Mothers of the Century (21st)

Prepare to be impressed with yourselves, girls.  The US Census Bureau just put out new numbers on maternity leave and employment which show we’ve spent the past 40 years investing wisely in ourselves.  First time mothers are more likely to have at least an undergrad degree by the time they give birth, now at an average age of 25.  In fact, if a woman delays her first birth until age 30, she’ll probably join the 43% of mothers with a college degree.  Teen pregnancy has dropped from 36% in 1970 to 21% in 2007.  Births to women over age 35 have gone up by a factor of eight.  Delaying pregnancy and gaining education are two of the best things women can do for themselves and their children, and we’re doing it.

Just about three quarters of new mothers are employed before they give birth.  More than half are working full-time.  Sixty-six percent work during their pregnancy, but among the over-30 first-time  mothers, 80% worked while pregnant.  Overall, women are working much longer into their pregnancies.  Once they deliver, about half receive some kind of paid leave, but how much pay and for how long is not recorded, as there is no requirement that they receive any paid maternity leave at all.  College-educated, older, and full-time employed mothers are the most likely to use some form of paid leave.  Having only a high school diploma, working part-time and being a younger mother are characteristics suggesting paid maternity leave is not an option.

If a woman was employed before giving birth, there’s a 59% chance she’ll be clocking back in by the time her baby is 3 months old.  Almost three quarters of new mothers are back 6 months after, and nearly 80% are back one year after the birth.  Obviously, those most dependent upon their own earnings  returned to work the most quickly, but those lacking a high school education are not likely to return to work even when the baby celebrates his or her first birthday.  Women with college degrees or higher, and who had some paid maternity leave, are likely back by the five month mark.  Most women who go back to work do so at the same employer, and 75% of them work the same number of hours they did before becoming mothers.

Taken all together, pregnant women are now more likely to be better educated, older, and employed when they give birth.  They go back to work in a matter of weeks or months after delivering, and they mostly stick to their pre-baby work hours.  Considering how a baby turns your life and your household upside down, that’s nothing short of extraordinary.  Notwithstanding the fact that the employment world was most definitely not designed with us in mind, and still stiffs us on wages, we continue to show up, work hard, deliver the goods, and push ourselves, all while keeping the lid on the pot at home.  All this, and without the supports the rest of the modern world sees fit to provide, like paid leave for both parents without regard to income level, decent childcare, part-time employment standards, alternative schedules, and the ability to ask for a flexible schedule without fear of being fired.  Not to mention pension credits for the years spent caregiving.  And yet, mothers are the ones who say they feel guilty.  Astonishing!  Where’s the public outrage?  Do you feel even just the slightest bit taken advantage of?

“Til next time,

Your (Wo)Man in Washington

About Valerie Young

Valerie Young is a public policy analyst who focuses on the economic status of mothers and other family caregivers. She promotes social justice by arming mothers with information and a healthy dose of outrage. She is the Advocacy Coordinator at the National Association of Mothers' Centers, and is a reporter for The Shriver Report and contributor to Brain/Child Magazine. Follow her blog, Your (Wo)Man in Washington, on Twitter @WomanInDC and on Facebook as Valerie Young and Your (Wo)Man in Washington.

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  • single parent benefits

    Nice post. Thanks for sharing. In my opinion it is very essential for a mother to be financially independent to secure her future. If special scholarships are given to women who stay single till 30yrs of age, it is commendable. I appreciate the idea. It will further decrease the financial crises faced by a woman in case she gets single.

  • Anonymous

    Paid leave is available for those who plan ahead and work for the right employers. Short term disability replaces a portion of income during maternity leave, and provides extra coverage in case of complications before delivery. Employers must first offer the benefit. Women would pay the premium themselves. This should be ubiquitous given the importance – but it’s not.