Women Warned: Procreate!

// 19 February 2006

Nary a month goes by without a new study berating or warning or generally telling off women for not having enough babies. First we had fertility tests so working women could tell how many years we have left to get pregnant before the equipment gives out. Now, a think-tank is calling for a £11 billion campaign to get women out of the office and into Mothercare.

The Observer reports that Britain is suffering a “baby shortage” that puts our ability to pay for an aging population’s pensions and health care at risk.

The Institute for Public Policy Research says that if women could have as many children as they wanted an extra 90,000 babies a year would be born.

Now, on the face of it, this is just more barely-concealed claptrap designed to frighten women out of the workplace. But the IPPR acknowledges that if women are putting off having children, it is because of the financial and career penalties they know are waiting for them on the “mummy track”. A recent Equal Opportunities Commission report revealed 20 per cent of pregnant women face dismissal or financial loss when they return to work. Many are forced to re-enter the workforce on lower pay, in less senior jobs, part time, with lessened chances of promotion. So what’s the problem? Lets look at some of their suggestions:

The ‘baby gap’ emerging between maternal desire and reality now threatens a demographic crisis as too few children are born to support future elderly dependants, the study warns. By 2074, the year when many born now will be retiring, the pressure on public spending from an ageing population could require an 8p rise in income tax if births are at the lowest end of official forecasts.

With childlessness now forecast on a scale not seen since the mass male fatalities of the First World War destroyed many women’s hopes of motherhood, the IPPR urges government intervention to raise the birth rate by making working parenthood more appealing to both mothers and fathers.

It advocates free nursery places for two-year-olds, paternity leave paid at 90 per cent of a man’s salary, and three months of paid parental leave to be taken at any point before the child is five, with one month reserved for fathers. That would cost up to £11bn a year by 2020 – about £183 for every British man, woman and child.

‘This is not a report that says to women “stay at home and have children”,’ said Nick Pearce, director of the IPPR. ‘Our society depends on women working, being able to fulfil their aspirations and have greater equality at work – and we need better to support that.’

Yes, the IPPR isn’t about producing a generation of barefoot and pregnant women. But their proposals do not address the inequalities faced by women who choose to have children. They are about encouraging men to take paternity leave: granting them 90% of their salary, a figure which – because men are still statistically better paid – will be well in excess of the payments most women can expect from their employers.

Trade Secretary Alan Johnson calls the report a “welcome contribution”, and the Observer notes that Gordon Brown, the current Chanceller and de-facto Prime Minister In Waiting, is thinking about the gender pay gap. But I suggest they should be paying more attention to the EOC than a report that seems (from the Observer story) to focus more on how to entice men into the home than how to lessen the discrimination faced by women. Now the first tactic can be useful, and could lead to a more equitable division of labour. But without the second, it doesn’t stand up.

And if you thought the Dark Ages were over…

A man in Iowa has been charged with kidnapping his wife, reports NBC.

According to court records, Frey’s wife told police her husband tied her to their bed with a rope and sexually assaulted her at least three times. Frey’s wife also provided police with an alleged “marriage contract,” which was entitled “Contract of Wifely Expectations.” In it, Frey allegedly gave his wife chances to earn “good behavior days” — or GBDs — by complying with certain demands, such as hygiene and self-care. “You will shave every third day,” the contract states. “You will be naked within 20 minutes of the kids being in bed.”

The document spells out how many points can be earned by performing certain sex acts.

Frey’s wife said she never signed the contract.

Smoking Gun publishes the full, far more explicit, document here.

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