Mothers may be nearing extinction. Not only is motherhood ridiculed in popular culture, and often ignored by our politicians, but mothers themselves are becoming more and more rare. Consider some recent Australian figures.
In 2001 the crude marriage rate of 5.3 marriages per 1,000 population was the lowest on record. In 2002 the total fertility rate was 1.73 babies per woman, well below the replacement rate of 2.1. The teenage fertility rate of 18.1 births per 1,000 females was much lower than other comparable countries (51.1 in the US, 29.8 in New Zealand, and 29.7 in the UK). And based on estimates for 2000, 24 per cent of women currently in their reproductive years will remain childless.
If and when governments do get involved to help turn around these discouraging trends, it is usually a case of bandaging the symptoms instead of dealing with the root problems.
Consider a proposal made by the Federal Government last year. It announced a scheme to spend $39 million on job training skills for stay-at-home parents – mostly middle-aged mothers – to help them make the needed adjustments to get back into the workforce. The “Transition to Work” program would allow some 100,000 people to receive $400 to $800 for training to make them employable again. For those wanting to return to the workforce this may well be of some help, but there are some problems with the scheme which need to be outlined.
First, some of the tax-payer training seems a bit condescending, e.g., grooming skills, driving skills, and self-confidence training. For example, one would think that most mothers have probably driven more than men, what with running the kids to school, basketball lessons, cricket practice, piano lessons, the Scouts, etc. And one would imagine that most 40-year-old women have mastered the art of applying lipstick or mascara.
Second, many employers know that mature women are the most desirable employees. They are in many ways more skilled than their male counterparts. Mothers are multi-skilled workers. Their time with children has made them become adept at education, welfare, health care, food preparation, management techniques, and relationship skills. They have learned to meet deadlines, balance the books and deal with crisis situations, making them the kind of people employers look for.
While men will be included in the Federal program, it seems the women are the primary target. However, it could be argued that men may need such training even more. Your typical unemployed male has worked at an assembly line at a factory for 20 years, and knows little else. When he is retrenched, he often lacks the skills and training needed to get a new job in today’s changing world. So why not devote more resources to men?
Third, this seems to be yet another attempt by governments, influenced by feminist philosophy, to woo women into the paid workplace. It reflects the idea that the only good woman is a career woman. It reinforces the idea hammered into women over the past few decades that homemaking and motherhood are second-class occupations.
Governments should treat women equally, and offer them a level playing field. It should not privilege the career woman at the expense of the homemaker. It should offer equal economic incentives to both groups, and not seek to bribe, coerce or otherwise influence women’s life choices.
Indeed, given the bad rap motherhood and homemaking has received lately, one could argue that stay-at-home mums should be offered cash for self-confidence courses as well – they probably need them more.
The truth is, homemakers contribute more to the Australian economy than any other group. The value of their work is never recorded in the Gross Domestic Product, but it far outstrips other revenue sources.
The work done by mothers and homemakers is probably the most important contribution made to society. Such valuable work should be recognised as well as compensated. Thus if the government wants to dish out $40 million of our tax dollars to persuade women to enter the paid workplace, perhaps it should offer an equal amount to those who provide the social cement to help keep society together.