This article struck me as very strange. It’s a short article, which probably means that the ideas behind it have been badly expressed and grossly simplified to fit the word count, but the gist is that full-time stay-at-home mothers (the article refers to mothers, not parents) have lower social status than roadsweepers, and that this is a bad and shocking thing.
(i) I dispute the fact the being a full-time mother is a job like any other which can be directly compared with other jobs. It’s not a job. If you have given up work permenently to look after a child then you are unemployed, end of. That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing, or a low-status thing. I was unemployed when I was a student. My parents are retired so they’re unemployed. Unemployed is not a perjorative term.
(ii) If we are calling motherhood a “job” then it’s only fair to judge its social status by the same criteria as any other job.
The fact that a job is hard work is not relevant to its social standing. Being a labourer is no doubt more hard work than a desk job, but it has lower social status. The fact that a job is important also has little impact, a cleaner in a hospital ward has one of the most important jobs imaginable – patients may die if the work is not done – but again it is a low status job.
The whole point of social status is to draw distinctions between people. Indicators of social status are things that other people don’t have / can’t do. Back in the day, being able to read and write would have been an indicator of social status. It’s not any more because nowadays everyone can. So the way that social status works in jobs is nothing to do with how important the job is, or how much hard work it involves, but simply how many people could do it.
High status jobs tend to require high level of skills / education so that relatively few people could do it
Mid status jobs require some skills and education, more people able to do it.
Low status jobs require little or no skills. Nearly anyone could do it.
Now bringing up a baby is generally accepted to be very hard work and very important work. But anyone can do it and the majority of women will do it. If you’re a roadsweeper, you’ve gone through a recruitment process and you will be sacked if you are not doing your job well. The only form of quality control on parenthood is (1) finding someone to shag you and (2) not doing anything so bad as to draw the attention of social services and force them to take the baby away.
Therefore, on what logic should motherhood be a high status job? If you’re going to compare motherhood and roadsweeping on the basis that they are simply two different “jobs” then you have to apply the logic that ranks one job as higher than another, and by that logic then motherhood = very low status job.
(iii) I don’t accept that motherhood or unemployment generally means a lower social status than roadsweeping. The job that someone does is one factor in quite a complex system of determining social status. It’s an important factor, and although it’s not fair to judge someone’s status purely on the job that they do, when you compare it to other factors that get considered – house, car, bank balance, what your parents did, the way you hold your cutlery – then it’s actually one of the more reasonable factors that get taken into account.
However, I don’t think it’s the case that if someone is unemployed, they automatically have a low social status. I think if someone is unemployed, the reason for this is included in the mix of factors deciding social status. If you’re unemployed because you are independently wealthy = high social status. Higher than someone who works. If you’re unemployed because you’re disabled then that probably means low social status. Being a full-time motherhood is actually pretty neutral and social status in these circumstances will depend on other factors. A university-educated stay-at-home mother who is married to a high-earning professional and lives in a big house will still definitely have a higher social status than a road sweeper.
(iv) But the article ignores the rich full-time mother and focuses on low-earning low-skilled mothers, saying that they enjoy motherhood less than rich mothers because it’s a lot harder work if you can’t afford supplementary childcare or a washing machine. No shit. The article goes on to imply that if we all decided that being a full time mother counted for lots of social status points, then their lives would be better. Well…no…their lives would be better if they could afford a washing machine. No amount of society hero-worshipping them is going to be an effective substitute for that.
(v) To me, this all has overtones of Kinder, Küche, Kirche.
(vi) Given the global population, there is no need to offer people extra encouragement to have babies (except for the very short-sighted who want a short-term economic buffer). I’m not saying that breeders should be shunned, but they certainly don’t deserve to be socially elevated above those who choose not to or cannot have children.
(vii) Finally, a word on roadsweepers which I hope is not too patronising. Although I accept that this job is low status because pretty much anyone could do it, but they pay income tax, their work directly and obviously benefits lots of people because they are maintaining a cleaner and healthier environment for everyone and they are out and about in all weathers being highly visible while doing their work. Implying that they are the archetypal lowest of the low, by expressing shock and horror that mothers are considered beneath them, is not an attractive position.