits to all families with children up to three years old who were not enrolled in a state-subsidized day-care center. According to the Norwegian Ministry of Children and Family Affairs, this pol­icy was designed to permit parents to spend more time caring for their own children and to give them genuine freedom of choice regarding child-care arrangements. It also sought to in­troduce greater equality in the cash transfers that parents re­ceived from the state—regardless of child-care arrangements. In 2004, home-care payments amounted to approximately $595 per month, at which time 70 percent of the children under three years old were cared for at home.32 Finland employs a similar policy, which was fully implemented in 1989. Between 1989 and 1995, labor-force participation among Finnish women with children under three years old declined from 68 to 55 per­cent.33 In 2005 approximately 70 percent of Finnish children between one and two years old were cared for by their parents, who received support from home-care and parental-leave bene­fits. In 2002 Austria implemented a new home-care benefit that provides approximately $570 per month to parents of children who are under four years old—along with social security pension, health insurance, and accident insurance. France has a complex system of family benefits that includes a parental education and upbringing allowance for home care until the child is three years old.

Home-care benefits facilitate the childrearing phase of a sequential approach to work and family life, which might last from five to ten years depending on the number of children in the family. Although the lifelong job of motherhood is far from over when children enter grade school, the full-time de­mands of daily care are greatly reduced—along with the care­giver’s economic contribution to family life. At this juncture, women who chose to be stay-at-home mothers during the early childhood years encounter the challenge of shifting their labor from the home to the market. With a large gap in their resumes, they are somewhat disadvantaged in the search for work compared to women who follow the male model of early entry and continuous employment. Still, one might argue that for many jobs prospective employers should judge reentry mothers as more attractive candidates than younger women fresh out of school. Having gone through the critical junctures of childbearing, early child care, marriage (usually), and some­times even divorce, reentry mothers are likely to be more ma­ture and stable workers than younger women for whom the future remains uncertain. Admittedly, however, this view has not yet captured the popular imagination of human-resource personnel.34 Thus, to balance the ledger of family policy, home – care benefits need to be supplemented with policies that smooth the transition into paid employment.

Transitional policies have already been established in several countries. France, for example, introduced a measure in 2000—the Return-to-Work Incentive for Women—which offers a temporary cash benefit to stay-at-home mothers who cared for at least one child under the age of six when they re­turn to a job, start a business, or enter a training program.35 Similarly, Australia provides a return-to-work credit of $1,200 for education and training for parents who spend two years caring full-time for their children.36 An alternative policy might involve a “social credit” awarded by the government for each year spent at home with up to three children under the age of five.37 When the mother is ready to enter or reenter the labor market, the accumulated credits could be exchanged for various benefits that would assist her in making the transition. For example, the credits could be applied to cover tuition for academic training and enrollment in technical schools, or they might be traded for preferential points on federal civil-service examinations. As with the home-care benefit, concerns about the social credits unfairly benefiting the wealthy could be al­layed by setting an appropriate family-income limit for eligi­bility. The social credit scheme would be somewhat akin to veterans’ benefits, which were granted in recognition of people who sacrificed career opportunities while serving the nation. Homemakers sacrifice employment opportunities to invest their energies in shaping the moral and physical stock of future citizens. By recognizing this contribution to national well­being, the social credit scheme would revive the sagging status of motherhood.

Even with a home-care allowance and transitional poli­cies, postponing entry into the labor force is a risky proposi­tion for young mothers. Among other concerns, the modern probability of divorce, volatility of the marketplace, the ero­sion of health-insurance coverage, and dire predictions about the future of social security pensions pose an uncomfortable bundle of vulnerabilities for the stay-at-home mother. What happens to the family’s health insurance if her husband loses his job? How will she fare in old age without paying into social security during the childrearing years? What resources will she be left with in the event of a divorce? There are no guarantees against the vicissitudes of modern times. To lend equal draw to the sequential approach to work and family life, however, the final entries on the ledger of family policy should offer a mea­sure of protection against the risks accentuated by withdrawal from the labor force for a period of childrearing.

Although home-care allowances afford some immediate compensation for childrearing, these benefits do not insure against illness or the inevitable decline of income in old age. In the United States, the prevalence of employment-related health insurance is a powerful motivator for early entry and continu­ous participation in the labor market. Although most middle – class stay-at-home mothers would be covered under their spouses’ health-insurance plans, the risk of divorce and un­employment, along with the absence of insurance coverage in low-wage occupations, poses a level of insecurity surrounding access to health care, which would drive many women away from the opportunity of home-care. Access to health care is, of course, a complex and pressing issue that goes well beyond

the matter of balancing work and family life. In this context, though, it’s worth noting that an arrangement for some form of universal health insurance would do much to allay the anx­ieties of young mothers contemplating a temporary retreat from the labor market.

As for worries about the decline of income in old age, mothers who stay home to care for their children lose the credits toward public pension benefits that would otherwise accrue if they were employed during that period. To offset this loss, several countries, including Austria, Sweden, Britain, and France, assign varying amounts of pension credit for caregiv­ing. Sweden awards credit to either spouse for each year they care for a child under 3. In Britain people who interrupt ca­reers to assume caregiving duties are compensated through the Home Responsibility Protection policy, which credits both men and women with a minimum level of contribution dur­ing the years they spend caring for their children or disabled family members.38

Yet, even with contribution credits added in for the time at home, at the end of the day women who temporarily leave work are still likely to qualify for pensions that are much lower than those earned by their husbands (or ex-husbands, as the case may be). Family-friendly policies designed to promote choice encourage fathers and mothers to divide up the work of paid employment and domestic labor according to their tal­ents and personal inclinations, in order to further the mutual objectives of family life. After having made these decisions, it would seem only fair that parents be able to share equally in the assets and material benefits accrued by both parties to the family enterprise. In the case of pension entitlements this translates into policies such as those enacted in Canada and Germany, which dictate the splitting of benefit credits between

spouses. The Canadian policy requires splitting only entitle­ments to public pensions, whereas the German scheme is broader in scope, encompassing all entitlements acquired in both public and private pensions. While spouses have legal rights to an equal share of their combined pension credits, in both of these countries the tangible division of old-age pen­sion entitlements occurs only in cases of divorce.39 Of course, the actual sharing of pensions need not be contingent upon divorce. One can imagine a credit-sharing arrangement based on a system of joint accounts that combine both partners’ pen­sion credits and issue checks for equal amounts to each party— conferring explicit recognition of each member’s contribution to the family enterprise.

Unfortunately, those who advocate credit-sharing arrange­ments are currently swimming upstream. There is far from universal support for the view of married life as a partnership in which the members decide how to divide their labor to most efficiently satisfy their personal needs and family responsibili­ties, and share equally in the economic assets built up over time. For example, a 1991 report by the OECD Group of Ex­perts on Women and Structural Change recommended that the individual, rather than the married couple, should be con­sidered as the unit of entitlement for social security benefits in order to promote the wife’s personal autonomy and eco­nomic independence.40 Indeed, the avenue to gender equality is generally considered to be paved with the individualization of social rights. To move in this direction, the president of the Women’s University in Belgium counsels “suppressing for able­bodied adults all the rights based on relations of marriage or cohabitation with an insuree.”41

Over the years various groups in the United States have expressed serious interest in credit-sharing arrangements. In 1977 the National Women’s Conference called for federal and state legislatures to base laws relating to property, inheritance, and domestic relations “on the principle that marriage is a partnership in which the contribution of each spouse is of equal importance and value.”42 Embracing this principle, the 1979 Advisory Council on Social Security recommended con­sideration of a credit-sharing scheme, but the proposal was stifled by entrenched interests. It reappeared in the early 1990s but did not gain political momentum.

Once we broach the subject of equal shares in social se­curity pensions, it is a short step to applying the same prin­ciples of equality and security to other material resources ac­quired by both partners, regardless of who holds title to the property. In Germany, as noted, the scheme to split credits be­tween spouses applies to all entitlements in both public and private pensions. In the United States, nine states have enacted community property laws that treat husbands and wives as partners in married life, each of whom is entitled to one-half interest in all employment income received (including private pension benefits) during marriage and all property acquired through such income. This exemplary policy not only imparts symbolic recognition to the egalitarian ideal of family life but also affords some protection against the loss of personal re­sources that young mothers risk by withdrawing their labor from the marketplace to invest in childrearing and household management.

Since the turn of the century, politicians on both sides of the aisle have been bidding for ownership of family values. As pressures build to help parents manage the contemporary challenges of work and childrearing, those looking to craft a pro-family agenda in the United States are likely to begin by fiddling with the standard package of family-friendly benefits— nonmaternal day care and limited periods of paid parental leave. It is what they know best and hear most about from family – policy advocates. I put forth the case for rethinking the con­ventional approach neither to diminish efforts in this direction nor to cast doubt on their value to the many mothers who struggle with the daily demands of raising children and going to the office. My objective instead is to broaden the pro-family agenda by giving equal consideration to alternative approaches to balancing work and family life.

On several occasions I’ve been asked by women in pro­fessional life whether providing support for home care and the sequential pattern of mixing work and family life might de­tract from the status of mothers who work full-time and have young children in day care. It’s a fair question that cuts both ways, as Ann Crittenden found out. After resigning from a high-profile job at the New York Times to stay home with her infant son, she ran into an acquaintance who asked, “Didn’t you used to be Ann Crittenden?”43 As things now stand, the predominant policy proposals are far from neutral in offering incentives that lend public approval and economic support for early entry and continuous participation in the paid labor force along with the outsourcing of many traditional duties of mother­hood. A home-care allowance reinforced by measures that would guarantee a basic level of health care, reform social se­curity to incorporate credit-sharing, and extend the legal man­dates of community property to all states in the union would do much to balance the ledger of family-friendly initiatives— and restore a sense of social admiration for motherhood.

This page intentionally left blank

Having It All—One Step at a Time

At the start of family life when children need full-time care, the male model tends to narrow the perception of choices about the role of motherhood: either stay at home and invest in child­rearing activities or compete with men on equal footing by entering the labor force early and staying for the long haul. From this perspective, the only way women can have both chil­dren and a career is by relying on day care and other family – friendly policies, and encouraging men to assume a larger share of cooking, cleaning, and caring. Having children, of course, does not automatically limit the opportunities of motherhood to two mutually exclusive options: remaining in the traditional role—barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen, as it is some­times disparagingly depicted—or joining the fast track of pro­fessional life while outsourcing childrearing and domestic re­sponsibilities. By taking a long view of motherhood over an expected lifetime of about eighty years (twenty years more than the life expectancy of mothers just a couple of genera­tions earlier), we allow for the possibility that a “balance” be­tween motherhood and employment might be achieved by se­quential as well as simultaneous patterns of paid and domestic work. From this perspective, women who want to combine a life of motherhood and employment could have it all—one step at a time.

Mothers choosing to follow a sequential pattern, for ex­ample, might invest all their energies in child care and domes­tic activities for five to ten years and then spend the remainder of their active years in paid employment. The contributions of mothers to their families and to society vary according to dif­ferent stages of the family life cycle. There are good reasons why some women would prefer to stay home during their chil­dren’s preschool years. The early years of childhood are critical for social and cognitive development; some mothers want to invest more heavily in shaping this development than in ad­vancing their employment prospects. Home care during the early childhood years is labor intensive, which heightens the economic value of the homemaker’s contribution during that period. Then, after five or even ten years at home, women would still have more than thirty years to invest in paid employment— enough time for most people to fully experience (perhaps even extinguish) the alleged joys of labor-force participation.

Clearly, the sequential pattern of mothers balancing work and family life is not to everyone’s advantage. The cost would probably be too high for dual-earner families in which women are the primary earners. In other cases, investing five to ten years in child care and household management would derail careers from the fast track; for example, it would limit partici­pation in occupations that require early training, many years of preparation, or the athletic prowess of youth. And a later start lessens the likelihood of rising to the very top of the cor­porate ladder. Those are the trade-offs for enjoying the choice of two callings in life.

As the world of work beckons to women, the domestic role of motherhood, especially in caring for young children, has become contested ground. Some women want to keep the responsibilities of childrearing entirely as their own, and oth­ers want to distribute a greater share of responsibility to men and public day-care authorities. The response to the tensions surrounding motherhood varies among different cultures. Af­firming the domestic role of motherhood, Article 41 of the Irish Constitution recognizes “that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the com­mon good cannot be achieved. The State shall, therefore, en­deavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”17 (The Irish Constitution also explicitly protects the rights of men and women who work outside the home.) During a parliamentary committee review of the Irish Consti­tution, charges that Article 41, particularly the gender empha­sis, was flawed and outdated were met with a lyrical defense by the Mothers at Home organization:

Childcare’s what they call it now, big business I hearsay.

It’s what our mammies did for years without a thought of pay.

But what about the mammies who want to stay at home?

Must they be now forced out to work and leave their care alone!

It’s right for those who want to go. They’re quite entitled to.

But what of those who want to stay? What are they supposed to do?

We’re only small for just a time. Our childhood will pass by

Without our mums to care for us. It’s enough to make us cry!

A Nation’s wealth is measured by more than stocks and shares.

It’s by how we treat each other—how we have loved and cared.

The mothers of this Nation are doing a mighty deed,

Now the children of the country are very much in need… .18

The Irish appreciation of motherhood has not kept women from working outside the home. In 2004 the labor-force par­ticipation of Irish women, though not as high as in the Nordic countries, was less than 1 percent below the average for the fif­teen original European Union countries. Between 1991 and 2004 female employment rates in Ireland registered the high­est growth among the thirty member nations of the OECD.19 The Irish Constitution’s recognition of motherhood, along with a limited tax credit of approximately 770 Euros (about $1,000) available to mothers and fathers for home care of de­pendents, affords greater public respect and value to the role in Ireland than we find in the United States.

Although most mothers have some choice in determin­ing how to balance work and family, the cultural context in the United States, along with much of the advanced industrial world, favors the male model of early entry and continuous labor-force participation rather than the sequential approach. In addition, as we have seen, the capitalist ethos underrates the economic value and social utility of domestic labor in family life, particularly during the early years of childhood; the pre­vailing expectations of gender feminists place too high a value on the social and psychological satisfactions of work; and the typical package of family-friendly benefits delivered by the state creates incentives that essentially reinforce the devalua­tions of motherhood prompted by the capitalist ethos and feminist expectations.

Is there a way to reshape these influential forces to cor­rect the social imbalance currently encountered by mothers trying to decide how to reconcile work and family life? It is hard to see how the capitalist ethos can be moderated, short of an almost spiritual conversion in public attitudes that rebuffs material consumption and the commodification of everyday life. I detect no such change on the horizon. Yet, just as the capitalist knack for creative destruction has contributed to the outsourcing of family household production, it is possible that the innovative genius of the free market might create in-home work for millions of people. If my phone request for computer service can be patched out to a worker somewhere in India, why not directly into the residences of stay-at-home workers in the United States? The information-technology revolution may yet spawn a renewal of family life and home parenting as people increasingly shop from home and commute electroni­cally to work.20

Feminist expectations are another matter. There are some signs that the emerging generation of leaders among college – educated women are beginning to question how well the male model suits their ambitions in life. They may no longer be sat­isfied with the trade-offs inherent in earlier expectations. A 2006 Newsweek article on the next generation of women lead­ers claims that lately the talk among work-family advocates has changed. Rather than trying to persuade women to stay on track toward leadership positions, according to Daniel McGinn, the new discourse is “focused on finding ways to support women’s ‘non-linear’ career paths—and to build better ‘on ramps’ for women wishing to return to work after career pauses.”21 He notes an increasing number of high-profile role models who are taking time off from their careers, including the actress Calista Flockhart, who is returning to television after spending five years at home with her child. Further indi­cations of change are registered in national surveys, which reveal an increasing lack of enthusiasm for full-time work out­side the home. From 1997 to 2007 the percentage of both em­ployed and at-home mothers who considered full-time work to be their ideal situation declined by one-third.22 The extent to which feminist expectations may shift is ultimately an issue that women will decide for themselves.

Finally, there is the role of the state and the question of how to deliver family-friendly policies that provide an equi­table set of work-family incentives, benefiting both those who value an early start on paid employment and those who prefer to invest more time in childrearing and domestic life.

Rethinking Family Policy

A mong academics, journalists, politicians, feminist lead – /% ers, and almost everyone else whose opinions on the role of modern-day women are in print, there is. Ж. widespread agreement that something must be done to harmonize work and family life. As to the best approach, the overwhelming majority back two courses of action—the adoption of so-called family-friendly policies and of gender­neutralizing policies.

The first and most popular approach encompasses a range of public and private measures, starting most notably with the provision of subsidized, high-quality nonmaternal child care, which allow mothers with young children to be able to work.1 Regarding this course, the United States is often ad­vised by family-policy analysts to follow Europe’s lead and has indeed been moving in that direction.2 Between 1994 and 1999, public spending on child care in the United States shot up by 60 percent, as previously noted. More recently, David Kirp de­tected a universal preschool movement taking off, with Okla­homa, of all the unlikely places, in the lead—63 percent of the

state’s four-year-olds were in public preschool programs in 2004. At the same time, 57 percent of Georgia’s four-year-olds were in preschool programs, and a serious bid to introduce universal preschool was being entertained in Florida.3 In 2006, however, a referendum to introduce universal preschool in California was roundly defeated. Currently, the stirrings of a universal preschool movement in the United States are faint but palpable.

After early child care, paid parental leave and part-time work schedules are most frequently endorsed as mechanisms needed to balance motherhood and active labor-force partici­pation. The Netherlands, for example, has made considerable efforts to stimulate and regulate part-time employment. More than one-third of Dutch workers have a part-time job, giving the Netherlands the highest level of part-time employment in Europe. Women hold 67 percent of these jobs.4

Far-reaching statutory measures are complemented by more-circumscribed voluntary workplace policies such as flexi­ble working hours, access to a telephone for family-related calls, and special family leave.5 Specific policies are often tai­lored to assist women on the fast track to high-powered ca­reers in law firms, universities, hospitals, and other profes­sional sectors of the private market. For most women aiming high, the road to commanding positions in the administrative power structure of Fortune 500 companies, partnerships in elite law firms and medical practices, tenured faculty posts at research universities, and influential media posts begins in graduate school. At the University of California, for example, family-friendly initiatives for graduate students include pro­viding day-care facilities for toddlers, extending the period of time for the completion of course work, and offering paid maternity leave for students who receive university support.

Faculty get a somewhat heftier package of benefits, such as excused leave from the tenure clock for up to two years, a part­time option, paid maternity leave, and modified work respon­sibilities that provide paid relief from all teaching duties for up to two semesters.6 (However, university benefits such as the two-semester paid relief from work do not extend to secre­taries, administrative assistants, janitorial staff, and others not on the tenure track.)

The second conventional approach involves policies aimed at reducing if not completely eliminating gender-role differen­tiation in family life and the labor market. Along with the drive for family-friendly policies, there is ubiquitous support for measures to advance gender equality as a means of reconciling motherhood and paid employment. Increasing gender equal­ity in domestic tasks, and most importantly in childrearing, is seen as a way to relieve mothers of some of the burden of un­paid family labor so that they can devote more time and en­ergy to their careers. It is widely accepted that in dual-earner families, the struggle to balance work and family life should be more equally distributed between parents. This approach is promoted by rules and incentives designed to modify tradi­tional gender roles. Thus, the OECD counsels that social bene­fits should be structured to “carry the same incentives for both sexes with regard to the division of time between paid employ­ment, domestic duties, and leisure.”7

Efforts to balance policy-generated incentives for moth­ers and fathers are most evident in maternity-leave reform. Not only have many maternity-leave systems been transformed into parental leave, which can be taken by both fathers and mothers, but in recent years Denmark, Norway, and Italy have introduced reforms under which one month of parental leave is restricted to use only by fathers. Portugal’s policy of parental leave has a “father quota” of fifteen days.8 Iceland’s policy of parental leave generates a forceful “use it or lose it” incentive, with three months of leave allocated strictly to fathers (in ad­dition, three months are allocated to mothers, and another three months can be shared as the parents wish). In contrast to the “use it or lose it” policies, which significantly diminish the amount of parental leave for families if fathers do not partici­pate, in Finland fathers who take the last twelve days of parental leave receive a bonus of twelve extra days of leave.9

To what extent have these various incentives induced men to assume a greater share of child-care responsibility? On this issue, the Swedish experience is informative. With one of the best known and most generous systems of parental leave, Sweden has been at the forefront of efforts to increase fathers’ involvement in child care. After a 1995 reform, the Swedish sys­tem provided 360 days of parental leave at 80 percent of the parent’s salary, plus another 90 days reimbursed at a flat rate of approximately eight dollars a day. The centerpiece of this re­form required that at least one month of leave had to be taken by each of the parents. Since there was really no need to urge mothers to take advantage of this benefit, the obligatory leave became known as the “daddy month.”

The Swedish government expected the daddy month to alter the division of child-care labor to create “a more even dis­tribution of interruptions in work between men and women” (echoing the perception of childrearing as an “interruption” in employment, noted in Chapter 4).10 An analysis comparing the use of parental leave immediately before and after the 1995 re­form shows that Swedish fathers increased the amount of time taken by an average of fifteen days. (Swedish mothers still ac­count for about 80 percent of the highly compensated leave days.) Although it is rumored that the fathers’ periods of leave tend to coincide with the Winter Olympics and other major sporting events, this is not borne out empirically. Fathers did take more leave when their children were between one and two years of age. And when the children were older than two years of age, there was a clear tendency among fathers to take parental leaves in the summer months and during Christmas, suggesting the use of leaves to prolong regular paid holidays. (The days of leave can be taken any time until the child reaches the age of eight.) As anticipated, Swedish fathers responded di­rectly to the 1995 reform’s “use it or lose it” incentive by using more days of leave. Still, the question remains about the extent to which this benefit-related shift spawns a more fundamental change in traditional gender roles. Indeed, when it came to the traditionally female task of caring for sick children, the re­searchers found no change in the fathers’ share of care.11

In 2002 the Swedish system was reformed again as the government added 30 more days of parental leave compen­sated at 80 percent of the parent’s salary, lifting the highly paid period of leave up to 390 days and bringing the total leave to 480 days. At the same time the government upped the ante, al­locating 60 days of the total leave to fathers only—resulting in two daddy months. Further reforms were considered in 2005, including a proposal to expand the period of 80 percent com­pensation to fifteen months, with five months each reserved for the father and mother and allocation of the remaining five months left to the parents’ discretion.12

As parental leave in Sweden presses on toward greater gender equality, public opinion lags somewhat behind the ambitions of policy makers and gender feminists. Although in principle gender equality and parental leave are widely sup­ported, less than half the parents in both Sweden and the United States think that men and women should participate equally in paid employment and child care.13 Swedish men still take only a small percentage of the leave to which they are en­titled, and this leave tends to be concentrated among highly educated men in the public sector.14

In the United States, fathers are spending more time with their children and shouldering a greater share of household work today than in the past, even without highly compensated parental leave. Increased equality has loosened the shackles of traditional gender hierarchy in domestic relations and cleared the path for the transferring of women’s labor from the house­hold to the market—thus broadening women’s horizons. Statu­tory provisions (such as child care and parental leave) ema­nating from the halls of Congress, along with organizational adjustments (such as flexible working hours) crafted on the ground floor of workplace settings, have expanded the oppor­tunities for mothers to engage in paid employment. These var­ious developments represent significant progress in the struggle to reconcile motherhood and labor-force participation. Cer­tainly, much more remains to be done along these lines to bal­ance the demands of work and family life for mothers who must work out of genuine necessity, who wish to pursue paid careers, or who are already the primary earner in their family (about one-third of all working wives earned more than their husbands in 2004).15

However, these two broad avenues for reconciling work and family life are essentially designed to carry traffic in one direction—the objective of both is to move mothers into paid employment while raising young children. The tenets of gen­der equality demand not only that men bear an equal share of domestic activity but that women keep up with men in the world of work. To do that, they have to start working as early as men. Public provisions of child care, family leave, and regu­

lated work schedules make it possible (though not easy) to raise young children while maintaining an ongoing and rela­tively stable pattern of employment outside the home—a life­style preferred by many, though clearly not all, women. This approach follows what I have called the male model, which ba­sically involves a seamless transition from school into the paid labor force along with a drive to rise as high as possible in a given line of work.

The male model remains the prevailing expectation among gender feminists. The pattern of an early start and a continuous work history imposes a temporal frame on poli­cies to balance work and family life. Within this frame the idea of “balancing” refers to the concurrent performance of labor – force participation and childrearing activities. Just as policies promoting the male model deserve public support, so too, I would argue, do alternatives that offer aid and encouragement to women who want to follow a different course in life’s jour­ney through motherhood and employment. In posing these alternatives my objective is to sketch neither a comprehensive list of policy options nor an elaborate blueprint for a particu­lar initiative. My purpose is to broaden public perceptions of the choices and help reframe the debate—a pursuit toward which efforts are already afoot.16

Believers, Skeptics, and Disbelievers

These findings lend themselves to at least three broad inter­pretations, representing those who believe in the salutary ef­fects of family-friendly policies, those who are skeptical, and those who disbelieve. It is clear that increased family-friendly provisions have not reversed whatever forces—economic, nor­mative, social/psychological—are driving fertility rates down to below replacement levels. Believers would argue, however, that although such policies do not appear to strengthen the forma­tion of family life (by increasing the presence of children and marriage), without these benefits the declines would have been even sharper—that is, they believe these benefits acted as a brake to slow things down. As evidence, they might point to the positive correlations between fertility rates and public ex­penditure on family benefits that were found in Scandinavian countries where levels of expenditure were proportionately more than twice as high as in most other OECD countries.

Although fertility rates remain below the replacement level, the Scandinavian experience suggests that the decline can be diminished if significant resources are invested in fam­ily services. On the issue of whether family policies are a rem­edy to low fertility rates in European countries, Gerda Neyer concludes, “Countries which regard their family policies as part of labor-market policies, of care policies, and of gender policies, seem to have retained fertility above the lowest-low levels. They use strategies directed at changing the labor mar­ket so that both men and women are able to maintain em­ployment and income, even if they have (small) children to care for.”58

But if these policies serve as a brake on declining rates of fertility, one would expect to find the lowest fertility rates in countries that lag behind in the provision of family-friendly benefits—the United States being a prime example. In com­parison to the comprehensive package of public supports to reconcile work and family responsibilities in European coun­tries, the pervasive view is that “American public policy leaves the vast majority of working parents high and dry.”59 So what accounts for the curiously high fertility rate in the United States? It is not the result of elevated birthrates among im­migrants and minorities. Although higher birthrates in these groups account for part of the fertility gap between the United States and Europe, in 2004 the total fertility rate of the non­Hispanic white majority in the United States was 1.85—well above the rate of all the European Union countries, except Ire-

land and France (and part of the high rate in France is attrib­uted to their large Muslim population).

Instead, some believers have claimed that as in Scandi­navian countries, conditions in the United States (such as a flexible job market and the availability of child care) actually minimize the incompatibility between the childrearing de­mands of motherhood and paid employment for women— appearances notwithstanding. The flexible nature of the U. S. job market is seen as highly conducive to combining work and family life by affording schedules that permit dual-earner couples to stagger their working hours so that at least one of them can be at home at any given time.60 This explanation of the U. S. experience would strike many family-policy researchers as a bit of a stretch, since they rarely find the American business community all that responsive to the needs of working moth­ers. Janet Gornick and Marcia Meyers claim, for example, that working conditions in the United States are less family friendly than in Europe because U. S. workers are more likely to en­counter choices “between forty-hour-a-week employment and no employment or between mandatory overtime and losing their jobs.”61 Joan Williams argues persuasively that women are held to the male model of the “ideal worker,” whose sched­ule sanctions no compromise with family demands.62 Still, there are indications of a market response to the increased proportion of employed mothers as some workplaces institute more flexible work hours and expand the scope of paid sick leave to include children’s illnesses.63

In terms of nonmaternal day care, believers contend that while public provision is relatively limited, “the United States provides an example of business and voluntary organizations increasing the availability of child care.”64 Day care is seen as more acceptable in the United States than in countries with lower fertility rates; for example, according to surveys, Ger­mans agreed more frequently than Americans with the idea that children suffer if their mothers go to work. The believer reasons that the relatively high U. S. fertility rates “must lie in the responsiveness of nongovernmental institutions,” which reinforces the idea that, whether public or private, day care and other family-friendly arrangements significantly influence childbearing decisions.65

Invoking the mantra “Correlation is not causality,” skep­tics find little reason to assume that these policies are either friendly or unfriendly to families and read the results as con­firming that family-friendly policies make no palpable differ­ence. The two-variable equation of family policy and fertility excludes many relevant factors, such as employment rates, cultural traditions, and cohabitation. Scandinavian countries with comparatively high fertility rates also have the highest level cohabitation in the European Union—some researchers have found a relationship between cohabitation and fertility rates.66 In addition, the resources of the extended family do not enter the formal accounting of family-policy expenditures. In Italy and Greece, more than 25 percent of grandparents age fifty and over are engaged in providing free child care for four hours or more a day.67

Skeptics would no doubt recall the history of children’s allowances in France, which were initiated under the Family Code of 1939 with explicit pro-natalist objectives. Although the French birthrate increased considerably in the decades after World War II, the birthrate in the United States—which had no children’s allowance—also rose dramatically during the same period, while the birthrate in Sweden declined despite its allowance system.68 As for more recent empirical evidence, skeptics would concur with Joelle Sleebos’s assessment that the findings from forty-two multivariate studies on family-friendly policies are often inconclusive and contradictory. The current state of knowledge about the impact of these policies is too limited to guide effective public intervention.69

Skeptics reason that decisions concerning marriage and family size address fundamental values of human existence, which do not yield readily to social policy. Thus, they would argue that while no single factor is definitive, the differences in support for traditional values and beliefs has a significant bearing on the gap in fertility rates between the United States and Europe. Data comparing religious values in Europe and the United States showed that Americans were almost three times as likely to say that God was very important in their lives and twice as likely to participate in religious activity as the av­erage person in the fourteen European countries surveyed. In addition, 59 percent of U. S. respondents attended religious service at least once a month in contrast to 10 percent in Swe­den, 13 percent in Norway, and 17 percent in France. These striking differences convey a palpable sense of the extent to which people in the United States hold more traditional values and beliefs than typical Europeans (see Appendix, Table 2).70

A one-variable explanation, however, rarely captures the full range of complex interactions that account for people’s de­cisions to bring children into the world—even when the vari­able is as powerful as the influence of religious belief. Although Ireland and the United States registered the highest support for religious values and had among the highest fertility rates, Italy came in third just behind them on support for religious values yet had one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe.71

Finally, in contrast to both believers and skeptics, disbe­lievers conclude that so-called family-friendly policies are not really family friendly at all. Rather, they argue that although the historical patterns that show female labor-force participa­tion and expenditures on family benefits rising as fertility and marriage rates decline do not represent definitive explana­tions, they are indicative of two firm underlying realities.

First, for the vast majority of people there is no way to “harmonize” the demands of working at a full-time job, rais­ing children, and managing a household. “Harmony” is a eu­phemism for surviving the pandemonium of daily life under those circumstances. As any woman who has tried it can tes­tify, efforts to balance paid work and family life demand ex­traordinary physical exertion and personal sacrifice during the early childhood years. Caring for young children is immensely labor intensive and relentless. Most who do it survive, but under the best of circumstances—high-quality day care, low – keyed children, and a helpful partner—few engaged in the struggle would characterize the life of a working mother with young children as harmonious.

A two-earner family with two children under five years of age hits the ground running just before sunrise. The kids have to be washed, fed, dressed, and herded out the door in time to get to the day-care center well before the parents are due at their jobs. At 5:00 p. m., the parents leave work, rush to pick up the kids, and take them home to be fed, undressed, bathed, and put to bed. This tight daily routine can be further squeezed by jobs that require evening meetings, out-of-town travel, overtime, and take-home work. On top of that, parents must find time for grocery shopping, buying children’s clothes, housecleaning, doing laundry, going to doctor appointments, and getting haircuts—in addition to coping with pinkeye, strep throat, and ear infections that regularly strike without warn­ing. It does not take much for things to spin out of control: a dead car battery, a broken washing machine, or a leaky roof will do it.

Although many men have increased their involvement in domestic life, whether due to nature or nurture they still do far less than their fair share of traditional female duties. The hard reality is that most working mothers continue to assume the brunt of household and child-care responsibilities. Even if, as some feminists wish, this were to change drastically so that fa­thers shouldered a full 50 percent of the domestic chores and childrearing duties, family life would still be no picnic. Some people manage it better than others. Those who do it best usu­ally have high energy, a lot of money, and some spry grand­parents nearby to lend a hand. For everyone else, no matter how fairly the work is divided, the normal obligations of two full-time work careers and two children under five years old leave little time or space in which to harmonize the daily rhythms of life. And despite all the working mother’s efforts, at the end of each week her young children will have spent the majority of their waking hours having their physical needs met and their personalities shaped by strangers.

The second reality is that the main threads of family – friendly policies are tied to and reinforce female labor-force participation—a more apt label would be “market friendly.” Since the late 1990s, as Jane Lewis explains, family policy in the European Union “has been explicitly linked to the promotion of women’s employment in order to further the economic growth and competition agenda.”72 These work-oriented poli­cies are largely, though not entirely, associated with publicly provided care for children and supports for periods of parental leave. To qualify for parental-leave benefits it is necessary to have a job before having children. The incentive for early at­tachment to the labor force is bolstered by publicly subsidized day care. Child-care services both compensate for the absence of parental child care in families with working mothers and generate an economic spur for mothers to shift their labor from the home to the market. In Sweden, for example, free day-care services are state-subsidized by as much as $11,900 per child.73 They are free at the point of consumption but paid for dearly by direct and indirect taxes. In 1990, Swedish taxes absorbed the highest proportion of the gross domestic prod­uct of any OECD country. Paying in advance for the “free” day-care service tends to squeeze mothers into the labor force, since the crushing tax rates make it difficult for an average family to get by on a single salary.

As noted earlier, most of the employed Swedish women end up working in the public sector. By Patricia Morgan’s reck­oning, not only are women’s employment opportunities in Sweden less equal than those of women in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany, but Sweden “is more gen­der-segregated than Asian countries like China, Hong Kong and India.”74 In Scandinavia the traditional women’s work of socializing children and caring for the sick is still done by women, but it is now performed for a government wage rather than for the intimate and sympathetic commitments of family life. Alan Wolfe discerns that “the Scandinavian welfare states which express so well a sense of obligation to distant strangers, are beginning to make it more difficult to express a sense of obligation to those with whom one shares family ties.”75 Still in all fairness, as David Popenoe argues, “in a strict comparison, Scandinavia is probably preferable to the United States today as a place to raise young children.”76 Not only is Sweden more culturally homogenous, it also is a less individualistic and con­sumer-oriented society than the United States. And almost all

Swedish mothers are subsidized to stay at home with their in­fants for the first year.

The disbeliever argues that for many people, if not most, the quality of family life suffers when mothers with young children go to work; hence, policies that create incentives to shift informal labor invested in child care and domestic pro­duction to the realm of paid employment are not “family friendly” in a universal sense. From this perspective, there is a meaningful connection between the decline in marriage and fertility and the increased investments in family benefits in re­cent decades.

Seen in the context of women’s diverse interests in work and family life, each of the interpretations outlined above frames a slice of reality; that is, the consequences of family – friendly policies vary in strength and direction for women with different lifestyle preferences. The skeptic is correct in the sense that these policies probably have little effect on women at the two ends of the work-family continuum—those who prefer the traditional and postmodern lifestyles. Just as the availability of subsidized child-care services is unlikely to redi­rect those postmodern women who are firmly dedicated to a professional career and really not interested in having chil­dren, it is doubtful that most traditional women disposed to­ward rearing three or more children would be seriously influ­enced by the prospect of having their children cared for on a daily basis by other people.

Although there is some elasticity within each lifestyle category, the largest potential for movement is among the neo­traditional and modern lifestyles of those women somewhere in the middle of the continuum. On one hand, the believer probably has a point in that child care and other family bene­fits facilitate the lifestyle objectives of some women in the modern group—those who want a child but are work oriented and inclined to limit family size. In the absence of family ben­efits, the increased difficulty of rearing children while actively pursuing a career might have a dampening effect on fertility and marriage rates among these women—some of whom might move into the postmodern lifestyle. On the other hand, the disbeliever’s view that most family-friendly policies under­mine the institution they are purported to support probably resonates with some women in the neotraditional group for whom work is secondary to child care. In the absence of family benefits that create incentives to work and lend impetus to the normative devaluation of childrearing and the domestic arts, fertility rates might rise as some women disposed toward a neotraditional lifestyle gravitated into the traditional category.

It is fair to say that family policies can be friendlier to some lifestyles than to others—they support the personal interests and psychological ambitions of some, but not all, women. Recognition of this diversity underscores the social obligation of policy makers to explore alternatives to the con­ventional package of public benefits that are supposed to help women balance work and family life.

Day Care: Substitute Mothering or. Enhanced Development?

Most young children, even those with stay-at-home mothers, experience some nonmaternal care throughout the preschool years, ranging from an afternoon with grandparents to a few hours with a babysitter at home or at a play group in a local center. But these limited episodes are not sufficient to facilitate full-time participation in the labor force. Extended child care is the cornerstone of family-friendly policy. Without alternate care for thirty hours or more a week during the preschool years, two parents employed in regular full-time jobs would be un­able to raise two children unless one of the working parents withdrew from the labor force for eight years.4 Even then, a few hours of before – and after-school care would be necessary if both parents worked a regular nine-to-five shift or the longer hours of some high-powered professional firms.5

After-school programs that serve older children have ex­cited less passion and received less attention in family-policy deliberations than programs that deliver extended, nonmater­nal day care to preschoolers. Because the provision of extended preschool care diminishes the traditional role of motherhood during the early and critical childrearing years, it is hard to make a substantive assessment—positive or negative—of this service without hitting a sensitive nerve somewhere. Working mothers are distraught by studies that suggest they might be shortchanging their children by placing them in day care for long periods of time during the preschool years. And stay-at – home mothers are equally pained by studies suggesting that children in out-of-home care thrive more intellectually and socially than their own children, in whom they invest so much personal time and energy each day.

Research on the touchy subject of nonmaternal care and its interpretation in public discourse are further complicated by the blurring of two agendas, each with its own idea of what day care should achieve. One agenda is to furnish day care that serves as an equivalent substitute for the nurturing and socialization provided by an average mother. Following this course, day care serves mainly as a public provision to harmo­nize work and family life by permitting mothers to shift their labor to the market while ensuring that their children receive decent care that resembles acceptable standards of mothering. These programs are structured to accommodate the schedule of working parents, with early drop-offs, long hours, and late pick-ups.

The other agenda goes beyond supplying the care of an average substitute mother. It involves the provision of an en­riching day-care experience that promises to improve on the socialization and academic skills that preschool children would otherwise acquire through maternal care. Here nonmaternal care aims not so much to help women balance motherhood and work as to help young children develop more fully than they might under the daily supervision of their mothers.

The agenda of developmental enhancement is usually as­sociated with nonmaternal care directed toward children from disadvantaged families. These services are structured more to meet the social and educational needs of children than the work schedules of their parents. The largest and best known preschool program is Head Start, which usually runs for part of the day during nine months of the year.6 One of Head Start’s predecessors, the legendary Perry Preschool, was a model early-intervention program that ran thirty weeks of the year, with two-and-a-half-hour classes on weekday mornings and weekly one-and-a-half-hour home visits with mothers and children in the afternoon—a schedule hardly intended to fa­cilitate the mothers’ full-time employment.7 One of the rea­sons sometimes given for the success of this program is that part of the intervention was aimed at parents.8

The two agendas of child care—enhanced development and substitute mothering—blur because they represent a con­tinuum rather than two mutually exclusive alternatives. Sub­stitute mothering seeks to provide an experience beyond mass-produced custodial care by offering the kind of intellec­tual stimulation and emotionally supportive interaction that children are expected to receive under healthy maternal care. On this side of the continuum, however, there are no doubt some services that approach custodial care, offering little more than warmth and safety. But child-care providers and parents rarely admit to it, claiming instead that these services fully meet the nurturing standards of substitute mothering. Devel­opmental enhancement moves beyond substitute mothering. These services aim to deliver a more structured and advanced level of socialization and academic preparation than children would otherwise receive at home—giving them a “head start.” All sorts of day-care arrangements along this continuum lay some claim to developmental benefits and insist that children thrive under their daily supervision. To do otherwise would put them out of business. Thus, the research and public dis­course on these arrangements tend to concentrate on issues of developmental enhancement. Once the central question about the impact of nonmaternal care on child development is posed, there is always the incendiary possibility of uncovering detri­mental effects.

Given the explosive potential of the subject, it is per­haps fortunate that much of the day-care research has been plagued by methodological flaws, resulting in a corpus of find­ings muffled by a host of qualifications that acknowledge se­lection bias, inconsistency of findings, lack of data on long­term effects, inability to measure subtle characteristics, and difficulty in establishing causality. In addition, there have been problems disentangling the complex interactions of numerous mediating variables—quality of care, number of hours in day care each day, maternal sensitivity, home environment, child’s temperament, child’s age, social class, father’s involvement, mother’s work schedule, child’s sex, and number of children in the family, to mention the most obvious. A careful review of forty studies in the late 1970s concluded that knowledge about the effects of day care was exceedingly limited and that what was known could not be generalized to the kind and quality of care available throughout the country.9

Buffered by methodological qualifications, the first wave of child-care research in the 1970s and early 1980s avoided rattling the cage by making vague summary statements about the consequences of nonmaternal care and maternal home care, such as day care “typically does no harm,” “children of work­ing mothers do as well as those of mothers who stay at home,” and “children of employed and non-employed mothers do not differ on various child adjustment measures.”10 Years later, in 1999, this theme was echoed in an American Psychological Association press release, which reported a study’s conclusion that “having a working mother does no significant harm to children.”11 The findings attracted considerable media atten­tion and were covered by the CBS Evening News, the Washing­ton Post, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, among others. The media paid little attention to the fact that the findings were based on a sample of disproportionately low-income, single, young, minority mothers; it also ignored other details, including that the definition of “working” mothers lumped to­gether those who worked a few hours a week with others who worked up to forty hours, and that the emotional assessments of the children were based primarily on what the mothers told government interviewers.12

The “does no harm” refrain was occasionally reinforced by child development experts, who asserted, for example, that “children are usually better off with a satisfied substitute care-giver and a happy part-time mother than with an angry frustrated full-time mother.”13 Statements along these lines conveyed the sense that nonmaternal care was an equivalent substitute provision for traditional mothering—while implic­itly encouraging bored, frustrated mothers suffering from Friedan’s problem with no name to join the female exodus into the labor market, which was in high gear at the time.

These quantitative studies in the 1970s and 1980s were usually bland and reassuring; however, qualitative assessments of nonmaternal care, which looked at how children experience life in these settings on a daily basis, offered a more discom­forting view. Deborah Fallows’s appraisal of the day-care ex­perience found a cheerless, desultory milieu in most of the facilities she observed around the country. Fallows described the quality of a child’s daily existence in a typical day-care cen­ter, where the main activity was filling time: “He didn’t do badly—he roamed independently, joining in when he felt like it, taking off when he didn’t. He got no individual attention, because he didn’t demand any. He got no special instruction, because none was offered. No one talked to him or hugged him, because there weren’t enough adults to go around.”14 There were exceptions, of course, the best of which were very pricey.

Seeking to address some of the weaknesses in earlier stud­ies, a new wave of rigorous empirical research was launched in the early 1990s, starting with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care. This large-scale longitudinal investigation followed an initial sample of 1,364 children from birth through age seven in ten vicinities across the United States. The study was con­ducted by the NICHD Early Child Care Research Network—a team of twenty-five researchers from ten universities. Mem­bers of the research network and other scholars given access to the NICHD data generated a voluminous body of empirical work analyzing connections among developmental outcomes and a wide range of variables such as the quality of the child­care environment, the quality of the school environment (as the children entered kindergarten and the primary grades), and the quality of home and family life.15

The NICHD study is one of the most exacting and com­prehensive of its kind to date, described by child development experts as the gold standard in this area of research.16 Despite such praise, however, the survey methods used to produce the findings discussed below are subject to the type of criticism often brought to bear on nonexperimental studies (that is, studies that do not employ a rigorous experimental design, which involves random assignment of subjects to experimen­tal and control groups).17 The NICHD researchers studied child care from an instrumental perspective, focusing on the results of nonmaternal care. The outcomes most frequently brought to the public’s attention analyzed the effects of quality care on attachment relationships with mothers, behavioral prob­lems, and cognitive development. Although the numbers were clear and the statistics conveyed a voice of scientific authority, their meaning was open to interpretation.

Regarding the emotional bond between mothers and children, psychologists believe that the security of the mother – child attachment in the early years exerts a measurable influ­ence on the child’s feelings about self and others, and on the child’s future capacity to form relationships and regulate ag­gression. Prior to the NICHD research there was heated dis­cussion about child care’s potentially negative impact on the mother-child attachment. In the late 1970s, for example, Selma Fraiberg expressed concern that this bond would be seriously impaired by placing youngsters in extended child care. She worried that children in day care would be subjected to the rough justice of the preschool playground, while learning “that all adults are interchangeable, that love is capricious, that human attachment is a perilous investment, and that love should be hoarded for the self in the service of survival.”18 But in an initial systematic review of the empirical research litera­ture, Jay Belsky, a highly respected psychology professor, and his colleagues found little evidence that day care for infants had detrimental effects on the mother-child bond.19 Later, how­ever, Belsky reexamined the evidence and found it more trou­bling. He concluded, with painstaking caution, “that if one does not feel compelled to draw only irrefutable conclusions, a rel­atively persuasive circumstantial case can be made that early infant care may be associated with the increased avoidance of mother, possibly to the point of greater insecurity in the attachment relationship, and that such care may also be as­sociated with diminished compliance and cooperation with adults, increased aggressiveness, and possibly even greater social maladjustment in the preschool and early school-age years” (emphasis in original).20 This statement was made in the mid-1980s, when the research evidence rarely controlled for child-care quality and family differences.

By the mid-1990s, the NICHD study was able to conduct more sophisticated analyses using information on the quality of care and family differences. Revisiting the issue of mother – child attachment, the NICHD found that extended nonmater­nal child care was not linked to increased insecurity, except in those instances where maternal sensitivity and quality of child care were judged to be low. Maternal sensitivity was measured in terms of the mothers’ expressions of supportiveness, intru­siveness, positive regard, and hostility observed in videotaped interactions with their children. Quality of child care was assessed according to structural characteristics, such as the caregiver-child ratio and the number of children under super­vision, as well as the caregivers’ training, education, and behav­ior, such as language stimulation and emotionally supportive interactions. The NICHD research showed that the likelihood of insecure mother-child attachment at fifteen months in­creased when children were in nonmaternal care more than ten hours per week only for those children whose mothers were judged as highly insensitive and who received a low quality of care.21 A similar finding was observed at thirty-six months.22

The good news is that when the data are controlled for quality and maternal sensitivity, extended child care does not appear to diminish the security of attachment. But this assess­ment starts to waver a bit in light of further analyses. First, when evaluating the quality of nonmaternal child care in centers against the guidelines of the American Public Health Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, the NICHD research team found that “the results were not en­couraging.”23 Other studies of 628 centers gave an overall aver­age quality rating of a little less than halfway between minimal and good.24 Not only is most child care of mediocre quality, but it was also found that mothers who were judged as less sen­sitive were more likely to have children in centers where the quality of care was not highly rated.25 Finally, mothers who were judged low on the measures of maternal sensitivity tended to have children who spent more hours in nonmater­nal care.26

The web of cause-and-effect relationships among mother – child attachment, family characteristics such as maternal sen­sitivity, and quantity and quality of nonmaternal care is dif­ficult to untangle. The issue depends in part on whether maternal insensitivity is seen as an inherent personal charac­teristic or as a reaction to broader circumstances. Women em­ployed full-time necessarily have children who spend extended periods in nonmaternal care. Under the stress of trying to bal­ance full-time employment and motherhood, it is possible that these mothers will be less relaxed, patient, tolerant, and responsive in interactions with their children—thus scoring lower in maternal sensitivity—than mothers who are not as pressed in their daily lives. In these circumstances the associa­tion between maternal insensitivity and extended time in child care might well stem from the antecedent condition of full­time employment. Since the quality of most day-care services tends to be no more than mediocre, even those who want and can afford high-quality care have a hard time finding it. Thus, although child care per se poses little threat to mother-child attachment, given the current attributes of child-care offerings in the United States, children under three years of age in ex­tended nonmaternal care on average probably have a some­what higher risk of developing insecure attachments than those cared for by mothers at home.

In contrast to the weak link between the amount of time spent in nonmaternal care during the preschool years and the security of the mother-child attachment, the NICHD study revealed a comparatively robust relationship between the amount of time spent in nonmaternal care during the pre­school years and the likelihood of behavioral problems, par­ticularly aggressive behavior toward other children, showing up in kindergarten.27 Specifically, the research found that chil­dren in regularly scheduled nonmaternal care more than thirty hours per week during the first four and a half years of life were almost three times more likely to behave aggressively toward other children than children who had been in non­maternal care less than ten hours per week. Although the dif­ference sounds quite large, in absolute terms it represents a gap of 11 percentage points—between problematic behavior expressed by 17 percent of children who were in extended non­maternal care and by 6 percent of children who were in nonmaternal care for shorter periods of time. Another way of interpreting the results is to highlight the good news that be­havioral problems were not evident in 83 percent of children in extended care.28

The apparent impact of extended care was moderate, but not trivial. Further analyses lend increasing credibility to these findings. The data showed not merely a simple correlation be­tween quantity of care and behavioral problems but a more compelling “dose-response” relationship. That is, the average scores on problem behavior rose consistently with the amount of time children spent in nonmaternal care.29 Moreover, the relationship between quantity of care and problem behavior remained significant even after controlling for the quality and type of care, and for family background.30 It is possible, how­ever, that selection bias might have accounted for the higher levels of aggressive behavior among those in extended care, if rambunctious and difficult-to-manage children were more likely to be placed in care centers for longer hours than placid and easy-to-manage kids.

Does it really make much difference if the behavior of children who spend an extended period in day care is more problematic than that of other children when they enter kin­dergarten? The answer depends, in part, upon whether this re­sult is judged from an existential or instrumental perspective. From an existential perspective, how children experience life on a daily basis is as important as future outcomes. In this view, the understanding of a good life is based on what takes place during the journey as much as the eventual destination. Thus, the existentialists’ answer is yes, the higher level of ag­gressive behavior matters, since it would make kindergarten a less pleasant experience in the voyage of life for both the kids who act out and their classmates. From an instrumental per­spective, concerns are more sharply focused on the long-term impact of extended day care on cognitive and behavioral out­comes. Instrumentalists want to know what the aggressive be­havior in kindergarten will lead to—will the aggressive kids grow up to be thugs or captains of industry? Or will they simply mellow out over time?

In fact, the children did eventually mellow out. The data show that when the children were evaluated after kinder­garten, the earlier relationship between the quantity of early child care and levels of problem behavior began to dissipate, and by the third grade it was no longer statistically significant. These findings at the third-grade level do not close the book, since effects associated with early child care that seemed to disappear have been found to reemerge later, particularly dur­ing periods of developmental transitions. As the study’s au­thors caution, “It remains to be determined if these relations with early child care remain, dissipate or grow in early adoles­cence, a critical transition period for many children."31

While behavioral problems associated with extended child care regardless of quality were no longer evident by the third grade, findings from the NICHD study showed that academic gains were linked to high-quality care and were sustained through the third grade.32 These findings are supported by other large-sample studies.33 In most cases, however, the gains were modest in size and had the largest impact on vulnerable children from disadvantaged families.34 And there is also some evidence that academic gains associated with preschool atten­dance fade over the early years of elementary school.35 Still, several of the model early-intervention programs, such as Perry Preschool and the Carolina Abecedarian program, showed promising long-term results. Coming from very deprived back­grounds, the Perry Preschool participants were more likely to have graduated from high school and to be employed by age nineteen, and to earn more, have fewer criminal arrests, and re­ceive less welfare by age twenty-eight, than the control group.36

No doubt, there is a good case to be made for providing extended nonmaternal care to seriously disadvantaged chil­dren from homes that fail to offer sufficient cognitive stimula­tion and emotional support or that present high risks of abuse and neglect. Yet, for a variety of reasons, such as limited edu­cation, social problems, and psychological deficiencies, moth­ers from these homes are least likely to find employment that would pay for the costs of such care. (Ironically, some of these women could conceivably become child-care workers, earning a median hourly wage of $8.o6.)37

But the vast majority of young children in the United States are not from disadvantaged families. Their life experi­ences are shaped by competent mothers (over 80 percent of whom have at least completed high school) whose nurturing and personal interactions are vested with more devotion than money can buy. These children are least likely to gain sub­stantial or persistent social and cognitive benefits from high – quality nonmaternal care. Indeed, cut through the profes­sional jargon of “structure” (small groups with a high ratio of caretakers to children) and “processes” (language stimulation and positive reinforcement), and you find that the essential definition of high-quality day care approximates the warm, personal, and supportive interactions associated with average maternal care. There is much evidence that family characteris­tics, particularly mother’s education, have considerably more effect than day-care experiences on cognitive development and other outcomes.38 And there are some indications that chil­dren from well-functioning, middle-class families, particularly males, may be disadvantaged by nonmaternal care.39

What does all this tell us about the consequences of ex­tended day care as a family-friendly policy? In trying to under­stand the impact of day care it is helpful to distinguish be­tween programs that offer substitute mothering designed to mind preschool children during their parents’ working hours and those that offer special services designed to enhance chil­dren’s cognitive and emotional development beyond what they would normally receive at home. Overall, the research suggests that the emotional, behavioral, and cognitive effects of non­maternal day care are mixed and vary depending on the inten­sity and quality of the service as well as the characteristics of the children and their families. Neither the advantages nor the detrimental effects appear to be large, and both fade over time to some extent. A few of the most costly and well-executed programs intended to enhance development have shown prom­ising long-term results, predominantly for children from so­cially and economically disadvantaged families. It is important to recognize, however, that while these programs offer poten­tial benefits for children in vulnerable circumstances, for the most part they do not provide the extended hours of care that are necessary to facilitate the parents’ full-time employment.

In sum, after more than thirty years of research we have gained a deeper appreciation of the complexities of gauging how extended child care affects children, but our conclusions remain in limbo. There is little evidence that these programs benefit the daily experiences or enhance the developmental ca­pacities of most children who are not highly disadvantaged. At the same time there is no convincing evidence that these pro­grams have long-lasting detrimental effects. Given the uncer­tain impact on children, all that can be said for extended day care as a family friendly policy is that it is most friendly to mothers who want or are required by dire necessity to work long hours outside the home.

Family Policy: Promoting Mothers or Markets?

What about the benefits of the broader package of conven­tional family-friendly policies generally available in the major industrialized democracies? To whom or what are they friendly? Western European countries are well known for having a more powerful arsenal of day care and other family-friendly benefits than the United States. For example, more than 70 percent of the children from age three to school age in Belgium, Den­mark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom are in publicly financed child care.40 Paid maternity leave, long periods of vacation, and government allowances for children and families are also common.

But the high levels of public care and other benefits have not been matched by the private production of children. In­deed, in a number of European nations, the birthrate is perched on the brink of demographic suicide. At the current level of decline, Belgium’s native-born population is poised to fall by 12.5 percent between 2001 and 2020. Spain’s population is ex­pected to plunge by almost 25 percent over the next forty-five years, and during that time Germany is also expected to suffer a huge population loss, comparable to the size of the popula­tion of the former East Germany.41 No member nation of the European Union currently has a fertility rate high enough to replace their existing population (replacement level is 2.1). And United Nations projections show the fertility rate re­maining well below the replacement level through 2050.

The shrinking of native-born populations between 2005 and 2050 could be offset somewhat by the movement of an es­timated 98 million international migrants from underdevel­oped regions of the world.42 However, absorption of that many outsiders could result in the transformation, if not the col­lapse, of established cultures. Beyond jeopardizing the cultural heritage of nations, declining birthrates have a ripple effect on family life. Fewer people experience being fathers and moth­ers, having brothers and sisters, being grandparents or aunts and uncles. As the web of intergenerational family relation­ships withers, generating less social, emotional, and fiscal sup­port, the state comes under greater pressure to provide public services for what was previously handled in private life.

It is possible that low fertility rates will start to climb without any outside intervention, particularly under conditions in which immigration is tightly controlled. The well-known Easterlin hypothesis suggests that as fertility declines, individ­ual opportunities increase, along with personal welfare. Com­pared to the previous cohort, those born into a low-fertility so­ciety encounter, for example, fewer people competing for jobs in the labor market, more houses for sale to fewer available buyers, and a relatively higher number of slots in the educa­tional system. The increasing level of opportunity and per­sonal welfare presumably lowers the costs of having children.43 However, Easterlin’s economic perspective on fertility has been challenged on various fronts. Opposing arguments suggest that social attitudes may influence childbearing behavior more than economic costs and benefits, and that societal conditions have changed in recent decades, which may have diminished the self-correcting effect of cohort size on fertility.44

At the same time that fertility rates have declined, fe­male labor-force participation and divorce rates have increased throughout the European Union. The temporal connection between women entering the labor force and having fewer children is open to various interpretations based on the time frames selected, the countries included in the analysis, the statistical manipulations applied to the data, and what one is looking to prove. The exactitude of measurement is also worth bearing in mind—the European Union labor-force survey de­fines as “employed” all respondents who report at least one hour of gainful employment in the previous week.

Contrary to what one might expect, sociologist Gosta Esping-Andersen found that in 1992 European countries with high levels of female employment tended to have higher fertil­ity rates than those with low levels of female employment. This was a reversal of the negative relationship between fertility and employment found among those countries in earlier years. Based on a positive correlation from a cross-sectional analysis of nineteen countries, he concluded that in some contexts women’s careers and children can become fairly compatible.45 Similar moderately positive results emerged from a cross­sectional analysis of fertility rates and female employment in twelve European countries in 1997.46 In both instances, it is worth noting that the countries that registered the highest fer­tility rates were still well below the replacement level.

In reality, these positive findings say more about the per­spective afforded by cross-sectional analysis than about the overall long-term trend in the relationship between fertility and female labor-force participation rates. Repeated cross­sectional analyses comparing different countries at various points in time over several decades show that the negative cor­relation between fertility rates and female employment was re­versed by the 1990s. From a longitudinal perspective, however, fertility rates declined as female employment increased in each country—but the magnitude of this negative association be­came weaker over time.47

Among the forces that might affect the relationship be­tween changes in fertility and female employment, Esping – Andersen suggests that we would be likely to find a positive in­fluence in countries where day care and family services are offered to everyone. Sweden, Finland, and Denmark are among the countries where these services are most widely available. They also have among the highest fertility rates in the Euro­pean Union. Yet, in each of these countries, female labor-force participation rates were higher in 2004 than in 1994 while fertility rates were lower in 2004 than in 1994 (see Appen­dix, Table 1). This inverse relationship presents a completely different picture than the positive one that emerges from a cross-sectional perspective. Indeed, taking a larger group of countries (seventeen) over a longer period of time (1980 to 2002), we find a substantial inverse relationship between the average fertility and female employment rates. But there are several ways to look at these data, and different results appear depending on how the analysis is framed (see Appendix, Figures 1,2, and 3).

Following the downward trend in fertility, a correspon­ding decline in marriage rates between 1980 and 2001 shows a strong inverse correlation with female labor-force participa­tion (see Appendix, Figure 4). Much of the decline in marriage has been made up for by the historic increase in cohabitation across northern Europe. From Scandinavia to France the for­mality of marriage has fallen out of favor with a huge propor­tion of the current generation. By 2005 more than half of all first-born French children had unwed parents, most of whom were in an ongoing relationship. The normative acceptance of this shift away from the traditional commitment of marriage is reflected by the long-term cohabitations of such popular political figures as Segolene Royal, the French Socialist Party’s 2007 presidential candidate, and Francois Hollande, the party’s leader, who lived together for twenty-five years; and Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, who is in a long-term relation­ship with a member of the National Assembly.48

As female labor-force participation rates climbed, public efforts were made to reduce the friction between work and family life in many of the advanced industrialized countries of the OECD. One way to estimate the effects of these efforts is to look at how patterns of public spending on family-friendly benefits such as day care, household services, maternity and parental leave, children’s allowances, and other social provi­sions vary with marriage and fertility rates. Although the pat­tern of spending on family-friendly benefits rises and falls, overall the average rates of public expenditure on these bene­fits as a percentage of GDP increased slightly between 1980 and 2001 (see Appendix, Figure 5). This spending had an inverse correlation with fertility rates and showed a similar relation­ship to marriage rates.

Findings based on aggregate data may, of course, mask large variations between individual countries and among groups of countries. Analysis conducted on countries grouped ac­cording to the widely cited classification of social-democratic, conservative, liberal, and southern European regimes showed some variance from the pattern that emerged when the results for all countries were averaged.49 Specifically, a positive corre­lation appeared between fertility rates and spending on family benefits in the social-democratic Scandinavian countries. The social-democratic countries also had a higher level of public expenditure on family-friendly benefits than other groups. After 1990, however, social-democratic expenditures began to decline while the levels of spending in other regimes increased or remained constant, causing the average spending on family – friendly benefits to converge.50 A case might be made that too much attention to levels of spending on family-friendly mea­sures ignores important differences in the substantive con­figuration of these policies, which influence work and family relations.51 Indeed, even among the social-democratic Scan­dinavian countries, sharp differences emerge in the extent to which family policies promote gender equality and afford mothers the right to choose among alternative child-care arrangements.52

Family-friendly policies, of course, involve more than the OECD categories of expenditure represented by family bene­fits. For example, more than 70 percent of the employed women in the Netherlands work in part-time jobs that have benefits similar to those of full-time employment, and Dutch children spend more days per year in school than most ele­mentary school students in the European Union. A thorough assessment of the measures that affect efforts to balance work and family life would include flexible work schedules, number and length of school days, paid vacation time, and other bene­fits, some of which are reflected in the larger scheme of to­tal public social expenditures.53 Analyses of overall social – expenditure data reveal patterns that parallel the findings noted above—that is, rates of total public social expenditure between 1980 and 2001 are inversely related to both fertility and marriage rates (see Appendix, Figure 6).

Still, even when total public social expenditures are con­sidered the picture is not complete, since there are different ways to count public spending. A caveat on comparative data is in order. It has long been recognized that, in addition to the checks written directly by government, comprehensive mea­sures of social-welfare efforts should include other sources of social expenditure that promote individual well-being. In the 1930s, special tax deductions and exemptions were identified as a form of government aid in Arthur Pigou’s classic text Eco­nomics of Welfare. It was not until the mid-1970s, however, that data on tax expenditures became available and were intro­duced as a regular component of the president’s budget in the United States.54 In the 1980s it became increasingly clear that the conventional categories of social expenditure were at best a crude metric for comparisons among different countries.55 In the mid-1990s, as additional data came available, researchers at the OECD developed a new ledger for social accounting, which controls for the effects of costs and benefits from vari­ous sources.56 Yet even this highly sophisticated measure does not take into account the effects of government deficit spend­ing, which can finance current benefits through the creation of debt that must be discharged sometime in the future.

Moreover, the most sophisticated measure of net social expenditure, which compares spending among countries as a percentage of their GDP, yields a different set of results than when assessments are based on spending per capita. An analy­sis of social-welfare spending among ten OECD countries reveals that when the measurement shifts from the size of ex­penditure as a percentage of GDP to the size of per capita ex­penditure, the United States’ rank jumps from near the bottom (just above Canada and Australia) to second from the top (just below Sweden).57 All of these cautions about comparative mea­surements are to say that the findings that fertility and mar­riage rates have often declined as spending on family benefits and total social expenditure have increased can only be taken as suggestive. But what do they suggest?

How Family Friendly Are Family-Friendly Policies?

he shift of women’s labor from unpaid care and household management to paid employment has been advanced by an array of social policies aimed at. reducing the friction between work and family life. These “family-friendly” policies typically include a package of benefits such as parental leave, family services, and day care. For the most part these policies address the lifestyle needs of mothers in the neotraditional and modern categories—those trying to balance work and family obligations. The costs of publicly subsidized day care are borne by all taxpayers, but the programs offer no benefits to childless women who prefer the postmodern lifestyle and are of little use to mothers out­side the labor force who stay at home to care for their children. Indeed, childless women in full-time careers are rarely the subjects of family-related policy deliberations. One exception, noted earlier, is the case of childless workers in Germany who are being required to make higher contributions to the coun­try’s compulsory nursing-home insurance program than work­ers with children.

Compared to the industrial democracies of Europe, the United States is considered a laggard in dispensing parental leave, day care, and other publicly subsidized emollients to di­minish the friction between raising a family and holding a job. The right to take twelve weeks of job-protected family leave was initiated in 1993, with coverage limited to companies with fifty employees or more—and the leave is unpaid. Although unpaid leave places no strain on the public coffer, there was a substantial rise in government spending on child care during the 1990s, which benefited mainly low-income families. Testi­fying before Congress in 2002, Douglas Besharov estimated that between 1994 and 1999 federal and state expenditures on child-care programs climbed by almost 60 percent, from $8.9 to $14.1 billion, most of which served low-income families.1 About $2 billion of additional support was delivered to middle – and upper-income families through the child-care tax credit, for a total of $16 billion in publicly subsidized care.2 While $16 billion is no trivial sum, it is still well below European expen­ditures on a per capita basis.

Spending on conventional family-friendly arrangements in the United States is relatively low, in part because of the ide­ological ambivalence in this realm of policy. Public sympathy for welfare programs that pay unmarried women to stay home and care for their children evaporated as the labor-force par­ticipation of married women with children under six years old multiplied threefold, from less than 20 percent in 1960 to more than 60 percent in 2000. Public spending on day care in the United States is largely related to making it possible for welfare mothers to enter the labor force. And conservatives have long argued for strengthening work requirements in wel­fare programs. At the same time, many conservatives also sup­port the idea of “putting less emphasis on policies that free up parents to be better workers, and more emphasis on policies that free up workers to be better parents,” as expressed in the Report to the Nation from the Commission on Children at Risk.3 Liberals have traditionally resisted demands that welfare recipients should work for their benefits. But this position softens when gender feminists on the left advocate for univer­sal child care and other policies that encourage all mothers to enter the paid workplace. Publicly subsidized child care is the most central and in many ways the most controversial provi­sion in the standard package of benefits designed to harmo­nize work and family life.

The Myth of Independence

If paid employment does not confer happiness on many moth­ers, or at best offers no more happiness than they might expe­rience investing their labor at home with their children, it is at least supposed to make them independent. Feminist ideology conveys the popular expectation that liberated women achieve independence through work in the marketplace. Independence is a highly valued attribute. But what exactly does it mean in the context of family relations? Mothers and fathers want their children to grow up to be independent in the sense that they should be able to think for themselves, act autonomously, and eventually move out of the house, set up their own home, and take care of themselves. But do mothers and fathers want the same kind of independence in relation to each other? They may want their partners to be people who think for themselves and are able to act autonomously, but do they want partners who are preparing to eventually move out of the house, set up their own home, and take care of themselves?

Family life has been displaced by work because feminist expectations have framed the idea of a liberated, independent woman as one who is not economically dependent on her spouse. A psychological distinction can be made, however, between the capacity to manage what comes our way in life, which I think of as self-sufficiency, and the desire to be eco­nomically independent of one’s partner. Self-sufficiency in­volves the ability to take care of oneself, not in the narrow sense of economic self-support but in dealing with the contingencies of daily existence. Self-sufficiency is a human quality that speaks to a much broader and deeper set of competencies than independence, which conveys merely an autonomous state of being—or not being controlled by others. A personal sense of self-sufficiency frees one psychologically from concerns about being controlled by others. In contrast to independence, which emphasizes freedom from control, self-sufficiency is more amenable to interdependent relationships, in which family members may feel confident dividing social powers and responsibilities.

Going to work confers independence in a particular sense for married mothers: their financial reliance on their husbands is diminished. This is liberating to the extent that they are mar­ried to men who want to or try to rule the roost through con­trol of the purse strings. But even in these homes the economic independence gained through employment is in a larger sense paradoxical. At the same time that the employed wife’s pay­check liberates her from financial dependence within the fam­ily, it heightens her vulnerability to interpersonal constraints imposed by strangers—bosses, customers, and clients—and to the vagaries of the marketplace. She may encounter the same subjugation experienced by the typical “independent” male breadwinner, including bullying, which has become so wide­spread in the workplace that Robert Sutton’s book on building a civilized workplace, The No Asshole Rule, jumped to number ten in the Amazon. com sales ranking within a month of pub­lication (the unconventional title might have lent a boost).65

For most men and women working for a wage, the inde­pendence that comes with a paycheck is accompanied by obe­dience to the daily authority of supervisors, submission to the schedule and discipline of the work environment, deference to customers, and susceptibility to the mounting insecurities of modern-day employment. Indeed, as the person who cares for his children, prepares his meals, and bestows physical warmth and affection, the dependent mother has much greater power in her relationship with her husband, on whom she relies for economic support, than the average independent mother has in her relationships with her boss and customers, on whom she relies for her paycheck. There are exceptions, of course, as already noted. Those at the top of the pyramid in business, politics, arts, and academic and professional life—the occupa­tional elite who trumpet the empowerment of work—experi­ence a degree of independence; those employed lower down the scale experience supervision, repetition, daily regimenta­tion, and exposure to consumer demands.

In two-earner families, the spouses’ economic indepen­dence from one another is acquired at the cost of the family’s increased dependence on the market economy to meet many of the needs previously satisfied by the family members for reasons of mutual obligation and personal affection. When mothers of young children join the paid labor force, the car­ing, nurturing, and home management functions of family life are typically outsourced to day-care centers, cleaning services, and fast-food chains and local restaurants. As the work of unpaid household labor is transformed to paid employment, scenarios such as the following become increasingly common: Parents with two young children rise at six in the morning; prepare breakfast; wash, feed, and clothe the kids; and drop them off at day care, which might be subsidized by the state as much as $10,000 to $12,000 per child. The mother then heads off to her job—perhaps at another day-care center, where she is employed to look after other peoples’ children. One could draw a similar scenario involving a woman who works in a nursing home for the elderly instead of staying home to care for her disabled mother. Both cases involve a shift from volun­tarily caring for children and elderly kin out of a sense of devotion and commitment to performing caring services for strangers for pay.

As mothers have entered the labor force, families have become more dependent on the state and market to supply the care work once performed for free—and throughout the in­dustrialized world most of this paid care work is still carried out by women. This is the case especially in the Scandinavian countries, despite their reputation for promoting gender equal­ity and liberating women from the confines of domesticity. In Sweden, 75 percent of the jobs created from 1970 to 1990 pro­vided social welfare services in the public sector; almost all these jobs were filled by women.66 In Denmark, 64 percent of women’s contributions to labor-force growth between 1960 and 1981 took place in day-care centers, nursing homes, and schools. Similarly, in Norway, women staff the vast majority of civil-service jobs that carry out functions once performed privately, within the household. Thus, as Alan Wolfe makes clear, “The distribution of sex roles has not greatly changed in Scandinavia (gender-defined work has probably been more thoroughly transformed in the United States), but their char­acter has changed greatly: they have become ‘nationalized,’ in the sense that the Scandinavian welfare states organize through taxation and public services activities for all of society that were once undertaken more intimately and privately.”67 The taxes that support these services come in large part from the paychecks of families, including the very wives and mothers who perform the work. For a large proportion of women, the sense of independence gained from paid employment comes with all sorts of strings attached.

Although feminist expectations about the social benefits of work do resonate with the ambitions and experiences of some women, they ignore the interests of many women, par­ticularly those in the middle and working classes. Even among the upper tier of professional elites, some women with young children appear to be having second thoughts about the levels of personal enjoyment and independence that are actually de­rived from paid employment. If I maintain that many mothers have been oversold on the economic and social benefits of continuous labor-force participation, it is not to argue for a re­turn to the traditional view that women belong barefoot, preg­nant, and in the kitchen. Rather, it is to suggest that public discourse on work-family choices give voice to a balanced per­spective, one that lends due consideration to women’s diverse interests and values and to the full range of options for man­aging work and family responsibilities over the course of an eighty-five-year lifespan.

The idea of a more balanced assessment of work-family choices has not been received with universal enthusiasm. When Betty Friedan suggested that women should have the choice to stay home and raise kids if they wished, Simone de Beauvoir responded, “We don’t believe that any woman should have this choice.” She believed that “no woman should be authorized to stay home to raise her children . . . because if there is such a choice too many women will make that one.”68 That was thirty years ago, but those sentiments continue to resonate among some high-profile feminists. In 2006, for example, Linda Hirsh – man argued that because housekeeping and childrearing offer fewer opportunities for full human flourishing than working for business or government, assigning family work to women is unjust. Moreover, she writes, “women assigning it to them­selves is equally unjust. To paraphrase, as Mark Twain said, ‘A man who chooses not to read is just as ignorant as a man who cannot read.’” In a not-too-deft shuffle, Hirshman moves from declaring a woman’s choice to invest her labor in family life “unjust” to equating it with “ignorance.”

What young women need, according to Hirshman, is not choice, but guidance from their elders on how to gain access to money, power, and honor. To this end she offers a recipe for in­dependence. First, young women should prepare for work by studying liberal arts less, instead taking courses more likely to lead to good jobs and working after graduation with an eye to the future. Second, they should treat work seriously. The best way to do that, she suggests, is to find the money. Third, to ensure that their spouse will do an equal share of house­work, they should either marry down—younger, poorer men— or marry much older, well-established men who have enough money to pay for household help. Finally, they should not have more than one child.69

Hirshman’s advice was delivered not on an obscure fem­inist weblog or in an alternative newsletter but in the American Prospect, a well-circulated and highly regarded journal of lib­eral persuasion, thus signifying that in some quarters de Beau­voir’s resistance to choice still animates an influential strain of feminist thinking. At the same time, among the current gener­ation of well-educated women there are signs of change in the rise of care feminism and hints of an opt-out revolution, which challenge prevailing assumptions and kindle public discourse about how much to invest in motherhood and in the paid labor force—and about how individual women may value the intrinsic worth of these endeavors. This fresh outlook not only examines the impact of earlier feminist expectations about work but also questions the extent to which these expectations are reinforced by the role of the state in advancing family – friendly policies.

The Joy of Work?

The assumption that women experience unpaid housework and child care more negatively than paid work bears critical examination. For many (if not most) women, empirical evi­dence suggests that this is not the case. In developing the Day Reconstruction Method, a sophisticated approach to assessing how people feel during their daily activities, Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues surveyed 909 employed women on how they had felt during sixteen different activities and interactions with eight different partners on the previous day, and analyzed their responses. Overall, respondents reported a much higher degree of positive affect than negative affect on all activities and interactions. In comparing specific experiences, however, the data showed that on average the employed women ex­pressed a higher degree of enjoyment for shopping, preparing food, taking care of their children, and doing housework than for working at their jobs—an activity that was ranked at the next-to-lowest level of enjoyment, just above commuting to work. Similarly, they experienced a higher level of negative affect while at work than while cooking, cleaning, shopping, and caring for their children. When it came to interactions with different partners, the women ranked interactions with their children as more enjoyable than those with clients/customers, co-workers, and bosses.54

Of course, one study—even one by a highly distinguished team of researchers—does not dispose of the “problem that has no name,” in part because this is a study of employed women, which does not tell us how stay-at-home mothers experience their daily activities. Employed women might find cooking, shopping, cleaning, and caring more enjoyable because they usually spend less time on these activities than stay-at-home mothers do. It would be impossible, however, to compare the level of enjoyment experienced by stay-at-home mothers during various activities throughout a particular day to the level of enjoyment experienced during paid employment that same day. As Kahneman and his colleagues indicate, other studies based on global ratings showed that while interactions with children topped the list of enjoyable activities, shopping and housecleaning were rated below working at one’s job. They note, however, that these ratings were less rigorous and more prone to discourage socially inappropriate responses than the assessments of specific episodes in their own study. Moreover, while these types of studies provide a highly sys­tematic account of how people experience specific episodes of activity throughout a day, they beg the question of whether discrete affective responses to daily activities actually add up to a personal sense of happiness and fulfillment. (Is a state of happiness more than the sum of temporary pleasures?) A na­tional survey of 2,020 adults in 2007 reports that 85 percent of parents rated relationships with their young children as the as­pect of their lives most important to their personal happiness and fulfillment—far above their jobs or careers.55

Although the empirical research is inconclusive, however one interprets the data they do not comport with the pervasive feminist view of paid employment as an everyday source of enjoyment for women and unpaid family work as a source of tedium. The voices of those in the privileged occupations speak most often of their own felicitous work experiences and their perceptions of the gratification that men in their circles reap from work. It is an authentic assessment based on a self­referential slice of reality, which fails to reflect the working lives of a large proportion of women and men in jobs marked by stress, tedium, and emotional exhaustion.

Thirty years ago researchers in applied psychology iden­tified the problem of work-related burnout.56 Burnout has since become a burgeoning field of study, with competing em­pirical definitions that place varying emphases on emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and lack of personal accom­plishment (according to the widely used Maslach Burnout Inventory); fatigue (from the Copenhagen Burnout Inven­tory); and exhaustion and disengagement (from the Oldenburg Burnout Inventory).57 In all accounts, burnout bears a curious resemblance to Friedan’s problem that has no name.

Women seeking to escape the oppressive drudgery of un­paid work for the pleasures of employment supposedly en­joyed by men might ask why the average male worker hastens to begin retirement as quickly as possible. The evidence here is quite firm. During the past ten to fifteen years many of the in­dustrialized countries have made policies and plans to raise the normal age of retirement either directly or indirectly by in­creasing the required period of contributions. Meanwhile, vot­ing with their feet, an increasing proportion of men in the ad­vanced industrialized nations have been exiting employment well before the standard age of retirement. In nine major OECD countries, the average percentage of men ages fifty-five to fifty-nine who were employed declined from 72.2 percent in 1987 to 69.2 percent in 1999—meaning that by 1999 almost one man in three was retired by his mid-to-late fifties. For men ages sixty to sixty-four, the percentage declined more steeply from 45.1 percent in 1987 to 40.6 percent in 1999. In 1999, on average 50 percent of the men in these countries withdrew from the labor force at 62.3 years of age or younger (the age for women was 61.1) and 25 percent of the men withdrew from the labor force at 58 years of age or younger (57.4 for women). Since 1987, the overall trend has moved clearly toward early re­tirement, and despite a slight tick upward in recent years, the average age of retirement still remains well below sixty-five.58

Some suggest that this trend has been spurred by generous pension benefits that create incentives for early retirement— either inadvertently or by design. Although pension incentives may be a factor contributing to early retirement, the attitudes expressed in international surveys convey sober evidence about the presumed benefits of work. Findings from the Interna­tional Social Survey Program’s 1997 Work Orientation Study, which included more than ten thousand respondents in eight OECD countries, suggest that given the choice, the majority of those in retirement would not have preferred to remain employed.

A close look at the data shows that responses vary some­what depending on how the survey questions were posed. When asked, “Suppose you could change the way you spend your time,” an eight-country average of only 8.8 percent of re­tired respondents answered that they “wanted to spend more time in a paid job.” Among two other groups outside of the labor force, an eight-country average of 28.7 percent of those currently keeping house said they wanted to spend more time in a paid job, and surprisingly an average of only 55.8 percent of unemployed workers indicated wanting to spend more time in a paid job. Similarly, among those with part-time jobs, only 28 percent wanted to spend more time working.

When the question was posed in a slightly different form—“Suppose you could decide on your work situation at present, which would you choose?”—an eight-country aver­age of 37.5 percent of retired respondents indicated that they would choose a full-time job. What accounts for the seeming contradiction between only 8.8 percent of retirees wanting to spend more time in a paid job and 37.5 percent of retirees who would choose a full-time job if they could decide on their work situation? One explanation is that the latter respondents might have interpreted being able to decide on their work sit­uation as a license to select the most satisfying jobs they could imagine—desirable positions of authority, status, temporal autonomy, and free travel to conferences—which they would be pleased to enter on a full-time basis. The retirees’ responses to a third question lends a certain degree of credibility to this explanation. When asked how easy or difficult they thought it would be to find “an acceptable job” if they were looking ac­tively, an eight-country average of only 14 percent felt an ac­ceptable job would be easy to find, which is much closer to the 8.8 percent who indicated that they would want to spend more time in a paid job.59

These findings gain further support from a 2005 study of 6,244 employed men and women in ten European countries. Although there was some variation among the countries, over­all a high proportion of the respondents indicated their in-

tention to retire early—more than 50 percent in half of the countries. Moreover, when the respondents were divided into three groups according to the quality of their jobs, an unam­biguous pattern emerged across the ten countries, with em­ployees in the lower-quality jobs consistently expressing the intention to retire early more often than those in less-stressful jobs.60 In the United States a 1999 Newsweek poll of 492 work­ers found that 39 percent of the respondents hoped to retire before their fifty-first birthday, if they could afford it, and 26 percent said they expected to retire before age sixty.61

Many workers are retiring from the labor force as quickly as they can, most people who choose household work do not seem anxious to trade for more time in paid jobs, and even many unemployed people express little desire to spend more time in paid jobs. These findings suggest the need for a frank corrective in the prevailing discourse on work and family life led by academics and other members of the occupational elite. It is not entirely uncommon for academics to advance revela­tions about their personal circumstances as universal truths. A classic example is Sigmund Freud’s formulation of the Oedi­pus complex, which drew heavily from his childhood feelings of love for his mother and jealousy of his father. Writing to his friend Wilhelm Fliess in 1897, Freud made it clear that after re­flecting on this personal experience he now considered such feelings “a universal event in early childhood.”62

When members of the occupational elite write and talk about the joys and personal fulfillments of work, they should admit that what they really mean is their work. They are not referring to the work of those in their own institutions who stay chained to desks all day, clean floors, or empty wastepaper baskets—the mostly female clerical and cleaning staff. They are not talking about the subway, taxi, and bus drivers who take them to work, the cooks and waiters who make it possible for them to do lunch, or the clerks serving behind the counters in the stores they pass on the way to work. And they certainly are not recalling Marx’s indictment that “factory work exhausts the nervous system to the uttermost, it does away with the many-sided play of muscles, and confiscates every atom of freedom, both in bodily and intellectual activity.”63 But one need not invoke Marxist rhetoric to recognize that while some jobs are interesting and fulfilling, the majority simply are not, and are unlikely to become so.

Of course, work is necessary. According to Freud, “No other technique for the conduct of life attaches the individual so firmly to reality as laying emphasis on work.” But here he was talking about professional work, and abilities and gifts accessible to only a few people. “And even to the few who do possess them,” he said, “this method cannot give complete protection from suffering.”64 The idea of attaining happiness through work, while true for a fortunate few, makes a virtue of necessity for the many.