Chapter 10: The Status of Children and Women
There is no paradox in welcoming the trend toward smaller families and simultaneously viewing children as our most valuable resource. In the past, we have not given children as high a place in our priorities as in our rhetoric. With a renewed trend toward fewer children per family, now is a propitious time to begin.
The total needs of children within our society are addressed in detail in the report of the 1970 White House Conference on Children. There are, however, several issues of special relevance to our task. Among these are child health and development, welfare of pregnant adolescents, rights of children born out of wedlock, and adoption.
Health and Development
We know that the physical, emotional, and intellectual potential of each human being is greatly affected by the health and nutrition of the expectant mother and by the care given to the child in the first few years of life. However, adequate prenatal care is not available to many women, especially the poor who live in inner-city ghettos and in rural areas, pregnant adolescents, and women pregnant out of wedlock. One result is higher rates of death or illness among such mothers and infants. Our nation’s infant mortality rate is higher than that of 12 other nations, and it varies within the United States according to location and socioeconomic group. Infant mortality is higher among nonwhites and the poor than among whites and the middle class. The incidence of cerebral palsy and other birth disorders is also higher among the same groups.
Regular health care during the first year of life is a key to preventing or correcting illnesses that may handicap for life; but pediatric services are not sufficiently available to the poor. In addition, very few private health insurance programs pay for well-baby care, and even nonpoor parents may have difficulty in meeting these costs.
Since 1935, the federal government has supported programs to extend and improve health services for mothers and children, especially in rural areas. One of these, the Maternal and Child Health program of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, provided maternity nursing services to over a half million women in the year beginning July 1, 1970. Almost 1.5 million children received preventive health services that included attention to their nutritional and other special needs. Another, the Maternity and Infant Care program, was established in 1963 to help reduce the incidence of mental retardation and other handicapping conditions caused by complications associated with childbearing, and to help reduce infant and maternal mortality by providing health care to high-risk mothers and their infants. As of July 1971, 56 maternity- and infant-care projects admitted 141,000 new maternity patients and over 47,000 infants.1
Federal support of these programs is not increasing significantly; and they are unable, as presently constituted, to meet the needs of all low-income women who are not receiving private health care. Moreover, neither program is designed to defray the costs of maternal and infant care for the nonpoor.
The Commission believes that our nation should set a goal of providing comprehensive health care to all mothers and children. This should be a high priority of our health-care system. The costs and methods of developing a complete fertility-related health program are discussed later. Two-thirds of the costs of such a program would be for maternal and infant care.2 The costs to the nation, over and above current expenditures, are not excessive. The savings, in terms of improved maternal and infant health, would be considerable. Until the time that it becomes fully operational, existing federal maternal and infant care programs, especially those carried out under the authority of Title V of the Social Security Act, should be extended and enlarged.
It is essential to recognize the critical significance of the first three years of life for the emotional and intellectual, as well as the physical, development of children.* Information and education on the importance of early cognitive development should be made available to parents. In both the home and in child-care programs, every effort should be made to provide the best possible health, nutritional, emotional, and educational support during this vital period.
Many parents today are looking for assistance in the care and rearing of their children. There are various reasons for this, including the steadily growing employment of women, the declining reliance on relatives, and the increasing realization of the learning potential of preschool children.
*A separate statement by Commissioner John N. Erlenborn appears on page 154.
In 1970, almost 26 million children under 18 had mothers who worked at least part time; over 5.8 million of these children were under age six.3 Large numbers of these working mothers were the sole support of their families or supplemented incomes near the poverty level. Many middle-class women are also entering the work force. Changing values, the rising number of divorces, and the increasing costs of children in an urban environment are some of the factors contributing to this new trend.
The child-care arrangements made by working mothers, especially those whose ability to pay is limited, are frequently inadequate. Many children are cared for in their own homes by adult relatives or babysitters, but many are cared for by sisters or brothers who are themselves children. Other children receive care outside of the home under various arrangements. Only a small percentage are enrolled in nursery schools or day-care centers, and many of these are of low quality. At least one million young Americans receive no supervision at all—these are the so-called “latch-key” children who wander about after school or remain at home alone when ill.4 These conditions are unacceptable.
In other societies and in earlier times in our own country, very young children were exposed to a variety of adults and other children. In the so-called extended family, care was often provided by grandparents, aunts, and cousins. In larger families and before universal education, many children depended upon older siblings for much of their care. Today, greater mobility, smaller families, and suburban housing patterns have tended to isolate mother and child alone in the home for extended periods of time. As with employment, these trends appear to be increasing. Many families would benefit from versatile part-day as well as full-day child-care programs, or from programs that could provide day and night care in case of a family emergency.
Research has indicated the high learning potential of preschool children, and many people are beginning to urge that some exposure to formal learning begin before age six. Some have suggested that child-care programs become extensions of the educational system. As the birthrate falls, school systems may find that the desire for earlier entry into the educational system will coincide with available classroom space. However, the needs of a child-care system are such that substantial changes would be required in the present operation of the public school system.
Some of the opposition to the creation of a child-care system in this country is based on the following beliefs: it may be destructive of the family; we cannot afford to undertake something as expensive as good developmental child care; and by reducing the tension between motherhood and other roles, child care will encourage the birth of more children.
We believe that institutional child care, if undertaken on a broad basis, may have some beneficial implications for the family. Economic and educational functions have been separated from the family without destroying it. A “latch-key” child will probably benefit from anything that gets him off of the street. The child from a more traditional home may benefit from the companionship of other children. It is unlikely that any child could benefit from a sterile, institutional setting that offers no stimulation. The kind of care a child receives is more important than where he receives it. A child may learn to love or hate in his own home, in a neighbor’s home, or in a child-care center. What is essential is that children receive love, warmth, continuity of care, and stimulation.
Aside from the quality of care, parents must be able to make the decision whether or not to use child-care services and to what extent. Any form of compulsory child care is unacceptable, including the requirement that mothers place young children in these programs in order to comply with regulations that exact training and employment as a condition for benefiting from assistance programs.
Developmental child care seems preferable to custodial programs; and there is no question that such programs, on a large scale, will involve enormous expense. One source estimates that it would cost $20 billion per year in public funds to pay for the best kind of full-time developmental program for the 18 million children from families with incomes under $7,000.5 There may be ways to obtain good care for less. Experimentation with a variety of programs and personnel seems essential.
Those who are able to pay for child care should do so. Recent amendments to federal tax law to permit working persons with incomes under $18,000 to deduct up to $4,800 per year in child-care costs should make it possible for many middle-income families to pay for these services.6 Union and industry programs that provide care for children of members and employees should be expanded. Even so, public funds will be necessary both to stimulate innovative programs and research, and to subsidize services for lower-income families.
Many people concerned with population growth have argued against public subsidization of child-care programs because they believe such programs may encourage childbearing. In the short run, child-care programs may reduce the tension between motherhood and employment, and thus make it possible for some working women to feel they can manage the responsibilities of both employment and children. However, it is also possible that child-care programs will have a negative impact on fertility. Parenthood is an almost universally desired status in our society and most couples want at least one child. The availability of child care is not likely to affect the behavior of the woman who perceives her role as that of wife and mother; nor is it apt to affect the decision to have a first child. After the first or second child, however, the economic opportunities available outside of the home to a woman who wishes to work may affect her desire to have additional children. With child care available, women who want to work will have the opportunity to enter or reenter the labor force much sooner; and the rewards of employment may compete effectively with the satisfactions of additional children. On the other hand, if a woman is unable to seek alternative roles outside the home, perhaps because of an inability to make adequate child-care arrangements, she might channel all her creative energies into her domestic role and might be encouraged to have additional children.
In the long run, therefore, child-care programs may reduce fertlity. Faced with no prospects for child care, many women have chosen to forsake career aspirations rather than forego motherhood. If future young women perceive that they may combine both roles, it is likely that more of them will undertake the training and education necessary to pursue careers outside of the home.
We believe that the demand for child-care services will continue to grow. The challenge is to make certain that they enhance the well-being of the child.
The Commission therefore recommends that both public and private forces join together to assure that adequate child-care services, including health, nutritional, and educational components, are available to families who wish to make use of them.
Because child-care programs represent a major innovation in child-rearing in this country, we recommend that continuing research and evaluation be undertaken to determine the benefits and costs to children, parents, and the public of alternative child-care arrangements.
Adolescent Pregnancy and Children Born Out of Wedlock
The problem of pregnant adolescents requires special attention by our society. In 1968, just over 600,000 infants, 17 percent of all births in that year, were born to women under 20 years old. Childbearing at any age is a momentous event for a women; but pregnant teenagers, especially those in the early teens, often experience serious health and social difficulties quite different from those of women over 20.7
Their babies have a higher incidence of prematurity and of infant mortality. Girls who marry or have a first child at an early age also tend to bear subsequent children at a rapid rate, so that intervals between births are relatively short. A study of one metropolitan area found that 60 percent of girls who had a child before the age of 16 had another baby while still of school age.8 Education and employment opportunities may be seriously impaired. In other sections of this report, we stress the necessity of minimizing adolescent pregnancy by making contraceptive information and services available to sexually active young women. When an adolescent does become pregnant, however, she should not be stigmatized and removed from society. In the past, pregnant girls almost always had to leave school as soon as their condition became known. Today, more and more school systems are making efforts to see that the pregnant adolescent does not suffer from lack of educational opportunity. Recently the Commissioner of the Office of Education stated:
Every girl in the United States has a right to and a need for the education that will help her prepare herself for a career, for family life, and for citizenship. To be married or pregnant is not sufficient cause to deprive her of an education and the opportunity to become a contributing member of society. The U.S. Office of Education strongly urges school systems to provide continuing education for girls who become pregnant.9
We support the Commissioner’s view, and believe that society will be well-served if all school systems would make certain that pregnant adolescents have the opportunity to continue their education, and that they are aided in gaining access to adequate health, nutritional, and counseling services.
Out-of-wedlock births among young people aged 15 to 19 are increasing in the United States. In 1965, there were 125,000 children born to unwed teenage mothers; in 1968, the figure rose to 160,000. By 1970, the figure is estimated to have risen to 180,000. The proportion of out-of-wedlock births among 15- to 19-year-olds rose from 15 percent in 1960 to 27 percent in 1968.10
Unwed mothers are less likely than married mothers to have adequate prenatal care; and children born out of wedlock are more likely to be born prematurely and to die in the first year after birth. Adequate provision of contraceptive information and services, regardless of age, marital status, or number of children, is likely to reduce rates of out-of-wedlock pregnancy.
Our concern is specifically for the child who is born out of wedlock. This child is not only more likely to suffer from a health problem; he is born into a society that traditionally views him as socially, morally, and legally inferior. Under English common law, the child of an unwed mother was the child of no one and had no rights of inheritance. Unfortunately, this tradition has been preserved in many jurisdictions. In many states, children born out of wedlock do not have the same rights to child support or inheritance as children born to married women.11 In some instances, when a man has a wife and children born in wedlock, there are legal limits on the amount that a father may will to a child born out of wedlock.
The purpose of this legal discrimination was to protect the sanctity of the family and to discourage extramarital sex. That goal has not been fully realized. Furthermore, the assumption that eliminating distinctions between children born in and out of wedlock will somehow undermine the family has itself been undermined by the fact that there has been no apparent increase in the rates of out-of-wedlock births and/or irregular unions in those countries where discrimination against such persons has been abolished.12 There is a trend within this country to reduce discrimination against these children. Every state now recognizes that a mother has a legal right to the custody of a child born out of wedlock, and some states grant equal custody rights to the father. In states permitting recovery for wrongful deaths, there is a trend toward considering children born out of wedlock the natural progeny of both father and mother for purposes of collecting damages. The 1965 amendments to the Social Security Act13 made it possible for the child to collect social security and other federal benefits on an equal basis with children born in wedlock. Such cases include those where the father has contributed to the support of the child or has been decreed by a court to be the child’s father. Other, more subtle forms of discrimination are also slowly being eliminated. Several states prohibit any statement on a birth certificate as to whether a child is born in or out of wedlock, or as to the marital status of the mother.
There is no justifiable reason to discriminate between children according to the circumstances of their birth. The word “illegitimate” and the stigma attached to it have no place in our society.*
The Commission recommends that all children, regardless of the circumstances of their birth, be accorded fair and equal status socially, morally, and legally.
The Commission urges research and study by the American Bar Association, the American Law Institute, and other interested groups leading to revision of those laws and practices which result in discrimination against out-of-wedlock children. Our end objective should be to accord fair and equal treatment to all children.
One consequence of unwanted childbearing, especially out-of-wedlock births, has been an increase in the number of children available for adoption. In 1969, there were 171,000 children adopted, roughly two-thirds of whom were born out of wedlock. However, in the same year, nearly half a million children lived in foster homes, group homes, or child welfare institutions.14
It has been asserted that increased adoption might lower the birthrate. Had all the children in foster homes and institutions been adopted, the total number of adoptions in 1969 would have reached over half a million. If each of these children had represented a birth averted, the total reduction in the birthrate might conceivably have reached 18 percent. This would be a one-time effect, however, because the large number represents an accumulation of unadopted children over many years.
The potential annual reduction in the birthrate can be derived from the number of children born and made available for adoption each year. In 1968, there were 339,000 out-of-wedlock births recorded.15 Had each of those children been adopted by a family which otherwise would have borne a child of its own, the birthrate would have dropped by 11 percent at most. However, this is an extreme upper limit, because many children are not adopted as substitutes for childbirth. Some are adopted for humanitarian reasons; others are adopted by infertile couples. Some out-of-wedlock children are retained by their families; and there are administrative complexities and racial attitudes which prevent other children from being adopted. Thus, the demographic impact of adoption on the birthrate in the United States is minimal.
*A separate statement by Commissioner John N. Erlenborn appears on page 154.
The value of adoption, however, is not diminished by the lack of demographic significance. It is a practice that holds rewards for children, parents, and society. There appears to be a substantial number of prospective parents interested in adopting children, including couples unable to bear children of their own. Presumably others would become interested in adoption if it became more widely publicized that constraints on adoption were less stringent than frequently believed, and if public subsidies were available to assist adopting parents. For example, about a fifth of our states have recently enacted legislation to make it possible for a public agency to grant subsidies to adopting parents. In addition, there is probably an increasing number who would be willing to adopt rather than bear all of their children. More than half (56 percent) of the respondents to the Commission’s public opinion poll indicated that they would consider adopting a child if they already had two children and wanted a larger family.16 Thus, the symbolic value of adoption as a mode of responsible parenthood may come to outweigh its direct demographic impact.
At the present time, it is not possible to determine reliably the potential number of children available for adoption, or the total number of parents who would adopt children. In this country, adoption placement is shared by public and private agencies. Legislation governing adoption differs among states and within states. There is, therefore, considerable variation in adoption practice and procedure, as well as in the availability of services for prospective adoptive parents and children. Due to provisions guarding the secrecy of legal proceedings and changes in the child’s birth certificate, little information about adoption exists in the public domain. Nor is much known about who assumes the responsibility for rearing children born out of wedlock.
It is our impression that adoption might become a more widespread practice with: (1) changes in legislation; (2) changes in adoption services; and (3) improved education about adoption opportunities.
The Commission recommends changes in attitudes and practices to encourage adoption thereby benefiting children, prospective parents, and society.
To implement this goal, the Commission recommends. Further subsidization of families qualified to adopt, but unable to assume the full financial cost of a child’s care.
A review of current laws, practices, procedures, and regulations, which govern the adoptive process.
Such a review could be carried out by the Council of State Governments, the American Law Institute, and the American Bar Association, and should include study of the adequacy and comparability of laws, the rights of natural parents, the rights of children, the options for foster care and other custodial care as opposed to adoption, and eligibility requirements for adoptive parents, including such criteria as age, race, marital status, religion, socioeconomic status, and labor-force status of prospective mothers.
Every human society has various ways of channeling reproductive behavior, both formally through the legal system and informally through social institutions and cultural norms. For most of human history, such influences have been strongly pronatalist as societies sought to ensure survival in the face of high mortality. Today, in the modern technological society, the balance has shifted. But childbearing is so interwoven with other aspects of social life, and affected by laws promulgated for other purposes, that it is not easy to say what would constitute genuine “neutrality” in this respect, or what would be truly “voluntary.” Just how close to “neutral” is the present situation, in either the legal or the institutional sphere? What are the major pressures one way or the other?
A consultant to the Commission concluded:
our society is already pervaded by time-honored pronatalist constraints.... We cannot preserve a choice that does not genuinely exist, and, by the same token, it makes no sense to institute anti-natalist coercions while continuing to support pronatalist ones.17
Institutionalized pronatalist pressures include: (1) the socialization of the young into sex-typed roles, with the boys pointed toward jobs and the girls toward home and motherhood; (2) discriminations against the working woman and, even more, the working mother; and (3) restrictions on higher education for women. Such pressures are so pervasive that they are typically perceived as “natural,” and not simply cultural prescriptions. They are so powerful that even the current movement for women’s liberation has hardly questioned motherhood as one of the goals for the modern woman.
There is no denying the strength of these pressures in today’s society, or the psychic punishments employed in their enforcement. However, there are some contrary social trends as well—the limited economic value of children in an urbanized, industrialized society; the substantial liberation that has already occurred in the status of women; the rise of universal education; the increasing ethos of rationality and freedom of choice in reproduction; the decrease in pressure from traditional religious doctrine and, in some cases, direct religious support for more freedom of choice—in short, all of the still emerging social changes associated with the transition from traditional to modern society. Indeed, it is largely this counterbalancing that has resulted in the historical decline of birthrates in the developed countries, as compared with the high birthrates in developing countries where the pronatalist pressures are stronger still.
Similar tendencies, in both directions, are also present in the legal structure and public policy of the United States. Governmental actions that can affect childbearing decisions by individual couples include the laws regulating marital status (age at marriage, divorce, responsibility for child care, status of children born out of wedlock, even homosexuality); laws directly regulating fertility control (contraception and abortion); tax policy on income, property, and inheritance; housing regulations and subsidies, urban renewal programs, and welfare policies; food subsidies; health programs; aid to families with dependent children; fiscal support of formal schooling; allocation of expenditures to “male” or “female” sectors of the economy; even the draft laws. Although our knowledge of these influences is uncertain, three points should probably be made: (1) rarely are such laws adopted on demographic grounds; governmental influence is unintended, the by-product of policies adopted for other reasons; (2) the influence is mixed—some pronatalist, some antinatalist—and not easily balanced; and (3) accordingly, their influence is not likely to be great.
Thus, the informal, institutional pressures would appear to be much stronger than the formal, legal ones. They are probably also more difficult to change, at least over the short run. The objective for American society should be to make the childbearing decision as free as possible of unintended societal pressures: It should not be to “force” people to become parents in order to seem “normal,” but to recognize that some people, and perhaps many, are not really suited to parenthood. We should strive for the ideal of diversity in which it would be equally honorable to marry or not, to be childless or not, to have one child or two or, for that matter, more. Our goal is one of less regimentation of reproductive behavior, not more.
Women: Alternatives to Childbearing
Societies have varied widely in their family arrangements and ideal roles for men and women, but the desire for progeny has characterized both agricultural and industrial societies.* Until modern times, high rates of reproduction were necessary to offset high mortality—especially high among infants and children. In agricultural societies, children had an economic value. More hands were an asset in a home-centered economy. Also, before care of the aged became institutionalized, parents had to rely upon their children for care in their old age; and large numbers of children were advantageous. As a result of these factors and of shorter life expectancy, women spent most of their adult lives bearing and rearing the four or five children traditionally expected.
In an earlier time, when economic functions were centered in the home, both men and women shared child-rearing and economic roles. When the industrial revolution shifted economic activities into the marketplace, women were required by the necessities of child-rearing to remain behind in the home. Over the years, this division of labor between the sexes became well-established, and has perhaps reached a new high in parts of this country where the mother tends the children in the suburbs, while the father commutes long distances to work and has only a few hours each day to spend with the family.
Long before the tradition of the large family disappeared, some couples had begun to adopt the small family pattern as individually desirable. With declining mortality rates, diminishing economic value of children, increasing costs of raising a child in an industrialized urban society, and improved methods of fertility control, both the number of children desired and born declined. Today, women marry earlier, have smaller families earlier, and live longer than they did 50 years ago.
*A separate statement by Commissioner John N. Erlenborn appears on page 154.
One result of reduced fertility and increased longevity has been that, although virtually all American women marry and bear children, they spend less and less of their lives in maternal functions. Most women have completed their childbearing by age 30; and typically, by their mid-30’s, the last child is in school. By age 50, the chances are that all children have left home. And the average woman who reaches 50 today can look forward to 28 more years of life after her maternal activities have ceased. Women of all ages have contributed invaluable services to their communities through volunteer activities. At the same time, more and more women are beginning to work, to seek higher education, and to choose roles supplementary to or in place of motherhood. We have not yet fully accommodated these changes in our social, legal, and economic structures.
If we should achieve a stationary population, women will spend even less of their lives in bearing and rearing children since family size, on the average, will be smaller. More women may forego motherhood altogether.
For all of these reasons, it would seem good social policy to recognize and to facilitate the trend toward smaller families by making it possible for women to choose attractive roles in place of or supplementary to motherhood.
Although we believe that increasing the freedom of women to seek alternative roles may reduce fertility, this change is not sought on demographic grounds alone. The limitations on the rights and roles of women abridge basic human liberties that should be guaranteed to all, regardless of the future course of population growth.
Here, as in the control of reproduction, our goal is to increase freedom of choice. Just as we oppose coercion in the control of fertility, we oppose any effort-explicitly or implicitly—to penalize childbearing and parenthood. We reject the notion that either motherhood or childlessness is or should be made to seem unfashionable. Instead, we seek a greater range of choice. Women should be able to choose motherhood, work, or other interests. Both men and women should be free to develop as individuals rather than being molded to fit some sexual stereotype.
Maximizing choice will require changes in the way men and women are educated, as well as in certain legal and economic practices. We have come to view certain roles, jobs, school courses, feelings, actions, and reactions as either male or female, and this effectively limits choice.18
Building self-images begins within the family. Girls should learn to look upon the wife-mother role as but one among a number of desirable roles. They should be helped to develop a sense of responsibility and confidence; personal achievement and enterprise should become valued traits for them. At the same time, boys should learn to relate to girls as true equals.
Schools are among the most important institutional forces at work in defining male and female roles. Women’s horizons are effectively limited in many instances by the courses girls are encouraged to take or not take, and by implications that it is less necessary for them to excel academically or to pursue higher degrees. Textbooks that always show women in stereotypical domestic roles are probably effective image shapers.
It would be desirable to end sex differentiation in school courses, to train guidance counselors to view students as individuals, to channel educational and vocational interests without regard to sex, and to revise school books to show men and women in attractive roles both outside and inside the home.
There is, despite the number of working mothers, considerable ambivalence in our society as to whether women with children should be working outside the home. If the notion is to receive greater social acceptability, some redefinition of the family roles of men and women will be required. Under such conditions, both husband and wife would share more equally in both economic and domestic functions. Women who now work outside the home, often receive little assistance from their husbands in domestic functions. Greater participation of the husband in family matters would probably reduce home-job tensions for the wife. It would also provide fathers more opportunity to participate in the rearing of their children and give children the opportunity to know their fathers better. Many young couples are striving to develop this pattern of family life, but it is difficult to achieve within the present American context. A reworking of family roles would necessarily involve changes in institutional practices—different sets of working hours and provision for some sort of paternity leave, for instance. Certainly, more study of the effects of changing family structures and roles is necessary.
Although it is no longer necessary for all men and all women to marry and have children, virtually all American men and women do. We realize that not everyone is suited for marriage and child-rearing, but those who choose to remain single and childless are viewed with some suspicion in our society. It would be particularly helpful if marriage, childbearing, and childrearing could come to be viewed as more deliberate and serious commitments rather than as traditional, almost compulsory behavior.
More and more women are entering the labor market; today 43 percent of all women are in the work force.19 Some analysts conclude that employment for women has a depressing effect on fertility. Census Bureau data and various studies show that, in the United States, employed women have borne fewer children than economically inactive women.20 It is difficult, however, to determine the direction of cause and effect in this relationship. Some women may limit family size because they are working, but women with children frequently do not work because they must care for the children.
Given the kinds of jobs usually open to women and the employment patterns of women, claims that employment has reduced fertility should be made with caution. Most women are in low-paying, low-status jobs that are unlikely to compete effectively with childbearing. Further, until very recently, most women worked only until they had children, and returned to work after the children left home. This pattern, of course, contributed to the limitations on pay and promotion because women were not in the labor force long enough to secure seniority and higher pay.21
There is no question that women have experienced and continue to suffer discrimination in employment. Often, they are paid less than men for the same work, and are barred from certain job positions by protective laws. Generally, they have less chance for advancement even when they remain in the work force for extended periods of time. Minority women have suffered the greatest deprivation in the labor market. Black women are consistently among the lowest paid of all workers and the most likely to live in poverty.22
Recent federal and state laws to combat sex discrimination have had some beneficial effect. However, further action is necessary. Women should have equal access to all areas of the labor market, for several reasons. First, despite the generally held opinion that women work only until marriage or for “pin money,” there are 12 million women in the labor force who have children under 18.23 A 1965 Department of Labor report states that about two-thirds of all working women gave economic considerations as their reason for employment.24 In 1971, 44 percent of working women were the sole support of a family.25 Many others worked to supplement the low incomes of their husbands. These women must have an equal opportunity to support themselves and others.
Second, we believe that attractive work may effectively compete with childbearing and have the effect of lowering fertility, especially higher-order births. Virtually all American couples want at least one child, but there is some evidence that rewarding employment may compete successfully with childbearing beyond the first child.
Third, even if the number of children desired does not change very much in the future, more women are likely to be entering the labor market. Many will be single and will support themselves and others. Others will work to augment family income. Whatever the reason for working, equity demands that all participants in the labor force have equal opportunity to advance as far as their skills and desires permit.
Education is an important key to achievement in employment in this country. Part of the reason women are underrepresented in such fields as law, medicine, and engineering is that they do not have equal access to the higher educational experience required by those fields.
There is abundant evidence that higher educational attainment is associated with smaller families in the United States. The American college graduate tends to marry later and procreate later, and to have fewer children per family or to form more childless families.
While sex differences among whites in the attainment of a high-school education have been minimal over the past 50 years, men have had and continue to have a better chance of achieving a college education. In 1970, 59 percent of college students were men. A woman’s chances of going on to advanced degrees are much smaller than a man’s. In 1970, 60 percent of all master’s degrees and 87 percent of all doctorates were awarded to men. This inequity appears to stem both from institutional discrimination and from traditional expectations that women will spend their lives in the home and therefore have less need for higher education.26
In 1970, some eight million Americans were enrolled in vocational education programs.27 Women in these programs have been enrolled in the traditionally female occupations of health, business and office work, and home economics. In many schools, women are not permitted to take courses traditionally viewed as male oriented-electrical or electronics technology, drafting, data processing, and power machine operation—which usually pay more.
The Commission believes that, as attitudes toward and individual control of family size continue to change and more women seek employment outside of the home, more women will also seek technical training, college, and graduate educations. So that opportunities will be available on an equal basis, institutional discrimination against women in education should be abolished. Enactment of several of the recommendations contained in the Report of the President’s Task Force on Women’s Rights and Responsibilities would go far toward resolving institutional discrimination.28 Because sex is not included in federal legislation which prohibits discrimination in federally assisted programs, women have sought a variety of means to gain entrance to the student bodies and teaching staffs of universities. These methods have been only partially successful in achieving integration of the sexes. Since virtually all schools receive some federal aid, extending federal law to include sex discrimination, while exempting presently existing one-sex schools, would go far toward increasing opportunities in a more orderly fashion.
As we have learned in the struggle for equal rights for minorities, an end to legal discrimination does not guarantee equality.* However, equality cannot begin to exist until all legal barriers have been abolished. Women in the United States occupy a separate and unequal status under the law. Under common law, women were afforded few rights, and our Constitution was drafted on the assumption that women did not exist as legal persons. The legal status of women has improved in the past century with the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment, alteration of some common law rules, and passage of some positive legislation. But equal rights and responsibilities are still denied women in our legal system. We believe this should be remedied. The right to be free from discrimination based on race, color, or creed is written into our fundamental document of government. We believe the right to be free from discrimination based on sex should also be written into that document.
The Commission therefore recommends that the Congress and the states approve the proposed Equal Rights Amendment and that federal, state, and local governments undertake positive - programs to ensure freedom from discrimination based on sex.
*A separate statement by Commissioner Howard D. Samuel appears on page 169.
Tax Policy and Public Expenditures
The costs to parents of bearing and raising children were discussed in an earlier chapter. Those costs, however, represent only a portion of the true costs of children. A research paper prepared for the Commission reached the tentative conclusion that public funds— through tax benefits or expenditure programs—subsidize an additional large portion of the costs of shelter, health, education, and welfare, thereby benefiting couples with children more than those without children. All citizens, regardless of whether or not they have children, pay for the public costs of children.29
None of the tax policies or expenditure programs which benefit children was instituted with the expressed intention of encouraging childbearing. They all resulted from other perceived needs within our society. Despite the fact that none of these programs was intended to be pronatalist, many believe this has been the result. They maintain that social welfare programs which benefit children have the effect of encouraging population growth.
An examination of the effects of these laws in that respect is worthwhile. Some programs may be said to encourage growth because they are supportive of physical well-being. For instance, food and health programs have improved the chances of successful outcome of pregnancy and have helped to reduce infant mortality.
Other programs have both benefited some families with children while burdening others—housing programs are an excellent example. Middle- and upper-class families, with and without children, are more likely to purchase homes and, therefore, have benefited from tax deductions on interest paid on home mortgages. They have also benefited from such programs as Federal Housing Authority and Veterans Administration loan guarantees, Federal National Mortgage Association and Government National Mortgage Association mortgage purchase authority, and Farmers Home Administration subsidized housing. On the other hand, some housing programs have had the effect of burdening families with two or more children, especially among the poor. The public housing program, often described as pronatalist, has in fact rarely benefited the larger family. Until adoption of the 1968 Housing Act, the emphasis in public housing was on smaller units. In that year, one-third of all families moving into projects were elderly. One-third had one or two children, one-fifth had three or four, and only one-tenth had over four. At the same time, through urban renewal and clearance for public housing and federal highway programs, the federal government destroyed more low-income housing units than it constructed in the 1960’s. It can be said that the overall effect of federal housing programs has been to benefit middle- and upper-class families with children, but to make it more difficult for low-income families with children to find suitable housing.
Some programs have obviously benefited families with children, but there is no proof they have encouraged the birth of additional children. For instance, tax exemptions for children benefit parents; but the amount of the deduction is so small in contrast to the cost of child-rearing, that it is difficult to imagine that anyone would have additional children in order to secure additional exemptions.
Public assistance programs, especially aid to families with dependent children, are frequently cited as encouraging reproduction among the poor. This cannot be demonstrated except insofar as assistance payments make it possible for these families to be better fed and cared for, thereby strengthening their reproductive capacities. For years, the argument has been that, because assistance payments are based upon the number of children in the family, welfare mothers have more children in order to increase their monthly payment. Welfare payments and standards vary widely. In November 1971, the average payment per family in New Jersey was $250; in Mississippi, it was $55. Neither is large enough to support a family of any size well. In addition, most state standards of need are set in such a manner that progressively less is paid for each child; and 20 states have set maximum payments for each family regardless of the number of children.30
Many people believe that welfare families are much larger than families in general. They are, in fact, half a child larger on the average. Between the years 1967 and 1969, when welfare payments were increasing, the average family size of welfare recipients was declining.31 In New York City where, according to the pronatalist view, steadily increasing payments and program utilization in the years 1959 to 1970 should have encouraged more births, the percentage of welfare mothers bearing children each year dropped from 18.9 percent in 1959, to 11.3 percent in 1970.32
This brief review of programs that benefit and/or burden reproduction indicates how scant our knowledge is of the demographic effects of tax and expenditure programs. We feel it would be valuable to undertake studies to provide more information in this area, and to determine at what point reproductive behavior is measurably affected by these programs.
While we are unable to find evidence that present tax policies and public expenditures promote the birth of additional children, it is conceivable that the reverse might be true. As concern about overpopulation has grown, some individuals and groups have proposed consideration of tax policies or other programs that would penalize childbearing.33 Three types of policies have been proposed. The first would require parents to assume all or a greater portion of the costs of their children. For instance, public education and health and welfare programs would either be abolished or substantially reduced, and tax deductions for children eliminated or cut back. The second type of policy would penalize or levy a fee for childbearing. The third type of policy would provide direct financial rewards for not having children, or in some cases, a bonus for undergoing sterilization. Since it is generally assumed that it is not childbearing per se but excessive childbearing that is to be avoided, all of these proposals have variants in which penalties or rewards would go into effect for any child after a certain number. For example, public education would be available for the first two children but not the third child; a fee would be levied for the third child or a reward paid for each year in which a third child was not born.
Many problems arise in regard to these proposals. First, disincentive programs that penalize childbearing, withdraw public subsidies of children, or limit public benefits to a certain number of children in each family, have the effect of penalizing the child and his siblings. For instance, if public education were limited to two children and a third child were born, the family would have the option of not educating the third child or of depriving the children of some benefits in order to support the cost of private education for that third child. The penalty, of course, falls most heavily upon the poor. To penalize children in order to motivate their parents is not justifiable.
Second, the type of program that offers direct financial rewards for limiting childbearing would almost certainly offer greater inducement to the poor. A flat rate of perhaps $300 for not bearing children is more likely to affect the behavior of the poor than of the middle class, since the $300 has a relatively higher value to the poor. A graduated bonus, increased according to income, might still be more likely to affect the behavior of the poor, depending upon the increase, since the subjective need for money is not the same at all levels. The need for a bonus of $300 to pay for next month’s food and shelter is unlike the need for $3,000 to purchase a new car. If, as some have proposed, a bonus is to be offered for sterilization, the question of financial inducement becomes even more difficult so long as the procedure is substantially irreversible. Childbearing is very highly valued in our society, and sterilization should never be undertaken without serious prior thought and knowledge of the ramifications. Since a poor person would be especially vulnerable to financial inducements, important ethical and moral questions arise. Bonus payments would serve to discourage childbearing only among the relatively few who are poorest. Therefore, it would not affect our overall growth substantially, and would weigh unevenly upon decisions about childbearing in a manner we find unacceptable.
Third, not only would these policies have more effect on the poor, but actual proposals to carry them out have, almost without exception, been directed specifically toward one group—welfare recipients. Bills to penalize childbearing by welfare mothers have been introduced in a number of states. Coercive proposals in regard to welfare recipients have included mandatory sterilization after a specific number of out-of-wedlock births. Most of the proposals have been framed in terms of “voluntary action”: The woman may choose to practice birth control or lose custody of her children; the woman may choose to be sterilized or go to jail; the woman may choose to be sterilized or lose her welfare benefits. In 1971, the last proposal was approved by a committee of the Tennessee state legislature. In Connecticut last year, the state legislature considered a proposal to pay a bonus of $300 to every welfare mother who chose to be sterilized. This Commission has made clear the value it places upon voluntary fertility control, including sterilization. We wish to make equally clear our opposition to any program that singles out any group and attempts to control their reproduction as the price for receiving aid for their children, for maintaining custody of their children, or for retaining their own freedom.
Clearly, no proposal to penalize childbearing or reward nonchildbearing can be acceptable in a situation in which fertility control is not completely reliable and large numbers of unwanted births occur.
Finally, past attempts to accomplish specific non-revenue goals through taxation have often been unsuccessful or have led to unexpected side effects that overshadowed the original goal. Some have suggested that one conceivable way to end the argument over the anti- or pronatalist effects of tax policies would be to undertake a fundamental revision of the tax system to eliminate all deductions, exemptions, and loopholes. This would remove any possible special inducements to childbearing. It would also broaden the tax base and reduce the rate of the tax levy.
Quite apart from the issue of using fiscal policy to affect childbearing is the question of whether it is equitable to require taxpayers who do not have children to pay for the programs that make it less expensive for others to have and rear their children. Present tax policies and expenditure programs have the effect of distributing the costs of children throughout the society and of redistributing income in a manner that benefits parents over nonparents. If parents were required to bear the costs of their children, governmental expenditures and taxes would be lower. Or alternatively, nonparents could be taxed at lower rates if the tax structure were arranged so that the costs of programs benefiting children fell only upon parents.
If parents and children are viewed as a single unit and anything which benefits the child is viewed as a benefit to the parent, then some inequity is unquestionably involved. However, if the child is viewed separately from his or her parents and raising the next generation is viewed as the responsibility of society as a whole, the question of equity in supporting children ceases to exist. All children require some minimum amounts of food, shelter, protection, and education; and the general good of society is served by insuring that they receive it. Nonparents certainly have an interest in seeing that all children are inoculated and that epidemics are avoided. Nonparents certainly benefit from the scientific and cultural advances that result from the education of young people. The only reason to alter present policies which are supportive of children would be if an even higher goal were to be served. We cannot foresee any goal with a higher priority than insuring the welfare of future generations. We believe the public support of children, at least at the present level, is justifiable. In fact, some of the Commission’s proposals would have the effect of increasing that support for reasons which we also believe are justifiable.