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December 2004 edition:

  • Elsewhere on the web:
    Do babies derail the careers of academic women? Plus links to more articles, commentary and essays of interest from Women’s eNews, AlterNet, and LiteraryMama.

More stay-at-home moms in the U.S.?
Depends on how you look at it.

A new Census report on America’s Families and Living Arrangements found that in 2003, 6 million married mothers in households with children under 15 remained out of the paid work force to “care for home and family.” Fathers in similar households were much less like to identify caring for home and family as their primary reason for being out of the labor force; only 15.6 percent (160,000) claimed to be full-time dads, while 45 percent reported they were ill or disabled. The current figures indicate that 26 percent of married mothers in households with young children— and 18 percent of all U.S. mothers with children under 15— are officially stay-at-home moms.

The new figures appear to be inconsistent with Census data released last year showing that there were 5.2 million at-home mothers in 2002. But before we jump to any conclusions about a sudden astronomical increase in the number of women leaving the workforce to care for their children at home, it’s important to take into account that these studies were measuring different things and using slightly different methods. But the proportion of married mothers who stay at home works out to be about the same in both reports— around 26 percent.

Getting an accurate measurement of the number of “at-home” mothers in the U.S. is problematic, since many married women who have some earnings from paid work consider themselves first and foremost at-home or “full-time” mothers. For example, it’s possible that a high percentage of the 2.7 million married mothers with children under 6 and annual earnings of $5,000 or less describe themselves as at-home moms, but because these mothers are technically in the labor force at least part of the year they aren’t included in the official tally. But no matter how you count them, married at-home moms still make up only a modest percentage of all American mothers. The more controversial issue— and the reason new statistics on mothers’ workforce participation invariably draw national media attention— is whether that’s a good or bad thing.

America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2003
U.S. Census Bureau, November 2004. In .pdf.

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New book compares working hours in the U.S., EU

A new study from the International Labor Organization (www.ilo.org) on working hours in industrialized countries finds there is a gap between the time workers spend on the job and the number hours they would prefer to work. “There are groups of workers with ‘excessively’ long hours who would prefer to work less, and at the same time, there is a sizable group of workers whose hours of work are significantly shorter than they would prefer,” said ILO expert John Messenger, editor of the new publication. The book includes studies from five specialists on the issue of working time in Australia, the European Union, Japan, New Zealand and the United States.

According to an ILO press release, Working Time and Workers’ Preferences in Industrialized Countries: Finding the Balance finds that people working in excess of 50 hours per week in the US and Australia increased from 15 per cent to 20 percent of the workforce during the 1990s. Among those countries included in the study, only Japan (28.1 percent) and New Zealand (21.3 percent) had a higher proportion working more than 50 hours per week. By contrast, in most EU countries the number of people working 50 hours or more per work remains well under 10 percent, with figures ranging from 1.4 percent in the Netherlands to 6.2 in Greece and Ireland. The only exception is the United Kingdom, where some 15.5 percent of the workforce spends 50 hours or more at work.

The overall pattern underlying these variations is that countries with relatively limited regulation of working time, such as the US, the UK and Australia, tend to have a much higher incidence of excessive hours than other countries, according to the book.

In an interview for Take Back Your Time (www.timeday.org), John Messenger comments: “I do think that Europeans generally pay a great deal of attention to their quality of life and are very concerned with protecting it. Of course, a growing number of Americans are becoming concerned about quality of life issues as well, but a key difference between Europe and the US is the extent to which the political will to push a quality of life-oriented agenda has been successfully mobilized.” The complete interview appears in the December 2004 edition of the Time Day newsletter.

From the Take Back Your Time webs site:
An interview with John Messenger of the ILO on working time in the U.S. and EU.

Also of interest in the December Time Day newsletter:
Reports on 2004 Take Back Your Time Day events

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World Health Organization’s
“Great Expectations” series on maternal health

In the lead up to World Health Day on April 7, 2005, WHO (www.who.int) is publishing a series of photo essays on six mothers-to-be living in different countries of the world. In the first installment, Damiana (Bolivia), Samah (Egypt), Hiwot (Ethiopia), Renu (India), Bounlid (Lao People’s Democratic Republic) and Claire (UK) are five months pregnant; in the second installment they are seven months pregnant and have only a few weeks left before their big day. The next installments will resume the mothers’ stories at the birth of their babies, at one week after birth, and finally when their babies are six weeks old. According to the WHO web site, “In a world where more than half a million women die in childbirth every year and where four million newborns each year do not survive beyond one month, these documentaries aim to raise awareness of the challenges we face as a global community in improving maternal and newborn health. They will also draw attention to the pressing need to meet the Millennium Development Goals of reducing maternal deaths by three quarters, and reducing child mortality by two thirds by 2015.”

The slogan for World Health Day 2005 is “Make every mother and child count,” which reflects “the reality that today, the health of women and children is not a high enough priority for many governments and the international community.” The United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world; maternal and infant mortality rates in the U.S. are significantly higher for mothers of color. A downloadable tool kit for organizers and activities are available from the WHO web site.

The Great Expectations series

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New Report on Women in the United States

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (www.iwpr.org) issued its fifth biennial report comparing women’s progress toward equality in the 50 states, and things aren’t looking too good. According to IWPR director Heidi Hartmann, “At the rate things are changing, it’ll be 50 years before women’s paychecks equal men’s” and nearly a hundred years before women hold half the seats in Congress.

The state-by-state analysis examines differences in women’s employment and earnings, political participation, social and economic autonomy, reproductive rights, and health and well-being and grades the states on a composite index. The report ranked four states as “Best for Women” (Vermont, Connecticut, Minnesota, and Washington, with Oregon receiving an honorable mention) while seven states were designated “Worst for Women” (Mississippi, South Carolina, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas; Florida earned a dishonorable mention).

The 2004 Status of Women in the States study found that poverty is a major problem for women in general, but is a far more serious issue for women of color. Nationwide, nearly one out of four African American women live in poverty and one-quarter of all Native American women live in poverty. The report also found that access to health insurance and pre-natal care is clearly related to maternal and infant mortality rates in the U.S., and that even white infants have higher mortality rates compared to those born in countries with universal health care such as Canada, Denmark, France and Sweden.

The report makes a number of policy recommendations, including tougher enforcement of equal opportunity laws, federal and state laws requiring employers to show that they are in compliance with the Equal Pay Act, raising the federal minimum wage and improving state and local living wage laws, paid parental and dependent care leave, public health programs targeting uninsured and underserved women in at-risk populations, and enhanced reproductive rights, especially for low income women.

The full report, related issue briefs and information from past reports can be downloaded from the Status of Women in the States web page.

The Status of Women in the States
Misha Werschkul and Erica Williams.
Series Editors: Amy B. Caiazza, Ph.D., and April Shaw
Institute for Women’s Policy Research, November 2004

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Coming soon to a nation near you:
Social insecurity

According to numerous economists, political commentators and women’s advocates, the Bush administration’s plan to privatize Social Security is mad, bad and dangerous to everyone. As economist Paul Krugman— who interrupted a hiatus from his regular column for The New York Times to weigh in on the debate— remarks, “If Mr. Bush were to say in plain English that his plan to solve our fiscal problems is to borrow trillions, put the money into stocks and hope for the best, everyone would denounce that plan as the height of irresponsibility.” Of course, that’s not how Mr. Bush is saying it. According to the GOP’s latest fact sheet on “Securing Our Economic Future,” Mr. Bush claims “the current Social Security system needs to be fixed” and “has called for reforms that would keep Social Security’s promises for today’s retirees and near-retirees, while giving younger workers a chance to save in personal accounts for their own retirement. President Bush believes that personal accounts provide ownership, choice, and the opportunity for workers to build a nest egg for their retirement and to pass on to their spouse or their children.” Well, when you put it that way, it doesn’t actually sound like “selling the retirement security of millions of working Americans down the river.” But according to well-respected sources, that’s precisely what it is.

As Krugman notes his December 17 column for the NY Times, international attempts to privatize national retirement security programs have had uniformly dismal results. He believes the US can learn from the mistakes of others: “Privatization dissipates a large fraction of workers’ contributions on fees to investment companies. …It leaves many retirees in poverty.” Need I say that many of the potentially impoverished will be mothers? But then, what else is new…

Below are links to selected commentaries that have appeared over the last few weeks and other resources on the plan to privatize Social Security:

Not Just Your Mom’s Retirement
Nancy Duff Campbell and Joan Entmacher
TomPaine.com (www.tompaine.com)
December 16, 2004
“Did you know that children, disabled workers and families of prematurely deceased workers all collect Social Security benefits? The program truly serves the role of government safety net as it was intended—lending a hand to Americans in their time of need. The personal investment accounts idea being floated by the White House and its surrogates would effectively shred that safety net.”

Social Security Suicide
By Molly Ivins for AlterNet (www.alternet.org)
December 14, 2004
“Next week, the White House will launch a giant public relations campaign, just as it did with the campaign to sell us on the Iraq war, with a lot of phony information to convince us all this lunacy is good for us. Social Security is of particular concern to women, since we live longer and have fewer earnings to rely on in retirement.”

Anti-Social Security
By Dean Baker for The Nation (www.thenation.com)
December 9, 2004
“The Bush plan would require a large reduction in the benefits provided by the existing system. A worker who is 20 today would see a cut of approximately one-third in his or her retirement benefit, although workers would theoretically more than recoup this loss by investing a portion of their Social Security taxes in a private account.”


From the Century Foundation Social Security Network

Twelve Reasons Why Privatizing Social Security is a Bad Idea
Greg Anrig Jr., Bernard Wasow, The Century Foundation
December 2004
“Addressing Social Security’s potential long-term financing challenges by taking the dramatic step of diverting its payroll taxes to create new personal accounts will have drastic consequences for federal finances, future retirees, and those who rely on the system the most. Learn more about twelve major reasons why less costly and less painful reforms should be considered instead.”

Reality Check:
Scare Tactics: Why Social Security Is Not in Crisis
Bernard Wasow, The Century Foundation
November 2004 (in .pdf)


From the Economic Policy Institute (www.epinet.org)

Social Security: Facts at a Glance, 2002

The Perils of Privatization: Bush’s lethal plan for Social Security
by Edith Rasell and Christian E. Weller, May 2000

Policy Brief: Social Security for Women (2000)


From Women’s eNews (www.womensenews.org)

Critics: Privatizing Social Security Hurts Women
By Ann Moline, March 13, 2001
President Bush’s proposals to privatize the Social Security safety net for the nation's elderly would adversely affect older Americans, especially women, according to a coalition of women's organizations sponsoring the Women and Social Security Project.


From the National Women’s Law Center (www.nwlc.org):

Fact Sheet:
Why Social Security Is a Better Deal Than Privatization
for Women and Their Families

NWLC Social Security web page

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Just Don’t Do “It”:
New report reveals
inaccuracies in abstinence-only education programs

A December report prepared for the office of Rep. Henry Waxman finds that over two-thirds of abstinence-only curricula contain information that is false, misleading or distorted about the effectiveness of contraception, transmission of HIV and STDs, fetal development, abortion and sex differences. These programs— which are federally funded to the tune of $170 million— are taught to millions of adolescents in the US, but are not reviewed by the federal government for accuracy.

As Camille Hahn points out in her recent article for Ms. Magazine on the burgeoning abstinence-only education industry (“Virgin Territory,” Fall 2004), the abstinence-only business is overwhelmingly dominated by religious and pro-life groups. “By the time the Supreme Court ruled …that these programs must delete direct references to religion, religious groups already had a near-monopoly on abstinence-only education, which as a result is still mostly carried out by religious groups and individuals. In public schools, these educators give reasons such as the prevention of pregnancy and STDs for remaining chaste, but for a large majority, their personal belief in abstinence stems from their religious convictions.” This is consistent with the findings of the Waxman report, which found a blurring of religion and science in abstinence-only teaching materials.

You’ll be just thrilled to hear that somewhere in a city or town near you, public school students are learning that a fertilized ovum is a “tiny baby,” that a six-week old embryo is a “thinking person” and that

Men tend to be more tuned in to what is happening today and what needs to be done for a secure future. When women began to enter the work force at an equal pace with men, companies noticed that women were not as concerned about preparing for retirement. This stems from the priority men and women place on the past, present and future.

This is your tax dollars hard at work. If you’d like to do something about it, pay a visit to the Planned Parenthood Action Network or the Advocates for Youth Sex Education web site.

The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs
December 2004 (in .pdf)

Science or Politics?
George W. Bush and the Future of Sexuality Education in the United States

Fact sheet from Advocates for Youth— in .pdf

From Salon (www.salon.com)

Bush’s sex fantasy
By Michelle Goldberg, February 2004
“George Bush’s proposed 2005 budget cuts funding for veterans’ healthcare and public housing. It freezes funding for after-school programs and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families grants. It provides less than one-sixth of the increase needed to close the budget shortfall in the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which helps low-income HIV patients access medical care and lifesaving drugs. It cuts state Medicaid funding by $1.5 billion. …Yet when it comes to abstinence education, money seems to be no object. Bush's budget recommends $270 million for programs that try to dissuade teenagers from having sex, double the amount spent last year.

Just say no to sex; just say yes to big bucks
By Sharon Lerner, September 1999
“Three years after the passage of the Welfare Reform Act, Figueroa’s workshop, held after class in public high schools, is one of a crop of just-say-no-to-sex programs springing up across the country. Through a little-noticed provision in the 1996 welfare law, almost $500 million of government money (a mix of federal and state) is now being used to bring such classes into public and private schools across the country.”

The virginity hoax
A federal study reveals the terrible failures inherent in teen vows to chastity.
By Jennifer Foote Sweeney, January 2001

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More reproductive health news

Study Finds First-time Caesarean Births Rising
According to a news story by HealthDay reporter Amanda Gardner (“Sharp Rise Seen in Needless C-Sections,” November 18, 2004), Boston University School of Public Health professor Eugene Declercq says that the number of caesarean births among women with no identified medical risks or complications rose by 67 percent between 1991 and 2001. Declercq and his colleagues reviewed U.S. national birth certificate data and found that after controlling for age, race, ethnicity, education, birth weight and parity, mothers were 50 percent more likely to deliver by caesarean section. First-time mothers over the age of 40 are more likely to have a caesarean. A particular concern for Declercq and his colleagues is that women who have a caesarean with their first baby are more likely to have caesareans with subsequent children, which increases the risks to newborns and mothers.

The one major limitation of the study is that the information listed on the birth certificates may have been inaccurate or incomplete. “There is always the potential that there was another medical indication that didn't happen to be noted,” Declercq acknowledged. “The other potential is that these do represent more elective-type Caesarean births, but nothing allows us to say that this is the mother's choice.”

Gardner reports that, “The study did not address why this increase is taking place, although in the past many have presumed that individual choice on the part of the mother has played a role.”

The full article is available from HealthFinder.gov, a service of the National Health Information Center of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Sharp Rise Seen in Needless C-Sections
By Amanda Gardner, November 18, 2004


U.S. voters favor nomination of Supreme Court Justices
who support Roe v. Wade

Given that Bush will likely be in the position to appoint between one and three Supreme Court justices in his second term, the subject of abortion is on the minds of many Americans.

The Quinnipiac University Polling Institute and an Associated Press poll both found that a majority of voters surveyed believe that Bush should nominate Supreme Court Justices who would uphold Roe v. Wade. What’s more, 62 percent of those surveyed in the poll said that Supreme Court nominees should make their views on abortion a matter of public record.

According to a December 16 article by Joseph Straw for The New Haven Register, voters say Bush should nominate justices who would uphold the Roe v. Wade— the decision making abortion legal in the first three months of pregnancy— by a 50 percent to 34 percent margin,. Sixteen percent of those polled did not know or did not answer.

A plurality of respondents— 41 percent —said abortion should be legal in “most” cases, while 34 percent said it should be illegal in most. Sixteen percent said it should be legal in all cases, and 13 percent said it should be illegal in all cases.

The poll of legal and moral issues showed that a majority of Americans oppose laws allowing gay couples to marry or form civil unions, but also oppose a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

The poll surveyed 1,529 registered voters nationwide in December 2004.

Abortion position key in Supreme Court justice choice
By Joseph Straw, The New Haven Register, December, 16 2004


FDA to review to application for OTC emergency contraception
The Feminist Majority Foundation (www.feminist.org) has issued an action advisory encouraging women to write a letter to the FDA in support of providing emergency contraception over-the-counter. The FDA is scheduled to make its decision regarding this application by late January 2005.

The Feminist Majority Foundation web site reports that Barr Laboratories applied for over-the-counter status for its emergency contraceptive, Plan B, in May 2004, but they were given a “not approvable” letter by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This decision was made despite the fact that the FDA’s own expert advisory panel deemed the drug to be safe and effective and voted 23-4 in favor of making Plan B available over-the-counter.

This summer a new application for the OTC status of Plan B was submitted with a novel packaging requirement— the “dual label”. If approved under this requirement, Plan B would be available OTC only for women 16 and older. Younger women would still need a prescription to purchase emergency contraception. According to the Feminist Majority Foundation, this is a policy many public health and women’s rights advocates find completely unacceptable because it prevents responsible yet vulnerable young women from accessing a product that has the potential to powerfully shape their future.

For more information on emergency contraception and to take action, visit the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Prescribe Choice web site.


For other articles on reproductive rights, see:

Choice Language
Abortion is a right that ends in sorrow.
Democratic rhetoric in the future must acknowledge this fact.

By Sarah Blustain for The American Prospect (www.prospect.org)
December 2004
“For those of us who came after Roe v. Wade, there is a significantly different reality. The context has changed. Back alleys and coat hangers are not part of our visceral memory. To this generation, the “choice” of a legal abortion is no longer something to celebrate. It is a decision made in crisis, and it is never one made happily.”

Stop Crying, Start Working
By Katha Pollitt for The Nation (www.thenation.org)
December 2004
“If you've been racking your brains for an activist project to replace obsessively monitoring the Electoral College Vote Predictor, here is one that could make a real difference as former Texas Air National Guard pilot George W. Bush swoops us into the wild blue fundamentalist yonder: Get involved with your local abortion fund. If none exists in your area--there are 102 around the country--start one yourself.”

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Elsewhere on the Web:

From The American Association of University Professors (www.aaup.org)

Do Babies Matter?
The Effect of Family Formation on the Lifelong Careers of Academic Men and Women

For women academics, deciding to have a baby is a career decision. Traditional narratives of the academic career must adapt to new demands and new constituencies. By Mary Ann Mason and Marc Goulde

Do Babies Matter? Part 1

Do Babies Matter? Closing the Gap (Part 2)


From Women’s eNews (www.womensenews.org)

Black Women's Maternal Health Gets New Look
By Juhie Bhatia, December 19, 2004
African American women’s harder time with pregnancy and infant mortality has been documented for many decades. Now a study--involving business leaders, social workers as well as doctors--probes the problem from many directions.

Fewer Employers Offering Flexible Schedules
By Sheryl Nance-Nash, December 16, 2004
The economic downtown has caused some companies to scale back their benefit programs designed for parents. Yet, they remain extremely popular with all employees, especially women, and the tide may turn as the economy strengthens.

Moms Fight to Breastfeed in Public
By Juhie Bhatia, November 22, 2004
As the number of breastfeeding moms increases, their acceptance in public hasn't kept pace. Breastfeeding in public is a legally protected activity in over half the states, but moms are still being asked to cover up.

Women's Shelters Refusing to Surrender Client Info
By Sandy Kobrin, November 26, 2004
New reporting standards on the homeless may place women living at domestic violence shelters at risk. The rules say that shelters must report critical information including shelter locations.

Sex Drugs for Women Flood the Market
By Molly M. Ginty, Novemeber 29, 2004
A growing number of women are taking drugs and supplements meant to jump-start their sex lives. But do these products really work? Or are they little more than sexual snake oil?

Suffragists Knew How to Make a Stir on Holidays
By Laura Schenone, November 25, 2004
Laura Schenone's backward glance at suffrage cookbooks reveals a proud tradition of female radicals in the kitchen.


From AlterNet (www.alternet.org)

Time for Bread and Roses
By John de Graaf, December 20, 2004.
Lack of free time is an issue that crosses the ideological divide. Once, progressives fought against time poverty; now that it's worse than ever, shouldn't the banner be raised again?

Tour of Beauty
By Christina Larson, November 30, 2004
“In ‘Inventing Beauty: A History of the Innovations That Have Made Us Beautiful,’ New York Times patent writer Teresa Riordan gives readers a delightful, quirky account of American cosmetic innovations, from lipstick to silicon implants, from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th.”


From LiteraryMama (www.literarymama.com)

Birthdays— an essay by Amy Hudock
“I could choose ‘career,’ or I could choose ‘family.’ The mommy wars had framed the debate in this narrow, either/or way, so that is how I saw it. Feminism is about individual choice, I thought, and if I choose family, then it is my choice. Now, however, as I think about what choice really means, I imagine that a true choice is one in which both possibilities are reasonable. Under that criteria, this was not a choice.”

Confessions of a Desperate Housewife
By Lizbeth Finn-Arnold
“After staying home for a while, the walls of my house seemed as if they were closing in around me. And I began to feel trapped, a slave to two demanding, needy children. Part of me wanted to run away and hide from it all -- even my own babies. And another part of me just wanted to know that I had the option of running away -- if I wanted to.”

— MMO, December 2004

Shawna Goodrich contributed to this month’s noteworthy.

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