Patterico's Pontifications

6/3/2005

Maternity, Feminism, and Unintended Consequences

Filed under: Accepted Wisdom,General,Law,Real Life — See Dubya @ 5:11 am



I ran into someone from a place I used to work the other day, and caught up on some office gossip. Moe Green had taken over the Tropicana club, Fredo was in Havana, etc., etc. But the interesting part, in a fairly conventional way, was the story of a woman (whom I’ll call Shirley McZoobooboombah-OnStar, which is her real name) who arrived not long before I left and became pregnant soon after she arrived, or possibly she was pregnant when she started the new job. She continued working up till nearly her due date and then went on maternity leave about the time I moved on. Well, it emerged from my interlocutor that she returned to work for a month or three after she had used up her leave, and then gave her notice that she was quitting.

I gather that this is a fairly common story and a bit of a problem for employers, who obviously don’t want to hire and train an employee, only to immediately have to subsidize her pregnancy and fill her spot with a temp, and then after all that to have her move right along and need to repeat the process. The problem here is that employers begin to turn the gimlet eye on all female applicants of a certain age who might present a risk of doing something similar.

That’s where labor law comes into it. For example, employers can’t just ask someone in an interview whether she’s planning on having kids. That would be discriminatory. If a woman thought she didn’t get a job (or lost a job or was passed over for promotion) because she might get pregnant, she would probably have grounds for a lawsuit. Nonetheless, women are often scared that exactly this sort of discrimination will occur and they won’t be able to detect it or prevent it. I don’t doubt that this fear is quite reasonable.

The thing is this: I think businesses would be less likely to discriminate against women in general, or married or cohabiting women aged 23-36 in particular, if they could be assured there is less of a likelihood of someone pulling a Shirley on them. Some ruthless companies might prefer never to hire women because of the risk that they may have to pay a maternity benefit, but I think they’re the exception. Most companies will, I think, gladly hire talented women and won’t mind paying out maternity benefts and letting them raise a family, as long as the company gets a reasonable return on their investment in the form of a few years of loyal service. But they gotta watch out for Shirley. And so Shirley, by cashing in on the system, adds a drop of poison to the well for all other women with careers.

It’s a ‘tragedy of the commons’ problem for women. There exists a perverse incentive for individuals to do what Shirley did, even though it’s against the interests of women as a group.

I’m not sure that there’s anything particularly original in my analysis up to this point. But like Pat O’Brien said, “This is all new to me; I don’t do this for a living.” I’m curious about this tension between a woman’s short-term interests and women’s long-term interests. It seems that there ought to exist a strong social sanction among women, or at least among career-oriented women, against doing what Shirley did. If there is such disapproval, though, I haven’t really heard of it. Why not? Seems like it ought to be an affront to Sisterhood or feminine solidarity or some such. There ought to be an amusing, snarky nickname for people who exploit maternity benefits, because “pulling a Shirley” just isn’t going to catch on. Well, here’s your chance to invent one, if you’re so inclined, and leave it in the comments.

ANTICIPATORY RETALIATION: Just because I say that there are some unintended negative consequences to our system of maternity benefits, does not mean that I oppose maternity benefits.

It’s actually the procreation that I oppose.

16 Responses to “Maternity, Feminism, and Unintended Consequences”

  1. “The thing is this: I think businesses would be less likely to discriminate against women in general, or married or cohabiting women aged 23-36 in particular, if they could be assured there is less of a likelihood of someone pulling a Shirley on them.”

    It does help us all bear the costs of childbearing. It takes a village!

    actus (cd484e)

  2. If businesses could put in an employment contract that an employee must return to work for, say, twelve months after taking maternity leave, or else owe the company compensation, that would probably solve that particular problem.

    billy-jay (11cc44)

  3. It happened all the time when I worked for the State, because they provide insurance. Every family needs one person to work for a large employer, or they’re sunk. YOung women would sign on, get pregnant, take leave, but then usually return, only to do it again in a year. When they would bitch that they were overworked because someone was out, I would think, sistah, she’s doing unto you what you did unto her.

    It’s the law of unintended but inevitable consequences: if you make medical insurance impossible to buy, people will do almost anything to get it. I can’t wait until Sheila Kuehl’s “bonding” insurance fund goes broke–who in their right mind would NOT take off if the state were paying for it??? When they raise the taxes to bail it out, I’m bailing on CA.

    Patricia (133563)

  4. Downside of that for me, Billy Jay, is that if a woman becomes pregnant during that twelve month period, well, there’s a big financial incentive to terminate the pregnancy.

    I don’t think you even have to be pro-life to believe that government policies shouldn’t incentivize abortions.

    See Dubya (7d18cb)

  5. This post is quite revealing. Does anyone notice that only the WOMAN gets to choose whether or when to have children and who will be on the financial hook for her pregnancy? Interestingly there is no mention of a husband/boyfriend or sperm donor. Therefore the little gal gets to choose who will be the unwilling financial partner to her pregnancy-the boyfriend, the employer or the state government. Since it take a village shouldn’t the employer have at least partial custody? Why is it that only the woman has a say in this matter and that all these involuntary financial partners to her pregnancy have no say.Even if there is some poor stiff that married this gal, he would have no say at all about continuing the pregancy. Oh, I forgot. Women are so oppressed that they need rights that no one else has:not husband; not boyfriend; not employer;not the government. This whole area of benefits and law is so clearly an adhesion contract that sooner of later reform will remove all this nonsense.

    john (61d076)

  6. Maybe Shirley did not plan to cash in on the system. Maybe she is just one of the growing number of women who are discovering the lie perpetrated for the past 2 generations – that we can “have it all”. Maybe she realized after returning to her paying job that the “all” that she wanted was to raise her own child instead of paying someone else to do it. The term “women with a career” was used. I don’t know what business she was employed with but “career” too often is just a pretty way of saying wage slave (for men and women) The well was poisoned a long time ago and it wasn’t by women like Shirley

    Terry LaForest Lynch (1e065f)

  7. “Does anyone notice that only the WOMAN gets to choose whether or when to have children and who will be on the financial hook for her pregnancy?”

    I think there’s a sure-fire way for a man to make sure its not him.

    actus (3be069)

  8. There wasn’t when Gil Garcetti was the D.A. Now, maybe.

    Judging by the smug tone of your comment, I assume you have no problem with a total ban on abortion, as there’s an equally sure-fire way for a woman to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

    Xrlq (717f9d)

  9. “Judging by the smug tone of your comment, I assume you have no problem with a total ban on abortion, as there’s an equally sure-fire way for a woman to avoid unwanted pregnancies.”

    Either that or I want men to have total control over abortions. Or to point out that its idiotic to say that men have no control. guess which.

    actus (a2871c)

  10. Huh? What control do men have over abortions?

    Patterico (756436)

  11. “Huh? What control do men have over abortions? ”

    I have no idea. I certainly know its silly to say only the “WOMAN” can choose when to have children.

    actus (3be069)

  12. Actus: “Either that or I want men to have total control over abortions. Or to point out that its idiotic to say that men have no control. guess which.”

    Patterico: “Huh? What control do men have over abortions?”

    Actus: “I have no idea.”

    You are jumping back and forth between the issue of who gets to decide whether to engage in sex, and who gets to decide to have an abortion. Women can also participate in the first decision. Men have no say over the second.

    Patterico (756436)

  13. Actus, you don’t “certainly know” anything. L.A. County alone has more than its share of “fathers” forced to pay child support to women they’ve never slept with, or in some cases, even met. It’s supposed to be better now under Cooley, but the law allowing these abuses remains unchanged.

    Even if it were not for this idiotic law you “certainly know” does not exist, this still wouldn’t take anything away from John’s point, which is that once a certain voluntary act on the part of both players has been completed, one holds all the cards from that point on. It’s one thing to be OK with such asymmetry, and quite another to pretend it’s not there.

    Xrlq (717f9d)

  14. “. L.A. County alone has more than its share of “fathers” forced to pay child support to women they’ve never slept with, or in some cases, even met.”

    How’s that work?

    “Even if it were not for this idiotic law you “certainly know” does not exist, this still wouldn’t take anything away from John’s point, which is that once a certain voluntary act on the part of both players has been completed, one holds all the cards from that point on.”

    Well ya. So is, like, the actual childbearing. I’d be surprised if people were arguing that the problem with abortion laws is too few people have the ability to choose one.

    actus (3be069)

  15. How’s that work?

    Mistakes.

    Patterico (756436)

  16. I doubt all of these “mistakes” are innocent. Plenty involve perjury on the part of the mother, who knew damned well that the guy she named as the father wasn’t really the father, but figures he’s got a better chance of paying up than the real father. She names him, the D.A. sends a notice accusing him, and if he doesn’t respond within a very short period (30 days IIRC) she gets a default judgment that cannot be set aside even with DNA evidence. That “mistake” is certainly not an innocent one on Sheila Kuehl‘s part.

    Xrlq (717f9d)


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