Tuesday 07 April 2020

We could have told you that…

A study published by Dr Anna Borg, Manwel Debono and Clyde Caruana has concluded that Malta is 20 years behind in support for working mothers. They have also pointed out that the birth rate is suffering as more women work.

Without wanting to sound rude, frankly, they could have asked any woman and she would have told them that.

The study called The Price of Motherhood examines the link between female participation in the labour market and its impact on fertility.

One interesting finding, however, has emerged which sounds almost like a paradox: we not only have the lowest participation rate but we also have the lowest birth rate. As Dr Borg, pointed out, “It would be expected that if women are not working they are busy producing babies, but that is not the case.”

On reflection, this is quite easy to explain – it is expensive to raise children these days, and even those who are stay-at-home mothers are realistic enough to admit that, no matter how much you love kids, once you have more than 3 children you need a bottomless pit of cash.  Raising a brood of children on just one income, unless you are wealthy, is next to impossible.

I do not wish to detract from the importance of this very exhaustive study, as the data was compiled after interviewing more than 43,000 mothers, which is no mean feat. However, on reading the results, there is nothing we have not heard before.  When women reach childbearing age they have to make a choice – and for those who have worked long and hard to build a career, the choice is not an easy one.  And while the desire to have a child is very understandable, the couple must consider the financial burdens they have taken on, usually on the basis of a two income household.

I know many women who would love to be able to stay at home and see their little ones grow up before their eyes, rather than hearing about the first word or the first step through whoever is taking care of their child. But they literally cannot afford to stop working.

As for childcare, no matter what we say, the official support structures are not there and there is only so long you can continue to depend on the good nature of accommodating grandparents. Everywhere I go, I am struck by how many children are being pushed around in a pram by elderly Nannas and Nannus – no matter how much they adore their grandkids, I wonder how fair all of this is on them.

Then there are the relatively young grandparents in their 50s, usually the women, who have suddenly found themselves raising young children once again, rather than being free at last to enjoy their own lives.  Of course, they do it willingly to help their sons and daughters to be able to go to work, but somehow it strikes me as wrong…a part of me feels that grandparents should only be asked to be occasional babysitters, and not full time nannies.

But who can afford a full time nanny? Better not work at all rather than spend all your salary on paying for childcare.  It is a vicious circle revolving around the same arguments which will take us nowhere until employers and the government take serious heed of the needs of not only working mothers, but fathers too.


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