Careers Working With Cancer Patients

“WORKING” MOTHERS?

We in the United States are deeply conflicted about having mothers in the workforce. Even today, 60 percent of Americans report they believe a mother should stay home when their children are young.143 Despite the rhetoric extolling the benefits of working motherhood on children, the importance of having one’s own career, and the need for more women in leadership, we do not provide systemic solutions to make it truly feasible for women to commit to their professions. The underlying belief reflected in our policies is that women should be home. As a result, we don’t make it easy for them to work. We make it harder than nearly every other industrialized country for mothers to work. It’s no wonder that for the last decade we have seen a rise in stay-at-home mothers.

Kitty says the notion of being a stay-at-home mother simply doesn’t exist in Norway. When we spoke, she could think of only one woman she knew who did not work outside the home. “Why wouldn’t women want to work?” she pondered.

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For the last thirty years, this country has built its success on the backs of women and at the expense of families. Why? Because we still have not reconciled to the reality that mothers actually work outside of the home.

I explained to her that in the United States, we hear about the “luxury” and “privilege” of staying home. “Choosing” to do so has become a status symbol, equated with the wealthy “One Percent.” Being able to “afford” to stay home is not a status symbol in Norway because women’s workplace participation is not linked to her husband’s income. In other words, women’s workforce participation is not class based in Norway, nor is it an extension of her husband’s ability to provide. There the assumption is that mothers will work, not because they have to, but because they want to and because the country needs them to.

Sigbj0rn Johnsen, the finance minister of Norway, says, “I strongly believe that female employment has brought about large economic benefits for Norway … Choosing workers from a pool of male and female workers, as opposed to choosing from a pool where half of the potential talent is excluded, leads to productivity gains.”144

Basic economic theory says that when a country has more efficient and productive workers, the gross domestic product (GDP) increases. Essentially, the higher the GDP, the more productive the workers, the more the country is thriving.

Norway is ranked number one in the world for productivity, measured by GDP per total hours worked, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.145 The reason for their efficiency? As Johnsen argued, it’s largely because they have figured out how to keep mothers like my cousin Kitty productively contributing to the workforce. We’re third in productivity, but our relative happiness is significantly lower.146

In my deepest heart, I wish we lived in a country that actually valued family and caregiving, where the structures of work and governmental policy reinforced these essential values. But we don’t. And as a result, we’ll likely see even more women forced to leave the workforce to give those they love the care they need.

One way to solve this mass exodus? Men.

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