We act as if work is optional for women. It’s not.

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We act as if work is optional for women. It’s not.

by Marianne Cooper on Monday, February 15, 2016 - 5:12pm

(reprinted from "The Washington Post")

There are many things that make the United States different from the rest of the developed world. One of them is that we are the only developed economy that does not provide paid maternity leave. 

I’m often asked why this is the case. My latest answer: “Because American babies raise themselves. Those babies in other countries — they’re slackers. They actually need their parents’ help.”

My joke highlights the kinds of assumptions that must exist in order to explain why the United States lacks any kind of paid family leave policy. No, I don’t really believe that lawmakers think American babies raise themselves. But I do believe that many assume we don’t need paid family leave because someone in the family is (or should be) home caring for the baby — and that someone is a woman.

When it comes to women and work, the largest myth of all is that working is somehow optional. Like men, women work for personal fulfillment and a passion for their job. Also like men, women work to support themselves and their families, and always have. The reality in the United States today is that earning money is an absolute necessity for the vast majority of women. And the sad truth is that we aren’t doing anything to support them or their families — not because we can’t, but because we won’t...

(for the remainder of the article, please visit "The Washington Post.")


Sociologist, Clayman Institute

Marianne Cooper is a sociologist at the Clayman Institute.  She was the lead researcher for the book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg.  Her book, Cut Adrift: Families in Insecure Times, with the University of California Press examines how families are coping in an insecure age.  She is a core team member of the Clayman Institute’s...