Wednesday, March 10, 2021

International Women's Day

Yesterday was International Women's Day. 

I'm not sure when we got excited about celebrating this day. I think we—as a collective culture—are simply, suddenly more excited about celebrating things, about recognizing things. Or perhaps I'm simply more cognizant of it. I don't know. 

I first encountered International Women's Day in Russia on March 8, 2004. We had a big party at the church where the men presented the women with a rather terrible piece of artwork—a plaster hanging of the number 8. There was a talent show, which was wonderful to experience, lots of refreshments. And my little "host" brother, Alyosha recited a poem for me that he had learned at school: "My dearest, darling mother / I love you very much / I want you to be happy / on the 8th of March."

Wikipedia tells me that International Women's Day became a "mainstream global holiday following its adoption by the United Nations in 1977," but this does use of global doesn't actually include North America because it was largely not a thing here. I had never even heard of it until living in Russia. 

But it certainly is gaining traction here. I'm surprised at how many friends are joining in the celebration of women given the holiday'

Yesterday was also my friend Holly's first day back at work after starting her (paid!) maternity leave eighteen months ago. When I saw her post a little collage of her sweet little baby—who she got to watch learn how to roll over and crawl and walk and talk, who she got to be with through multiple surgeries (clef lip), who she got to bond with and just be a mom with—I was so happy for her. I was nervous for her, too, because she's scared to go back to work, to leave him behind with a sitter, to be away. 

I was also seething mad.

Why don't we have anything like that in place here?

And curious.

What would my life look like if we did have something like that in place? Would I have made different choices? What would our family look like? What would my career (that I absolutely don't have) look like?

I'm happy being a mom, but I don't like how unsupported mothers (and therefore families) are in the United States. It upsets me that mothers are forced back to work so soon after giving birth, if they plan to return to work, or they resign (both literally and figuratively) because they know, like I knew, that they would want to spend more time with their babies than 12 weeks. 12 weeks that are "guaranteed" by law, but which are really not encouraged by employers, and which are usually unpaid.

This after having to pay for childbirth!

Insured patients averaged $4500 out-of-pocket for childbirth in 2015 (I know in 2017 we paid a couple thousand dollars for Alexander). So, after paying for a baby mothers are also expected to go without a paycheck as well! Which just rankles me!

According to eHealth, "In 2020, the average national cost for health insurance is $456 for an individual and $1,152 for a family per month," so over the course of a pregnancy, a family will spend $11,520 on insurance and will be expected to meet their deductible (averaging another $4500) and then if the mother is able to take maternity leave (assuming she's worked enough hours in the 12 months preceding her leave) the family has to go without her wages. And then when she returns to work—and this is the real kicker (at least it was for us when we were first making this kind of calculation—childcare costs begin. 

VeryWell Family states that "the average cost of center-based daycare in the United States is $11,896 per year ($991 a month) for infants and $10,158 ($847 a month) for toddlers" with prices going down by about another thousand dollars annually for preschoolers. When we did the math when Rachel was born we decided that it wasn't worth it for me to go to work only to, essentially, bring no money home. The better choice, for us, was for me to stay home and raise our children (while also essentially brining no money home...but at least I got to be with my babies).

Add to this our other economic constraints (the high cost of housing, low minimum wage, ridiculous student loans, etc) and people just...aren't having babies. It's simply too scary to have a baby right now, but Professor Dowell Myers calls this "baby bust" a crisis: "We need to have enough working-age people to carry the load of these seniors, who deserve their retirement, they deserve all their entitlements, and they're gonna live out another 30 years," he said. "Nobody in the history of the globe has had so many older people to deal with."

I often hear the argument that parents shouldn't be having children they can't afford (I won't look for a source for this argument, but I don't think you'd really have to look far to find this being stated) and that we can't have socialist programs taking over our country. But, like, did you ever think that perhaps you shouldn't get old if you can't afford to get old? Unfortunately, not getting old is not a choice that any of us can make (not really). I hope to end up old (I guess). And who is it that pays for social security? 

It's young people.

You might argue, "Well, I've saved up for retirement! I don't need any young people to pay for my well-being in my old age!" To this I ask, who will your home care nurse be? Your doctor? Your housecleaner? Who will cut your lawn? Who will run out to buy you groceries because there's a wild pandemic and you're high risk and can't leave your house?

Again—young people.

Wanna guess where young people come from?

From babies.

And want to guess where babies come from?

From people who really aren't sure if they can afford to have a baby in the first place. Because this is America. 

Our family is very excited about the child benefit money that will hopefully be coming this next year This NPR piece explains so well how far that $300 per child can go for a struggling family. Our family doesn't qualify as struggling (anymore). We do know what it's like to live below the poverty line, but as my friend Crystal pointed out to me once, we did so knowing (or at least believing) that it was temporary and that's a different kind of poverty. It's a chosen poverty, a privileged poverty. Still, the opening line of this NPR piece felt very familiar to me. Like, it's wild to me that there are people who buy their children knew clothes (regularly; we do sometimes), that they can afford to take their children to the zoo (it would cost our family $250+ to visit the aquarium, which is a little beyond our budget for a family day trip (and they don't even have a membership option that would "fit" our family)).

Anyway, I don't see this child benefit money as "ramming through a socialist agenda." I see it as investing in our future. We want children to be cared for responsibly so they become caring, responsible adults. It takes money to care for children, to provide them with stability. Not having to worry about money as much will make for parents who aren't as stressed out. Parents who aren't stressed out are better parents. 

It's high time we invested in children and families. 

(Let's do schools next because...our education system could use a little TLC).


  1. Do you know if countries that support women and children more generously have higher birthrates because of that support? Does having those extra funds mean more couples are willing to have children in order to support all the old people in the country? I often hear about the aging of countries, and after reading your post, it made me wonder if there is any correlation between more gov't support for mothers and children and that needed higher birthrates.

  2. There are actually lots of studies on this topic. Here is one example from 2020, found in Google Scholar.

  3. I'm glad you commented, Mom, because I've been meaning to get back here to comment. I haven't looked up the studies (though I have that Korean study up in a new tab to look at in a minute). My gut answer is yes...and no.

    I mean, we know that as women become more educated they tend to wait longer to be married and then have fewer children. So to that point, I think that would certainly lower the birth rate. But I also think that incentives (the promise of stability) do encourage people to consider having children so I think that could help raise (or stabilize) the birth rate.

    I think one of the articles I linked to discussed the idea that immigration would actually make up for the lack of population replenishing, so...that's a possibility as well.

    But I think that's an interesting question. I know there are European studies about this as well, so I'll do a little looking into things. :)

  4. They have been doing this in Canada forever--at least, as long as MY forever. Now it is called the Canada Child Benefit. When I was a child, because yes, my mother got it for me and my siblings, it was called Family Allowance. It was literally my mother's only monthly income, because my dad was a farmer, so he got paid only at harvest time--so they had income only during the months of about August through November, and then they had to budget that money to use for the rest of the year. But the family allowance check, which came once a month and addressed to my mom, was something she was delighted to receive. In a bad year, if there was some unforeseen weather problem, or physical problem (like my dad's accident) she knew that she could care for the needs of the children. Pretty cool.

    1. I looked it up--the legislation was introduced and passed in Canada in 1944, and the first check rolled out in 1945. It was an established program when my mom got her first check in 1950 when my big brother was born.