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Opting in or Opting Out. Social Policies and the Childbearing and Childrearing Choices of Smart Women

In the last two days, there have been two highly controversial and widely read articles that have explored the choices that women are forced to make about having a career and having children.

In an article in the Guardian by Sadhbh Walshe titled, "Should we care that smart women aren't having kids", women who have achieved academically and in their careers are having low birthrates. Duh!

This is based on some new research that is rather controversial. According to Satoshi Kanazawa, a psychologist from London School of Economics "maternal urges drop by 25% with every extra 15 IQ points". He discusses his findings in his new book, The Intelligence Paradox. I am not sure why Kanazawa thinks it is a paradox because the social policies in place for women with children do not provide an incentive for making this choice.

On the other hand, the New York Times' Judith Warner wrote an article titled, "The Opt-Out generation wants back in" in which she details the trials and successes of women who chose to have children and decided to leave successful careers and stay home to raise them. Mostly there are trials and very few successes. It turns out that women who are choosing not to have children are making a decision which current social policy supports through its neglect of families.

So what are the social policy requirements that may change women's decisions to have children and when they have children, have the freedom to stay home and return to careers??
  1. Fully covered maternity care so that co-pays and lack of insurance does not present a cost barrier to giving birth. Being in debt from having a baby just when you need the money is not conducive to choosing to give birth.
  2. Paid maternity leave. As one of the last countries on earth that does not provide a federally mandated paid leave after pregnancy, (California and New Jersey excepted), the USA provides a hostile environment for women who want to have children and return to work. It also provides a hostile environment for children who are often weaned because many workplaces are not conducive to pumping. All Vault 100 law firms and Fortune 100 companies have paid maternity (and often paternity) leave because they know it's good for recruiting and retaining the best talent, which makes their companies competitive and saves them money.
  3. Child benefit that is paid to the parent who is not in the workforce. This would provide a source of income support that is not directly tied to the breadwinner and would reduce the impact that income dependency has on a relationship.
  4. Subsidized high-quality childcare for everyone. For many poor women, staying home is the better economic choice and for middle class women, the economic incentive to work is so small that they are often doing it for reasons of identity, accomplishment and a more egalitarian relationship with their spouse. 
  5. A school day that lines up with the workday so that after-school programs are not required (they are very costly and inconvenient) and students could learn more in a longer school day.
  6. Social security benefits that give women credit for staying home to care for children. If it costs a woman to have someone else care for their children then their work as a mother clearly has economic value. How we calculate that value is another issue but women should not be fiscally penalized in their old age for raising their children.
  7. Lastly, what cannot be legislated are the antiquated and deeply ingrained value systems that infiltrate even the most evolved relationships once a 'traditional' relationship is created based on woman out of the paid workforce and husband the only breadwinner. The challenge is that once a woman knows the power and freedom of earning her own way, it is hard to depend on her spouse for money. And once that woman is unemployed, men's expectations of her change.


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