New moms: Off to work

December 04, 1991|By Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel B

MOST NEW moms are doing more than bringing up baby.

For the first time, more women with infants work outside the home than stay at home, according to Census Bureau Population Survey figures released yesterday. As of 1990, 53 percent of women with newborn children were working moms -- compared to 38 percent in 1980.

The increase can be attributed partly to new job opportunities for women, but many must also work to support their families.

Yet women who do non-stop juggling of a tot in diapers and a daily job find their needs all but ignored by U.S. businesses and government, says 9 to 5, the National Association of Working Women.

"We were sold a bill of goods in the 1980s that, 'You have equality. What else do you want?'" 9 to 5 spokesman Barbara Otto said. "We want a workplace that will accommodate having a family."

Four out of 10 calls to the hot line of this Cleveland-based organization involve job discrimination because of pregnancy or parenthood.

The United States also lags behind such economic competitors as Germany and Japan in providing maternity leave, child care and family leave to deal with a sick child, Otto said.

"We have the attitude in this country that whatever happens outside the office doesn't affect us," she said. "But we've got to care about what happens to an employee before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m. Absenteeism will go down and productivity would increase."

President Bush vetoed legislation to guarantee unpaid family leave to Americans taking care of a newborn or a sick family member. The government's estimated cost of that policy was $5.30 per employee per year. It would have applied only to large corporations, but Bush said each corporation should be allowed to set its own family leave policy.

Working moms, meanwhile, face no-win choices, Otto said.

"Your child-care arrangements fall through. What do you do? You can't leave your child alone or you could go to jail. You don't go to work and you can get fired," Otto said.

She also pointed out that many small businesses can fire a woman just because of pregnancy, and the woman has no legal recourse.

The double demands of family and work are especially true for well-educated women.

Two-thirds of new moms who had four or more years of college were employed in 1990, compared with only a third of mothers who lacked a high school diploma, the Census Bureau said.

"Corporations have to become more family friendly," said Marilyn Segal, dean of the Family and School Center at Nova University. "Schools have to become family focused."

"Women need to have support groups. No longer can they rely on the old standbys. People don't have neighborhoods anymore. They don't have extended families," she said.

The definition of motherhood is changing in other ways as well, the Census Bureau said.

More women than ever are postponing motherhood until their later childbearing years. In 1990, eight out of 100 women aged 30-34 had a baby, compared to 6 in 100 in 1980. Overall, the birthrate of women 30 to 34 years old jumped 33 percent and the birthrate of women 35 to 39 years old jumped 37 percent.

Today's women are almost twice as likely to have a first child out of wedlock than those of 20 years ago.

The survey showed about one out of every four initial births in the late 1980s were to unmarried women. In the late 1960s, only about one in seven first babies were born outside of marriage. Among women who gave birth to children last year, 17 percent of the whites, 23 percent of the Hispanic Americans and 57 percent of the blacks were unmarried. [Hispanic people may be of any race; the designation is based on the way people report ethnic origin.]

Also, pregnant single women now are far less likely to marry before the baby is born. By the late 1980s, only 27 precent of unmarried pregnant women were wed by the time the child arrived. That compares with a 52 percent figure during the early 1960s.

[The data in the report, "Fertility of American Women," were based on interviews with 57,400 households chosen to be representative of the nation as a whole.]

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