Below is a transcript for the PBS (Public Broadcasting) show Think Tank with
Ben Wattenberg. Here in Washington it was broadcast Saturday on WETA and
Sunday on WHUT (Howard University Television).
PBS has not been very hospitable to fathers, so getting on this show was a
minor breakthrough. I was not the main attraction, and what was broadcast
and transcribed here is a redaction of a fairly long conversation. The book
being discussed is Ann Crittenden, The Price of Motherhood (Metropolitan
Books, 2001). Cathy Young was circulating a review a while back that was a
pretty fair apppraisal. For our purposes perhaps the most important point
is that divorce is the assumption, largely unspoken, that runs throughout
her argument that motherhood should be legally recognized by the state.
When divorce is mentioned explicitly, she invariably implies it's the father
who has absconded (as she does here). I couldn't get a lot of nuance in,
but I think it was worth hammering these points, and the others did pick up
We should try to get on this show again, to discuss our issues more
directly. To send a letter to the show, write to email@example.com.
Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg
Are Mothers Getting A Bad Deal?
MR. WATTENBERG: Hello, I'm Ben Wattenberg. Great children, a great career. A
great family. Today's modern woman can have it all, can't they? A new book
by Ann Crittenden says not really. Crittenden argues that despite recent
economic gains, motherhood is still a pricey and dicey proposition. In order
to have children, a great joy and fulfillment says Crittenden, women take a
big cut in pay, hurt their future job prospects and are often ignored. It's
not right. It's not fair. Do mothers give up too much? If so, what can be
done about it?
To find out, Think Tank is joined by Ann Crittenden, author of The Price of
Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job In The World Is Still The Least
Valued. Christina Hoff Somers, senior fellow at the American Enterprise
Institute and author of The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is
Harming Our Young Men and Stephen Baskerville, professor of Political
Science at Howard University. The topic before the house: Are Mothers
Getting a Bad Deal? This week on Think Tank.
The data about American women reflect remarkable change. Since 1960, the
percentage of women active in the labor force has climbed from 38 percent to
60 percent. Women are earning more too and often have career prospects
nearly equal to those of men, unless says author Ann Crittenden, they want
to be mothers. In that case, she argues women face a mommy tax as a result;
more women are foregoing having children altogether. The proportion of women
who remain childless into their forties has almost doubled since 1980,
rising from 10 percent to 19 percent. Crittenden writes favorably of a
variety of potential fixes, including a generous paid family leave
allowance, a shortened work week, universal pre-school, and most important,
a government funded salary for mothers. She points to France and Sweden as
models of mother-friendly governments. Her critics applaud motherhood, but
also salute fathers and are skeptical of more government.
Ladies, gentleman, thank you for joining us. Anne Crittenden, suppose you
drive the bus for a while. This is your book, I spent all weekend and up to
late last night reading it, it's very interesting. It's going to be very
controversial. I have some things to controverse about it, but let's hear it
from you. What's it about? What's the thesis?
MS. ANN CRITTENDEN: Okay, I'm really trying to make two major points in this
book and the first is that raising children is without any question, the
most important job in the economy. It's creating what economists call human
capital, who are the workers, the taxpayers, the future of the country. So
it's serious economic, highly skilled work. Number two point I want to make
is: That this very heart of the economy is given no economic recognition at
all. So I go through in the book, showing how no major institution really
puts economic value on what is very material work. It's basically valued as
zero. So that's-those are my-that's my thesis. And that this has, you know,
serious ramifications for mothers, for children and for the economy itself.
MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Does anyone on this panel disagree with the idea that
raising a child is the most important job in the world?
MS. CHRISTINA HOFF SOMMERS: Well, it's a very important job. There are many
jobs, it's a cooperative effort in creating a dynamic economy and I've
always thought that, for example, a traditional family where one person,
usually the mother, stays home and takes care of the children and the father
goes out and work, or you can have reverse sometimes, men stay home. That
seems to work very well, because it is very, very demanding.
MR. WATTENBERG: But then-let me rephrase it. No one here disagrees with the
idea that motherhood is very important.
DR. STEPHEN BASKERVILLE: No, absolutely not.
MR. WATTENBERG: Okay.
DR. BASKERVILLE: I would argue that fatherhood is in some ways just as
MR. WATTENBERG: About that-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Raising kids is the way I would put it. Whoever does it.
MR. WATTENBERG: We're going to come to that. Now, the idea that mothers get
no recognition that is in some large measure a data phenomenon, you say we
construct this artificial number called the Gross Domestic Product and we
don't count the value of women's labor, because it is an account system of
what's bought and what's sold.
MS. CRITTENDEN: Right. It's a money transaction too.
MR. WATTENBERG: So that's what it is. It's not-what's not bought and not
sold, why does that trouble you so much?
MS. CRITTENDEN: I, myself, started out thinking it's not a really
particularly big deal. I came to think it really is, because other
countries, other than the US really do have begun to measure it, and they
are finding out that the amount of work in the unpaid economy is about
one-third to forty, even fifty percent in some countries, the amount of work
in the paid economy. When you see the aggregate picture, all this unpaid
labor, which mostly women are doing and then you take the aggregate income
women are earning, you see that they work longer hours than men in every
country in the world and they make less money than men in every country in
the world. So that's kind of important if you're looking at social
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: I'm just a little confused because there's a lot of unpaid
labor. For example, the value of friendship-what friends do for one another
is not part of the-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Usually the definition of labor does not include friendship-
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: No, a friend-
MS. CRITTENDEN: It's something-
MS. CRITTENDEN: A friend can give advice, you sometimes provide the services
of a psychologist or a chauffeur or a parent. Usually if it's work, it's
something you can pay someone else to do for you. It's usually agreed that
about 80 percent of the unpaid work going on is associated with children,
with raising kids.
DR. BASKERVILLE: This may be true. I think there's a danger here and a too
narrow definition of what constitutes raising children. I mean, there are
many things any parent can tell you that raising children requires enormous
sacrifice and enormous costs to both parents. These costs are not limited to
mothers. Mothers may take a cut in salary. Fathers may very well have to
take-work at a job that's boring or dull, has long hours in order to provide
for his children.
MS. CRITTENDEN: Mothers don't have any long or boring jobs-
DR. BASKERVILLE: Fathers-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Never have long and boring jobs. I mean-
MR. WATTENBERG: The point you make in the book is that it is in fact the
most interesting and fulfilling job in the world.
MS. CRITTENDEN: It's also hard work.
MR. WATTENBERG: Of course it's hard work, but-
MS. CRITTENDEN: But fulfilling-if we had a system in marriage where the
income coming in to the adults legally belonged to both adults and to the
children, each one had a claim on it, I think it'd be a fairer system in
what we have now.
DR. BASKERVILLE: But this seems to be contrary to what the gist of the rest
of your book?
MS. CRITTENDEN: Not really.
DR. BASKERVILLE: You seem to be arguing that mothers should have an
independent; you used the word independent quite frequently-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Well-
DR. BASKERVILLE: Independent of men, independent of fathers-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Well, in the context-
DR. BASKERVILLE: Independent of fathers-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Look-
DR. BASKERVILLE: And what you seem to be doing is separating the work that a
woman-typically mothers do from which fathers do and insisting that the
mother's work should be considered to receive legal recognition, should be
regulated by the state-
MS. CRITTENDEN: No. Come on, back off. I think mothers should be equal in
the family. I'm not talking about the state at all. My point is this: We
have a system, a very individualistic system where an income belongs to he
who earns it. He who earns it owns it is the shorthand and that means that
the partner, male or female, I'm not talking gender here. The partner, who
decides to cut back on their income in order to the work it takes to raise a
family, becomes economically vulnerable. I would argue with you, I'm sure,
that an intact marriage, this is no problem. If it's a good marriage, what's
DR. BASKERVILLE: Now, you're getting it-
MS. CRITTENDEN: You know, we're sharing it. Most people share their income.
Most men beat their brains out, share their income with their wives and
children, but we just so happen to live in an individualist society where
half of the marriages end in divorce.
DR. BASKERVILLE: Precisely.
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: One question I have the book is why and with some orthodox
feminists in general, is that why wouldn't the women's movement be more
concerned with stabilizing families with a discouraging divorce. We've had a
MS. CRITTENDEN: Oh, I really am. I don't speak for anybody but myself, and I
really think one of the ways to stabilize it and I've been told this by a
lot of people in the family law system, is to have something that would
require more economic equality after divorce, while children are minors and
that would be a huge disincentive to divorce, particularly to the primary
DR. BASKERVILLE: But this-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Because it's going to cost them a lot more-
DR. BASKERVILLE: This is precisely opposite to what you're saying in the
MS. CRITTENDEN: No, it isn't.
DR. BASKERVILLE: It's predicated-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Say that-
DR. BASKERVILLE: The whole point is predicated on the existence of divorce.
I mean-the economic vulnerability which you claim that mothers have is only
becomes an issue as you just said a moment ago when there's divorce. I mean,
divorce is the subtext that runs through this entire book. It's all
predicated on what is position of the mothers when they get divorced and
most divorces are filed by mothers.
MS. CRITTENDEN: I really shy away from making judgments on who's to blame in
divorce. I didn't get into child custody issues. I think we don't know it.
It's not my business.
MR. WATTENBERG: Excuse me-
MS. CRITTENDEN: But I'm talking about the economic vulnerability of the
caregiver because we have now-we had a phrase called
maternalism-feminization of poverty. I think now we can just call it
maternalization of poverty.
DR. BASKERVILLE: But how does poverty come become an issue unless you're
talking about single parent households? I mean, you're talking about an
entire family, then it's not a gender issue, if you're talking about intact
families. In fact, we know that the greatest anti-poverty program is in
MS. CRITTENDEN: I think the greatest poverty-
DR. BASKERVILLE: Child poverty is not a serious problem involving-when you'
re talking about entire families.
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: I would agree the divorce system is poverty-
MS. CRITTENDEN: It creates poverty-
DR. BASKERVILLE: It does create poverty and what we are creating here is
added incentives for divorce. Financial incentives for divorce-
MS. CRITTENDEN: I had a guy call me from the Brooklyn Court. He's worked in
the Brooklyn system for 30 years. He said these guys-he's typically working
with minorities. The guy is a transit worker, whatever. There incomes about
$40,000. There are two kids. The wife makes maybe 10 or 15. Somebody is
after him because he's a good, solid breadwinner. He's tempted, he leaves
DR. BASKERVILLE: This is not what is causing most divorces-
MS. CRITTENDEN: She goes into poverty-
DR. BASKERVILLE: I want to go-
MS. CRITTENDEN: If these guys tell me, if these men had to pay equal
standard of living for their children after divorce, they would think far
MR. WATTENBERG: But Stephen is saying that that most divorces are engendered
by women. You know that is fact-
MS. CRITTENDEN: I think we know that-
MR. WATTENBERG: I read about 90 percent of this book. I didn't read every
page. Maybe you mentioned it somewhere, but you do not mention that fact and
the clear implication-
MS. CRITTENDEN: I don't think we know that fact-
MR. WATTENBERG: The clear implication is that divorce is some almost
cavalier act by a guy-
MS. CRITTENDEN: I said that? I don't say that-
MR. WATTENBERG: I'm telling you my sense of what you wrote, that it's almost
cavalier act by a middle-age guy whose found another honey and says, see ya.
And that is-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Well, in my age, that's unfortunately common.
DR. BASKERVILLE: It is not common, excuse me. There have been numerous
studies. Sanford Braver, Brenick and Allen-
MS. CRITTENDEN: I've read all-
DR. BASKERVILLE: This is not disputed-
MS. CRITTENDEN: I agree with-
DR. BASKERVILLE: This Australian study; there's no dispute that when young
children are involved, the divorces are filed overwhelmingly by mothers and
this whether-it's not just the filing of the divorce, but the initiation of
the divorce itself.
MS. CRITTENDEN: I don't think this is to the subject-
DR. BASKERVILLE: This is found by the surveys of couples-
MS. CRITTENDEN: The subject is what happens when the divorce occurs-
DR. BASKERVILLE: No, it's precisely the subject-
MS. CRITTENDEN: That's the subject of my book. I'm not analyzing divorce in
MR. WATTENBERG: I want to ask a question. You said in this discussion that
if a marriage remains whole that's not really the problem, yet there are
long, extended passages in your book where you talk about intact marriages
and you say the fact that women are not getting money, this changes the
balance of power between men and women and that women again within a whole
marriage, get the short end of the stick.
MS. CRITTENDEN: I say that what commonly happens in this country when people
have children is the woman will cut back on her paid labor. They're working.
They have kids.
MR. WATTENBERG: Right.
MS. CRITTENDEN: The majority either stop work-paid work altogether, or they
work part time. That amounts to more than half of all mothers, although the
full term working is increasing all the time. But when that happens, the
women's' income falls, obviously. They become dependent on the bread winner
for their standard of living and I do feel that that has a psychological
effect, as well as a loss effect for professional women, not necessarily if
you're not crazy about your job to begin with, which is maybe most people.
And I think the feeling would be ameliorated a great deal if we had fairer
protections in divorce for the care giving and the bread winning partner. If
they were really pairs financially, I think we'd have a lot better
situation-for fairer situation.
DR. BASKERVILLE: This is very disturbing. There's one phrase that runs
through the book which is very troubling and this runs through the whole
family law issue and that is, this term primary caregiver versus bread
winner, I don't believe that it's role of government officials, and I think
we're getting into something very dangerous here when we talk about
government officials going into peoples' homes and deciding who is the
primary caregiver. Who does this job? Who changes the diapers? Who earns the
living? Who fixes the faucets? This sort of thing.
MS. CRITTENDEN: Nobody's talking about that.
DR. BASKERVILLE: This is. We are conducting-
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: Where I would agree a little bit is that some of the
policies that you're asking for are in place in the European countries, but
they have very high tax rates and they do not have-I heard recently on
National Public Radio some economists talking about the United States having
entered a golden age of female entrepreneurship. That the economic
opportunities for women are unprecedented. Young women in Europe, in
Germany, in France, don't have those economic opportunities. Now, I know
they have some protections. They have a nanny state. They're protected in
much more elaborate ways than we are, but yet we have the most dynamic
economy the world has ever seen. The young women in-I teach at a university
and the young women in my classes are more ambitious and more-have more
possibilities than young women there and there's so much to celebrate. Yes,
they're going to have to do some juggling and if they want to have children,
they're going to draw back, but there's so many benefits from that.
MR. WATTENBERG: Anne's book viewed in a different way is a pro-natal book,
that is it is trying to make it easier for this society to go about allowing
people who want to have children to be able to have children and I think
everybody, liberal and conservative, agrees. It is difficult now. The
childcare deduction has eroded the tax creditors and fully phased in. Do you
think that her proposals make some headway in that direction?
DR. BASKERVILLE: I think some of the proposals in there are yes, I would say
would be desirable. I would like to see a shorter workweek. I would like to
see some parental leave for mothers and fathers.
MR. WATTENBERG: Paid.
DR. BASKERVILLE: Paid, some. I think these things have costs though and we
need to debate fully what the costs of these things are. There's nothing
free in this. We've got to accept the fact that people have accepted since
the beginning of civilization that children do have costs. There are
opportunity costs. There are sacrifices that parents have to make. The
sacrifices typically that mothers make are different from the sacrifices
that fathers make and that's probably going to continue as Ms. Crittenden
points out for a while, but there's no way that we can simply say that one
parent makes a disproportional amount of sacrifices in favor of the
children. And that we need to invite the state in to regulate the family
further to even out these supposed inequalities. This is a prescription-
MS. CRITTENDEN: I don't understand why you say these things-
DR. BASKERVILLE: This is a prescription for enormous state intervention-
MS. CRITTENDEN: I don't ask the state to regulate the family-
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: Everybody's got rules and regulations-
MR. WATTENBERG: Excuse me, but you have in here a vast panoply of
MS. CRITTENDEN: Look, Ben-
MR. WATTENBERG: Let me just finish then, just hold on a minute. Each of
which involved greater state regulation and change.
MS. CRITTENDEN: Okay, let's take this-
MR. WATTENBERG: I mean it's not Uncle Sam, it's Aunt Samantha and Auntie Sam
is going to take care of these things-it's going to provide greater daycare
services. It's going to provide children's-
MS. CRITTENDEN: No, it's going to-
MR. WATTENBERG: I think is what you're saying-
MS. CRITTENDEN: It's going to help pay the bills. Let me just put it this
way: I haven't heard you complain about the kind of services we provide the
members of our military. Traditionally, men serve the state by protecting us
against external enemies. Great. Traditionally, women have served the state
while protecting us against internal enemies. Raising the kids. My
fundamental bottom line is those two services are national services and they
are equal and it's-
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: A very odd analogy-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Vastly different-
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: A very odd analogy to compare soldiers and mothers-
MS. CRITTENDEN: I don't think so. I think it's a good one and I would also
compare with farmers. Don't you think raising kids is as important to
raising soybeans? And how many tens of billions of dollars do we throw at
farmers, just so they don't lose their income? We don't do that for children
and we are shooting ourselves in the foot when we do that.
MR. WATTENBERG: Well, of course we do it for children-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Because kids are our most important crop-
MR. WATTENBERG: We do it through a hundred tax policies, including, for
example, the home mortgage deduction. I mean-in order that people can own
their homes with three or four bedrooms so their children can have a bedroom
and you get a tax deduction. There are hundreds if not thousands-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Which is a middle class-
MR. WATTENBERG: Excuse me there are hundreds if not a thousand pieces of
this-I mean, look, between women and children, you're talking about
two-thirds to 70 percent of the people in America. This is-of course they're
being benefited and armed. I don't see how you can isolate this thing.
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: And I also want to say soldiers live often in very
threatening and dangerous environment. It's a massive sacrifice. Whereas
having a child and raising a child is constitutive of the good life. It's
MS. CRITTENDEN: No, I really differ with you. We don't value what women have
historically done as much as we value what men have historically done. That'
s where I really-
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: Well, you know where I do agree in the sentiment of the
book is what for me it was very heartening to find, finally, a feminist
saying something good about having children and raising children.
MR. WATTENBERG: I agree with that.
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: We've had a couple of decades of women's movement that
told us a lot about how to get rid of it, how to have an abortion, how to be
sterilized, how to have 24 hour a day daycare, so you don't have to-the
women's movement has been very good about telling us how to distant
ourselves from children and it's wonderful to find finally someone saying-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Let's have another debate. Let's talk about it differently,
because we all can kind of agree, kids are really important and raising them
is important and we have to look at just exactly how we do deal with this,
fathers as well as mothers.
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: The problem is even deeper. Let me just say one thing: Is
there's an anti-motherhood sentiment that it's so powerful in this society-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Well that was-
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: For example, Paul Vitz is a psychologist at NYU, did a
content analysis of textbooks and readers that children use. You cannot find
a picture of a mother with a child. You're more likely to see a woman with a
jackhammer in an American textbook. It has simply been-and partly because
the feminists said well this stereotypes women. We don't want to have
celebrate a woman with a child. I think we have to move away from that and
recognize that having a family and having children is part of a good life
for most people, not everyone, but for most people-
MS. CRITTENDEN: But you know, it's not at all the feminists who are opposed
to that now, it's the anti-child-this child-free group. That's the only
group I run into that is very vociferous-
MR. WATTENBERG: Would you call-
DR. BASKERVILLE: I think there's a larger issue here that needs to be taken
into consideration and that is I'm all in favor of extolling motherhood and
fatherhood as anybody else here. But what we're talking about is a general
trend here, which is denigrating parenthood and turning parenthood,
especially fatherhood over to the state for control. We are substituting the
state first for the father and increasingly, it seems like we are
substituting the state for the mother. And parents generally are losing not
only rights but their responsibilities in some ways to the power of the
MS. CRITTENDEN: Could you give one specific example?
DR. BASKERVILLE: One specific example? The whole issue that you go into one
chapter on the whole family law-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Give me an example of the state dictating families, what
DR. BASKERVILLE: Well, the whole issue of the whole family law system
involves the takeover of the parental role, the removal of the father-
MS. CRITTENDEN: No, let's be very specific-
DR. BASKERVILLE: The removal of the father from the family. I mean this is
what we're basically talking about here-
MS. CRITTENDEN: Nobody is removing the father from the family-
DR. BASKERVILLE: The entire divorce system is predicated on removing the
father from the family.
MR. WATTENBERG: There is a whole vast body of literature, just as there is
on your side in these various divorce proceedings. You have community
property. You have marital property. You have child support. You have
alimony. You have paternity. It is not as if these women are left
MS. CRITTENDEN: They are left poor though, and I think you can finally cut
through all the organs by just looking at the numbers at the end of the day,
and that is divorced women, single and divorced women are after a divorce,
40 percent of women become poverty level. We're seeing the impoverishment of
women and children under radically reduced circumstances.
MR. WATTENBERG: There are costs-
MS. CRITTENDEN: So and that's not the case of men and I'm sorry, I don't
want that to happen to men. I don't want that to happen to anybody-
MR. WATTENBERG: Excuse me. Hold it. There are parts of your book and you
sort of indicated it just now, that I must say and I say I salute a lot of
what you write and say that are anti-male. Where you-well, excuse me, where
you simply say that the biological facts are these men don't care as much
about their children as women do. If you give men the money they spend it on
things like other babes and drinking. If anyone ever said those things about
if a man wrote that about a woman, we'd have the NOW pickets out there. You'
d have big S for sexist, you know, branded in scarlet on your forehead. Now,
are those sexist attitudes on your part?
MS. CRITTENDEN: No, they are absolutely not. I'm happily married for more
than 20 years and my husband supports everything I have to say-
MR. WATTENBERG: You can be happily married-
MS. CRITTENDEN: And I would never write such a thing. But what I'm reading,
you're talking about something Larry Somers has given lecture after lecture
to the Third World governments about. There is 30, 40, 50, 60 years of
research as high is this ceiling, showing that resources in the hands of
mothers is more likely to be spent on children's health and education, then
resources in the hands of fathers. I would never, ever have the nerve to say
such things if there weren't that kind of data. I have read too many
studies. It's there. That's the data-
MR. WATTENBERG: And therefore-
MS. CRITTENDEN: I'm sorry about that but it's the truth.
MR. WATTENBERG: Women are better than men?
MS. CRITTENDEN: No, I absolutely do not think so whatsoever and, you know, I
go-women are not higher moral creatures, but I think for various reasons,
whatever we don't know the reasons, cultural, acculturation, maybe some kind
of fundamental maternal hormonal instinct at early age, I don't know. This
is the fact.
MR. WATTENBERG: Let's just go around the room real quickly and I need brief
answers. What should happen? What will happen?
MS. CRITTENDEN: Well, I think what will happen is what should happen. I
think as women achieve more power and more stature in society, they're going
to write the rules to make it easier to combine being part of the wider
world and raising children and having time and resources for children.
MS. HOFF SOMMERS: I think the rules will change and I think more and more
young women are going to decide that having a family and taking care of a
home is not a bad choice, but how do we subsidize it-not necessarily
European-style socialism. It'll have to be a new more creative, dynamic and
DR. BASKERVILLE: We should do everything we can to encourage mothers and
fathers and parents generally, but if we're going to subsidize the family,
if we're going to involve the state in the family, we need guarantees that
mothers cannot take the children and run whenever they feel like it.
MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Thank you Stephen Baskerville, Anne Crittenden,
Christina Hoff Sommers. Thank you. Please remember to send us your comments
via e-mail. For Think Tank, I'm Ben Wattenberg.
Stephen Baskerville, PhD
Department of Political Science
Washington, DC 20059