Several years ago, in the FMH Facebook group, someone made a comment that if society valued motherhood so much, why wasn’t she paid to stay at home and raise her children? When I read that comment, I had a few strong reactions, the first of which was Who said society values motherhood? It felt to me like something I’ve heard the Church say plenty, *cough*talk is cheap*cough*, but I’ve never really heard “society” say it. And yet, in many countries there are far better financial protections that either encourage through incentives or at least reduce the financial penalties parents otherwise experience. In the US, it feels like parenting is not really encouraged much. It’s long been a net negative to a family’s financial prospects.
I’ve mentioned before my feelings when (as a child) I first learned that the Church opposed the ERA. I was gobsmacked. The ERA was so obviously right, the idea that women should be treated equally under the law, paid equally for equal work, etc. The only “justification” for fighting it that I could wrap my brain around was that when you change from a single breadwinner economy (in which one person can financially support a family of financial dependents on one income) to a single earner model (where one income is designed to cover the needs of one person), the economic eventuality is that most adults must do paid work to survive. For half the citizens (primarily women at the time) this would mean that their unpaid work in the home (that was financially covered by men having outsized incomes to support a family) would become a non-viable option. It wouldn’t happen immediately, but it was an eventual foregone conclusion. However, the existing system was also untenable in that divorced or single parents had dependents to support, and were not able to do so on a single income, particularly if that was on a discounted “woman’s wage,” much lower than men were earning.
Various US politicians have proposed such things as Universal Childcare Coverage (Elizabeth Warren), existing tax credits for parents (Bill Clinton’s 1997 act), and FMLA (also Bill Clinton). All of these fall short of neutralizing the financial penalties for having kids which amount to a pretty big incentive to keep family sizes small or forego kids altogether. Even though FMLA dictates that you can’t be fired for caregiving of family members, including maternity leave, it caps at 12 weeks and does not mandate that the leave be paid. Requiring paid maternity leave would be a burden too heavy to bear for many small businesses, although if you work for a business with fewer than 50 employees on payroll (note the temp and contractor exception inherent there), your company is also exempt from the FMLA requirement. Fire at will.
The other inequitable penalty is when paid (or partially paid) maternity leave is offered, but there is no paternity leave. This inequity results in soft penalties for women who are seen as temporarily exiting the workforce, placing a burden on peers and bosses to cover for their absence. When companies are left to set the terms, and to pay for all the benefits, women who have children disproportionately suffer penalties in terms of raises and promotions. That’s why CEO Sheryl Sandberg told women to “lean in.” It’s not like the companies are going to “lean out” to meet them. They are neither motivated nor regulated to do so. Some countries have sought to remedy this by giving “parental” leave rather than “maternity” leave.
Aside from caring about the equal treatment of all citizens, something the US has consistently failed to demonstrate (as has the Church, let’s be honest), why should the government care if citizens have children? Should they care? Companies honestly should not care about it, and frankly don’t. Parents (both sexes) are less flexible to take clients to dinner, to travel to other cities, to stay at work until after 8PM on a regular basis, and they occasionally have to handle issues for their children, such as care for them when they are sick. Parents are de facto less productive than singles, which often results in additional workload for singles, a tax on their leisure time that parents aren’t asked to cover equally. But the country should care; raising the next generation of Americans is a net positive for the country.
Singapore, like other Asian nations, decided to play around with reproductive choices of its citizens, and that didn’t work out so well. Before I lived there (from 2011-2013), there had been a push by the government to reduce the number of children because the population was outgrowing the small space of its island nation. This propaganda to encourage fewer children per couple paid off too well, and by the time I was there, the country was backpedaling. Suddenly there weren’t enough Singaporean children to replace the adult population which would cause downstream impacts to the economy. That’s a GPD problem, not a company productivity problem. While I was there, the country offered financial incentives to Singaporean citizens for having children, although most of the Singaporeans I knew were still skeptical. The incentives didn’t cover the extremely high cost of raising children in what was at the time the world’s most expensive country. Not even the Mentos-sponsored National Night ad to call citizens to do their patriotic duty / booty call was enough to encourage my co-workers to think having kids was a good financial bet. (Definitely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it before). While I was there, the country was even advertising sex taxis where young couples could have some alone time if they lived with the husband’s parents (customary in many Asian cultures).
If you go back a hundred years or more, family size wasn’t the burden it is now because children often contributed to the family business or farm. Over time, and as the country urbanized (and the industrial age boomed), the focus shifted away from family-run farms and businesses, and child labor laws were instituted to prevent families from hiring out the kids to bring in an income. The focus of society toward children became a focus on educating them through public schools and colleges to create and improve the future workforce and economy. Aside from providing for a free public education, though, there were only meager efforts to offset the cost of raising a brood of dependents. Birth control became safer and more available. Family sizes dropped. If you have been a parent in the last century, you’re aware that kids aren’t exactly pulling their weight financially.
So, while companies have no desire for employees to procreate, governments do have a stake in it. That’s why the only way you can solve the parenting penalties is through government regulations (which piss off and penalize companies for hiring parents, particularly women who traditionally bear more of the child care burden) or subsidy (which all taxpayers bear, regardless of their own parenting choices, but at least it’s spread out across everyone). Given the Church’s poor track record on women and employment , at least one prominent Mormon is making the best proposal I’ve heard to date to address the parenting penalty: Mitt Romney. His plan would pay people (no gender restriction, heterosexual or marital requirement) who have children up to $1250 per month. That’s finally addressing the true penalty: the cost of childcare. And the best part? You can use that money to pay for child care, or a parent can choose to exit the workforce and remain in the home while still being paid the subsidy (unlike Warren’s plan that caps at 7% of a family’s income, essentially requiring parents to work to get it). It’s a subsidy that actually puts more choice in the hands of parents, avoiding the pitfalls of so many other proposals. The subsidy would still be given to parents with up to $400K combined income ($200K for single income earners)! That’s a pro-family policy actually designed to take the financial sting out of having kids. (Biden’s proposed stimulus caps parents out at $150K combined income, and is only for the remainder of the year).
Some have criticized the plan as likely to cause women to leave the workforce, and sure, that might happen (or men might to become full-time caregivers in the home). While that’s a risk, it’s not that there’s no benefit to society when parents choose to stay home to raise the next generation. Romney’s plan does what Benson’s disastrously bad advice to women in the late 80s never did: putting our money where our mouth is. He also proposes eliminating the out-of-date “head of household” filing status. About. Damn. Time.
As a small business owner that primarily employs women, I’d be a little nervous that it would motivate more women to leave the workforce, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that they would. Most women can still earn more by working, and use the subsidy to pay for childcare if they prefer. It’s on par with educational subsidies, in that it’s an investment for the parent who might otherwise be unemployed. It lets women (or other parents) stay in the workforce so they don’t suffer the financial penalties of stepping out for years to provide in home parenting. But for those close to the poverty line, yes, it could be an incentive to stay out of the workforce altogether. If that makes life easier for them and strengthens families, I would still support it, even if it hurt my business.
Unfortunately, his proposal is unlikely to come to fruition (unlike the ACA which is still causing fistfights) because the GOP doesn’t like government to govern, and the Democrats prefer to expand child tax credits (although Biden’s proposed stimulus does pay some parents $300/month per child for the rest of the year). By contrast, Romney’s bipartisan proposal is projected to reduce child poverty by a third. Most importantly, it does something I never even fathomed: it places a monetary value parenting. Until we quit seeing “women’s work” in the home as free labor for all, we will never truly value it. It is, up to now, a luxury to have a parent in the home, one fewer and fewer families can afford. That discussion in the FMH Facebook group was prescient in ways I would not have foreseen.
- Do you think we should pay parents? Why or why not?
- Do you like or dislike Romney’s proposal? Explain your answer.
- Why are Republicans so hostile to his plan when even Trump was big on spending for populist programs?
- Do you agree that the advice to women to stay home unpaid is an untenable financial disadvantage for the majority of families in our modern economy?
 At the same time the Church’s CES department was outright firing women seminary teachers for having a baby and claiming that “they didn’t want to work” similar to how flight attendants who gained five pounds in the 1960s (or got pregnant as recently as 2010 in Singapore) “didn’t want to work” and how rape victims who got pregnant while at BYU “didn’t want to finish their education.”
 They might have been taking a cue from the Vietnamese sex “hotels” that were a line of lawn chairs along the riverfront that could be rented by young couples for 20 minutes at a time. Necessity is the mother of invention.
 “Abysmal” is far too generous a word.
 Definitely something the Church should also quit. It’s patriarchal and usually demeaning/infantilizing to women.
 Protip: we don’t value it in the Church where it’s a foregone conclusion that women will do all the entertaining, planning, food, and clean up.
” in the Church … it’s a foregone conclusion that women will do all the entertaining, planning, food, and clean up”
Here, not “all”. We’ve had men participating in the planning, food, and clean up for decades. Our current stake presidency insists that they and the high council will plan, prepare, serve and clean up an annual dinner for older singles, mostly women, and that those men are not allowed to ask their wives to participate in that planning, preparing, serving or clean up. But even here, it would be well if there were further changes to the old “women’s work” culture.
I absolutely love Romney’s proposal. I love that it does not penalize marriage and it does not penalize stay at home parents. So much more effective at reducing poverty than the democrats plan. So much more effective at stabilizing low income families. So much more effective at decreasing social inequality. So much more flexible than a universal child care subsidy. It feels so much more respectful because it allows parents more choice. You can just imagine the huge decrease in stress on low and middle income parents this would give.
Wondering: Two wards ago, the ward would send food assignments around in both PH and RS which was a nice change. My last ward did not, and when I suggested it they thought that was silly since the women would take care of all that. I definitely agree that the progressive ward felt more like there was a little more respect for the amount of free work by asking the men to help shoulder the load. The other thing I found in that ward was that there were more friendships across gender lines, and frankly, that’s a good thing in creating respect.
I’m somewhat conflicted about Romney’s proposal. I’ve been to other countries where taxpayer-funded child allowances are the norm, where it works quite effectively as far as I can tell. When I lived in Germany, the German LDS families I knew with dependent children all received “Kindergeld” payments without the least bit of shame, since it was normalized nationwide (this was initially perplexing to me as an LDS American who grew up on the teachings of Benson et. al. warning of the “evils of the dole” and assumed they had too). But countries like Germany tend to have work-life balance baked into their culture, and are naturally way better at it than us Americans are. In that regard, giving allowances per child seems like a better approach at easing the burden on working families than, say, a universal basic income.
On the other hand, I can’t help but imagine the perverse incentives that could result from implementing such child allowances in the U.S. We have a strong culture of shameless opportunism that is much stronger than our supposed family values. We already have a widespread cottage industry of “professional foster parents” (people who take in foster children primarily for money, not because they care about kids). It has potential to set up a moral hazard of people being more reckless with the powers of procreation, couples having more kids than they can reasonably take care of, and a raft of other unintended consequences for society. In the 70s and 80s, Romania’s then-communist government attempted to incentivize reproduction to grow the country’s population, but failed to provide any support beyond birth, which resulted in an entire generation of abandoned babies and overcrowded orphanages (many of these children were adopted into American families). Romney also seems to be trying to throw a bone to Utah LDS families, who statistically have higher birth rates than the national average–the same people who already have warped ideas about birth control, reproduction and “ideal” family sizes.
Generally, I’m very much in favor of pro-family social programs, like universal gender-neutral paid parental leave. I’m in favor of government regulations to this end, since the forces of free-market capitalism are naturally anti-family, and corporations generally resist doing the right thing until the government forces them to. Romney’s plan, though, may be too much too soon. I would rather see him get behind a bipartisan effort to pass single-payer healthcare, which would be a huge help to families, but is considerably less “socialist” than just handing out money.
I also find it ironic that Church leaders and many LDS politicians who profess to be “pro-family” are also the same people who vehemently oppose government programs that support families, because of the boogeyman of socialism. It’s no coincidence that public school teachers in Utah are among the most poorly paid in the nation.
If you could just find a time machine to send Romney back to 1983 to get that bill passed.
My brother-in-law is Dutch and the money they received for having their two children was very important to them as they got started in life. With a monthly cap, the moral hazard for copious procreation should be mitigated – or is that Mitt-igated? Sorry.
As Angela pointed out, a nation needs children to sustain itself. I don’t know how we could have raised as large a family as we did if we were starting out now. I think it’s good public policy.
Mormony issues: The church has publicly expressed concern for both the trend of members marrying later and having fewer children to carry on the work of the restoration. My wife and I both wish we had started having children later. I have apologized to her for parroting what I had learned in church, at home, and at BYU that “If you aren’t ready to start having children – you aren’t ready to be married.”
Although I’ve always had a good income, we’ve always been behind the financial 8-ball because of 7-kids. Of course, at this point, there isn’t any one of them we aren’t thrilled that we have. And my wife was not able to pursue her education and career goals in the way she would have liked.
It’s curious to me that a people that covenant to basically live the united order if called upon are so *morally* opposed to providing this kind of financial benefit.
These are the various supports for families with children currently available in Britain (Child benefit is universal, the others are income dependent):
This isn’t as good as it used to be as from 2017 a two child policy for the tax credits element was introduced (existing children born before the introduction of the policy would continue to be supported). The upshot has been an increase in child poverty.
I like Romney’s proposal. If implemented would it increase Total Fertility Rate (TFR), the average number of children per woman? I’m not so sure it would do that much. Only because I think that there are strong cultural forces at play that are causing a reduced TFR, and it isn’t just socioeconomics, although those do play a role. For throughout cultures across the world, female education is becoming increasingly valued. And now it isn’t just K-12 female education, but higher education as well. In fact, women outnumber men at college campuses. Across the globe there is a strong correlation between TFR rates and female education. The more educated women are, the fewer children they tend to have. Areas where women are the least educated, such as most of sub-Saharan Africa, but especially Niger, Mali, and Somalia, countries where women are the least educated in sub-Saharan Africa, have the highest TFR rates. Norms are changing in the workplace as well. It is simply accepted now that it takes longer to launch a career, if you’re able to launch one at all, than it used to be. You can’t just graduate from college at 22 and walk into your career. The thing is I don’t see why not. I think this is more due to normative factors and cultural biases against younger employees embedded in HRs and managements than a lack of training or whatever excuses are being circulated. A lot of middle-aged folks seem to think, “I had to slog through grad school, massive student debt, a years-long barrage of underpaid internships and low positions, so the younger folks should have to do that too.” It is attitudes like that that are keeping family sizes small.
Ultimately, the best way to get a younger population for Europe, Russia, Japan, the US, and other areas of the world where the populations are aging may be to import them from Africa and other countries with very large younger populations.
John W, you may be surprised, but when the child tax credits mentioned in my previous comment were introduced in 1999 (originally without the more recent cap on number of children) there was in fact an increase in the birth rate. There’s a study that looks at this here:
Click to access wp0809.pdf
Hedgehog, thanks for the study. I’m sure that policy can help increase TFR a little. In fact, I was looking at a graph of UK TFR and found that in 1999 it was 1.68 in 1999 and that by 2010 it increased to 1.92, which is a 14.28% increase. But by 2018 TFR in the UK was back down to 1.68. For comparison, in 1965, TFR was 2.81, in 1880 it was over 5. It has dropped considerably since then. Is there anything that we could do to bring that rate from 1.68 to say 3? Nothing’s impossible, I guess, but I find it highly doubtful. Accepting young immigrants from around the globe, who have proven that they are willing to go to great lengths to reside in the UK and the US (we don’t even need to do anything more to entice them, Africa is teeming with young people many of whom already have a good command of English and French who want to work in Europe and the US.), is going to be a much quicker way to increase the young population of these countries. Luckily the UK and the US have been doing this for decades, although Brexitism and Trumpism have been backlashes against migration trends. Japan and South Korea, on the other hand, seem destined for increasingly aging populations and future productivity shortages unless they change course someway, somehow. I think a part of the answer in policy-making lies in multiculturalism training. Seeing people from different cultures as equals and opening our minds to what it means to be of American or British nationality will be vital to adapting to the future.
John W, I think the potential is there for greater increases. The increase in birth rate was an unintended consequence of the additional support for parents and families. Presumably why a two child limit was later introduced. The increase was seen specifically in the lower income two parent families.
I think that just child subsidies isn’t enough because there are other societal issues (at least in my US-centric view) that are all wrapped up in everything. Besides just normalizing parental leave, we also need to normalize sharing workloads better. Hawk notes that singles end up covering for parents, but it’s not just single people. I’m married but have no children, and I end up covering for parents, too. (Tangent — I really hate the phrase “starting a family” because that implies that my two-person family is somehow invalid. Couples that do not have children often get overlooked in these sorts of discussions.) I agree that making childcare more affordable is good for society, not just for those who directly benefit, but after a while it’s hard not to feel a little bit resentful — I pay high property taxes for schools, and I’ll happily pay a bit more in taxes to help with childcare subsidies, but then I also have to do extra work when others have to take care of their children, and it all seems to really add up.
At the same time we’re thinking about childcare, we probably need to start thinking about elder care. There’s sort of the assumption that one of the benefits of having children is that they’ll help to take care of you when you are old, which works out for some people, but it doesn’t work for others for a wide variety of reasons not just limited to the fact that not everyone has children. It might be easier to get people without children on board with childcare subsidies if it were bundled with some sort of elder care subsidy, which would help both people needing care and those who are expected to care for their parents.
Hedgehog, it appears that 85% of UK households have no more than two children. 15% have more than two. The two-child policy in the UK seems to have been the Conservative Party’s attempt to slash welfare by taking it out on the most vulnerable. Additionally, UK citizens with higher TFR rates tend to be Pakistani, Indian, and Bengali as well, suggesting that the Conservative Party’s policy was an attempt to limit the growth rates of non-white British. I highly disagree with the policy (in part I think that the policy is tied to anti-immigrant Brexitist sentiment, which appears to be causing the UK to become poorer all in the name in the curbing the flow of immigrants to the UK). But the policy was implemented in 2017, so we have yet to see the effects of it overall. Even if there weren’t such a policy in place, I still doubt that TFR rates in the UK would increase too much. At most, they might be able to make it to 2.1, which is the estimated population replacement rate. Still, the UK is better off than Japan, where naturalization is in its infancy and culturally-speaking Japanese people are very much resistant to the idea of seeing non-ethnic Japanese as Japanese citizens.
John W. I also profoundly disagree with the two child policy, just to be clear.
My husband is Japanese, and rates are incredibly low there. Though his own family bucked the trend, his parents having 3 children and 8 grandchildren, whilst most of their contemporaries were lucky to have one grandchild. That said, 6 of those grandchildren are in the UK, not Japan.
It seems that what is missing from this discussion is the Church’s role in all this. Certainly de-emphasizing the “ideal” 1950’s solution would be a great start. One of my friends works because her family needs the income. Another works because she enjoys working. Dealing with today’s reality is important. The economics have changed in the last 70 years, and a much wider of variety of opportunities is available for spouses.
The next step might be to examine the Church’s possible role in child care. As was suggested on another blog, the Church has buildings that sit large vacant 6 days a week. Might this be an opportunity? Not for indoctrination of infants, but to help working spouses and give the kids a head start.
As mentioned above, there is also the issue of senior care. Particularly with the graying of populations in the Western world. Does the Church have a role here?
And then there is the issue of high birth rates in developing countries. I don’t think that current birth rates in places like Africa are sustainable. Does it make sense for Church leaders in Africa to preach “multiply and replenish the earth”? But unfortunately, it is unlikely leaders will suggest birth control.
These are real social issues that the Church could address. Instead of medical marijuana, Utah’s liquor laws, Colorado cakes, LGBTQ+ discrimination, etc.
I had not heard of Senator Romney’s proposal and I like it. Parents need resources to raise children financially, educationally, and emotionally. We can’t live in the past and society looks different now. Housing costs alone are making it impossible for single income earners to survive. It does feel like since women have taken care of children for years we will just continue to figure it out, and I think many women are realizing it just doesn’t work. Senator Romney’s idea at least gives families some flexibility with money or time.
Deborah does bring up a good point about elder care as well. We need to start valuing all kinds of work even if it is in the home.