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The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued Paperback – January 1, 2002

4.0 out of 5 stars 70 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Many mothers have long suspected that they're getting the short end of the deal--and finally, a highly respected economics journalist proves they're not just griping. Despite all the lip service given to the importance of motherhood, American mothers are not only not paid for all the work they do, but also penalized for it. "The gift of care can be both selfless and exploited," writes Ann Crittenden in this intrepid and groundbreaking work. Motherhood is dangerously undervalued--it's now the single biggest risk factor for poverty in old age. Mothers lose out in forgone income if they stay at home, an inflexible job market makes part-time work scarce or inadequately paid, and in the case of divorce, they're refused family assets by divorce laws that don't count their unpaid work.

Crittenden is fond of pointing out the hypocrisies plaguing America, and one is the belief in a welfare state enabling single mothers. The true welfare state, she says, protects paid workers from unforeseen risks through social security, unemployment insurance, and workman's compensation. Mothers who work part-time or not at all have no such safety net and typically take a nosedive into poverty, along with their children, after divorce or the death of their spouse. Married working moms are also punished--they pay the highest taxes on earned income in America. Crittenden's impassioned argument is based on research in a variety of fields, from economics to child development to demography. She shows how mothers were demoted from an economic asset to dependents, why welfare for only a certain group of mothers bred bitterness among the rest, and why there is currently an exodus of highly trained women from the work force.

Crittenden also travels far and wide for solutions. She finds them not only in such European nations as Sweden--which has abolished child poverty by giving mothers a year's paid leave, cash subsidies, and flexible work schedules--but in the U.S. military, which runs the best subsidized child-care program in the country and knows the value of providing special benefits to those who selflessly serve their country. Ultimately, Crittenden insists, the equality women have been fighting for will only be achieved when mothers are recognized as productive citizens creating a much-needed public good--human capital, or in layman's terms, well-raised children who grow into productive, law abiding citizens (and who pay into social security). This is an admirable--and charged--defense of motherhood, reminding us that unpaid female labor is "the priceless, invisible heart of the economy," and those who engage in this labor deserve the same rights, and the same respect, as other workers. --Lesley Reed --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Americans extol motherhood as "the most important job in the world," yet when couples divorce, mothers' and their children's standards of living usually decline precipitously, while fathers' rise. Crittenden, a former economics reporter for the New York Times, lays out the going rate for a woman's time: "$150 an hour or more as a professional, $50 an hour or more in some businesses, $15 an hour or so as a teacher, $5 to $8 an hour as a day-care worker and zero as a mother." Mothers (whose labor is not calculated in any official economic index) have no unemployment insurance to tide them over after divorce, no workers' compensation if they're injured and no Social Security benefits for the work they do, although a housekeeper or nanny paid for the same work would earn such benefits. In a breezy, journalistic style, Crittenden chronicles how the Industrial Revolution created the idea of the "unproductive housewife," how this concept penalizes women after divorce and how tax policies encourage mothers to quit work. Crittenden proposes several remedies, some available in most industrialized countries (paid maternity leave, flexible work hours for parents, universal preschool, free health coverage for children) and others seemingly utopian (Social Security credits for mothering, remedying the tax bias against married working mothers). This thoroughly documented and incisive book is must reading for women contemplating parenthood or divorce, and could prove an organizing tool for women's organizations. Agent, Katinka Matson. (Feb. 15) Forecast: Bolstered by a seven-city tour to top markets, this is a great choice for women's reading groups, offering facts and figures that supplement recent investigations of the emotional terrain of motherhood, such as Susan Maushart's The Mask of Motherhood and Peggy Orenstein's Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Kids, Love, and Life in a Half-Changed World.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; First Edition edition (January 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805066195
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805066197
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #310,403 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Forget Sylvia Ann Hewlett's "Creating a Life" and the furor it has spawned with its encouragement that professional women marry and start their families early. THIS is the book that deserved a TIME magazine cover story, and the fact that Hewlett's book has overshadowed Crittenden's in publicity speaks volumes about our culture's unwillingness to address the bottom line about motherhood. Quite simply, "The Price of Motherhood" answers all the questions about women's reluctance to start families when they are younger and more reproductively healthy. Doing so puts them at a hugely greater risk for poverty, as Crittenden so painstakingly documents in this book. Our nation expects women to bear ALL the opportunity costs of motherhood, without providing any sort of support or safety net for those who undertake the public service of raising and educating the next generation of law-abiding, productive citizens. "The Price of Motherhood" provides the evidence to support what we all know to be true, on some level. Trust me -- I'm the mother of a 4-year-old with another baby on the way, and even with my graduate degree, 15+ years of work experience and many professional accomplishments, I have been marginalized like you wouldn't believe since I became a mom. The sad truth is that most women in the throes of childrearing are so exhausted and dependent that they probably will never band together to become the political force that will create the pressure necessary to change this sad reality. Kudos to Crittenden, whose son is nearly grown, for returning to this issue at this point in her life (she's nearly 60) and taking a stand for the women and children -- and the society -- that will follow her.
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Format: Hardcover
Ann Crittenden should be thanked for producing a book relevant to sociologists, women's studies scholars, and mother's everywhere. Her prose is readable; her scholarship exhaustive and convincing. Every married woman or mother (and often those who are both) has said to herself, "There's something not fair here, I just can't put my finger on it." Well, Crittenden puts her finger on it! Corporate attitudes (from often "family friendly" companies), taxes, divorce law, and rotten child care all enter her gun sight as she explains the current situation, how we got here, and what we need to do TO MAKE IT FAIR. The answers are like the problems: complex and difficult to implement. That does not mean, however, that the solutions aren't worth attempting - they are.
I especially enjoyed the author's analysis of countries like Sweden and France and how they have handled issues surrounding parenting and work. The most interesting factor was the description from the member of Sweden's "Father Commission" as to why Sweden adopted such liberal and finanically supportive policy for parents. It seems that at the time of widesweeping legislation offering financial support to new parents, Sweden was undergoing a shortage of labor. Rather than relying on the importation of labor, Sweden realized its greatest resource were Swedish women who faced obstacles to working when their children were young - unreliable child care, no guaranteed job when they returned to work, lack of flex time, etc. Sweden's government decided to remove the obstacles, jack up financial support, offer great child care, and put in place crucial legislation encouraging parents (read "men and women") to spend time with their kids.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I see that there are a number of folks who found this book not worthwhile at all. I'm sorry to see that so many of them are women. Crittenden, a former NEW YORK TIMES reporter and one-time Pulitzer Prize-nominee, knows whereof she speaks and writes. While the book is scholarly in tone and comes complete with copious footnotes, a vast bibliography, and so on, the passion in Crittenden's voice comes through loud and clear. Fact: Women who stay home with their kids are at a disadvantage financially and in terms of power. Fact: Women who stay home with their kids are punished (or simply not given the same breaks) by a tax system which apparently assents to the existence only of paid workers. Fact: This is a worldwide problem, with worldwide implications. I could go on and on about this book, but the best recommendation I can give you is to READ IT IMMEDIATELY. I have bought half a dozen copies of the book, in hard cover, because I felt so strongly about the value of what Crittenden has to say. Every woman I've given it to has thanked me and pronounced it fascinating, eye-opening and important reading. Even if you are not a woman--or not even a parent--you will learn a great deal from this extremely fine book on a neglected topic. Don't wait to read it yourself--get to it today!
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Format: Paperback
I found this book very depressing and gripping at the same time -- not just from the vantage point of a woman who hopes to have children someday, but as an American citizen. The American work ethic, which has on the one hand been the engine for so much growth and prosperity, has done so without proper acknowledgment of its mothers. In many ways, it has done so at the expense of its mothers. As a professional woman in a high-paying demanding career, I did not expect to feel this way after reading this book, but here I am. As Ms. Crittenden points out, those of us who work long hours in the "public" world fail to appreciate the important work that must be done at home -- and at the same time resent the few policies and perks that make that job easier. Why should we support these "freeloaders"? Because in the long run, our society will come to regret that we didn't support -- and yes, subsidize -- the unpaid and largely invisible work of childrearing. (We pay generous subsidies to the brave men and women who serve our country in peacetime and in war -- don't mothers perform an important service as well?)
In my opinion, this book did a good job of identifying and explaining the most important issues relating to parenting and proposing solutions to those problems. The policies that Ms. Crittenden advocates are indeed hard to swallow, especially after our collective repudiation of the "welfare queen" -- how can we then embrace radical solutions like giving all new mothers a paid year off to raise their children? It's a good question -- but isn't it worth thinking about? In Scandinavia, mothers (and fathers) are given the option to take a year off with something like 80% pay to care for very young children.
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