mormons and motherhood policies

by mraynes

cross posted at the exponent

policy experts have long noted the perplexing problem of low birthrates among the most free and democratic countries. indeed, most European countries have negative birthrates, meaning european women are having less than the two children it takes to replace the population. though america still has a positive birthrate, experts project that we will be in the same situation as europe within the next fifty years. the consequence of a low birthrate is that countries have an increasingly older  population. this presents a variety of problems, obviously a smaller and older workforce decreases productivity and threatens the solvency of pension and social insurance systems.

Many countries have tried to boost the birthrate by instituting a variety of family-related policies such as subsidized maternity leave and tax benefits for having children. Unfortunately, these policies have not been as effective as policy makers would have hoped. A new study, however, shows that providing families with affordable, high quality child care does have a positive effect on the birthrate. In other words, policies aimed at helping women combine career and family are the most effective in convincing couples to have more children.

My personal experience backs this finding up. I currently have three children and would ideally like to have a fourth but am hesitant to do so due to child care concerns. I want the freedom to pursue a career and don’t want to be stuck at home for another five years. While the tax breaks are nice, they don’t come close to covering the cost of pre-school for my two older children, and they only go twice a week. I would be much more likely to have that fourth child if I knew that I had an affordable, high quality child care option.

I have wondered if this finding can be applied to the Mormon church as well. Obviously a shrinking birthrate effects the number of members that the church will have in the future but I think this issue can also be applied more broadly. First, the structure of the church has not kept up with the modern demand of equal partnership in marriage. With many Mormon men being recruited for leadership positions and the extra time demanded of them to complete home teaching, women are called upon to pick up the slack at home. mr. mraynes averages 10 hours a week in church service on top of his full-time job. That 10 hours is taken directly from our family time and does little to encourage me that having another child is a great idea.

But I think this issue can be stretched even further. Women are leaving the church at an appalling rate, with estimates of young women leaving anywhere from 40% to 70%. I think it’s time we ask ourselves why this is. Perhaps it is because we have defined womanhood as almost solely motherhood. It can’t be a surprise that our young women leave the church when they believe that there is only one way to be a good Mormon woman and it’s not one they’re interested in.

Maybe if we opened up our definition and our doctrine of what it is to be a woman we would see a reduction in the number of young women leaving the church? Like the birthrate increasing when governments offer childcare because it provides women with more options, maybe encouraging Mormon women to follow their dreams, whether that take them into motherhood, career or both, would stop the hemorrhaging of young women the church is currently facing.

Make no mistake, the church’s focus on women being mothers and staying at home is a policy decision regardless of one’s belief of its divine origin. It is time to re-evaluate if this policy decision is serving us well.