Good for mothers or for others?

The NYTimes Economix blog published a post today on how measures of well-being for women throughout the world fail to take into account mothers. Ability to access higher education, higher echelons of management, salary parity, etc, are all measures of how well women are doing in relation to men, but doesn’t say much about how able women are to care for their children. We know that women who have children take more time off of work, are more vulnerable to poverty and unemployment and likely suffer decreased salaries over time as a result of their decisions to raise children. A ever more limited focus on social safety nets like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) makes them even more vulnerable.

Less than a week ago, the Times also published a piece lamenting the status of single people in the US. In particular, single people are not entitled to things like family leave and pay higher rates of insuranc.

So, who should we actually be worried about? Most likely the answer is that who worries us changes depending on what outcome we want to achieve. Both groups, mothers and single people, have a lot to contribute to society. Single people are more likely to be engaged in their communities, to volunteer and maintain social connections, contributing to a sense of community, perhaps, and mothers, well, they contribute their children. From an equity standpoint, it doesn’t make much sense to deny single people the benefits afforded to married people. And if we’re interested in overall climate for women, ignoring singleness in an analysis of economic well-being is (perhaps not quite) as deleterious as ignoring the plight of mothers. But perhaps that’s impetus for more clarity in our work and precision in our assessments. Measures of subjective analysis should identify the population that benefits, and if we’re going to include things like maternity leave, we should shoot for gender and marital status equality in those measures. Can father’s take time off after the addition of a child to the family (by birth or by adoption); can single people take time off to care for ailing siblings? I’m not necessarily advocating for equality within these sorts of things, just that if we’re going to ask the question of one group, we should ask it for all groups.

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