Motherhood Penalty: Legislation and Science

By Tiffany Jeong

In the 20th century after the suffragettes had met their goals, many women left the Feminist movement with the feeling that they had achieved equality. However, on the social front, women have yet to overcome the essentialist mentality that females are inherently less suited for professional careers than men.

A recent survey conducted by Gallup evaluated whether people of both genders believed women should be part of the paid workforce. In North America, 71% of males and 76% of females concur that women should be part of the paid workforce and the majority further agrees that women should also be able to participate in domestic life. This study reveals how acknowledging the Motherhood Penalty is desired by both men and women. If we aim to address gender inequality in the workplace, it is vital that we cultivate a professional environment that doesn’t force women to compromise between career and family.

One essential difference between men and women is the female’s role to deliver and nurture the child. Women have attempted to remedy the stunted growth of female career development by proposing legislation for paid maternity leave; but a principle that is less commonly discussed is paternity leave. Right now, the Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees twelve unpaid weeks of paternity leave. However, only a handful of states have enacted paid paternity leave. Part of having women achieve equality in the workplace, is changing the way society and employment views childcare. Rather than having the responsibility fall solely on the woman, by enacting paid paternity leave policies, more egalitarian gender norms will emerge.

Furthermore, I would like to address the Motherhood Penalty with scientific advances. Although healthcare and sexual education have made significant progress in teaching women about birth control, these contraceptive strategies do not slow the biological clock. A second essential difference between men and women, is the ability for males to delay paternity. However, women aren’t free to have children at any point in their career, as they understand the viability of eggs diminishes overtime. This can affect female ambitions by constricting career options to those that permit breaks for family. I would urge women to explore options for Fertility Preservation, and for businesses and the government to improve standards in women’s health coverage. The harvesting of eggs has an initial cost of about $10,000 and an annual storage cost of $500. This is a heavy initial financial burden for a young woman, but it can save money for later, less effective, fertility treatments in the future and evens the biological inequalities between men and women.

Science and legislation have already offered solutions for the Motherhood Penalty. Society must decide how highly they value gender equality. By guaranteeing both paid maternity and paternity leave, as well as making Fertility Preservation more accessible to women, we can find the balance between professional and parental equality.  

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