First, former Miami Herald reporter Elinor Burkett, childless herself, became angry over what struck her as a torrent of "family-friendly" political rhetoric and vented her feelings by writing The Baby Boon, last year's scathing indictment of policies that "cheat the childless." Now comes a rebuttal. Following the birth of her only child, former New York Times economic reporter Ann Crittenden became angry that motherhood had damaged her financial well-being and caused her to "shed status like the skin off a snake." Under the title The Price of Motherhood, published last month, she vented her feelings in a scathing indictment of policies that cheat mothers.
Given the passion each author musters, mothers will be relieved that Crittenden, for the moment, has the last word. Though her thesis--that parenting imposes unfair penalties on women--is as old as motherhood itself, she stitches together recent research with a brief history of wifery and turns out a fresh, persuasive argument. Inflexible workplaces, financial inequities in marriage (and divorce), and the ineligibility of unpaid caregivers for the government's major social-insurance programs make motherhood the "single biggest risk factor for poverty in old age," she writes. Her recipe for "bring[ing] children up without putting women down" calls for expensive ingredients: longer paid parental leaves, shorter workweeks, universal preschool, equal income sharing after divorces that involve dependent children. Not everyone will swallow Crittenden's argument whole, but many will savor the tartness of the vigorous public debate The Price is sure to inspire.
--By Megan Rutherford