Skip to main content

Egg Freeze vs. Wage Freeze?

Family choices complicated for working women

This article originally appeared on TruthOut.org on Nov. 17, 2014.

By Kate Baldwin

It is not news that if you are a woman and you have a baby, you may be jeopardizing your career. Being a mom is a greater predictor of wage discrimination than being a woman.

While studies show that having children is a career bonus for men, it can be a wrecking ball for women. Precisely at the moment when a women's career should be thriving, it is bound to be stalled by the hiccups of parenting.

That disparity of advancement vs. fertility is playing out in the latest trend of egg freezing parties.

Many were surprised recently when Facebook and Apple offered to pay up to $20,000 for oöcyte cryopreservation to female employees as part of their health insurance plans.

Offered as a benefit that allows women to subvert their biological clocks and cruise through their 20s and 30s without worrying about fertility, some say this policy reveals an increasing submission to inflexible work structures that prioritize manhood over momhood. 

Some argue that the question about whether or not women workers should have children is answered with an emphatic, \"Well, not yet.\" 

At the stage when women should be progressing most rapidly in their careers, many are hit with the prospects of childbearing. And even with the opportunity for an employer-paid fertility hold, the results don't look good for anyone.

It is after a woman returns to work from maternity leave (however long that period may be), that she may be slapped with discrimination in the workplace.

In a recent episode of CBS-TV's \"The Good Wife,\" Alicia Florrick, played by Juliana Marguiles, is a character who has returned to her career as an attorney after taking a 13-year hiatus to help raise her children. 

Alicia has decided to run for state's attorney, and in an interview with the unctuous TV personality Frank Prady (David Hyde Pierce), he asks if her goal is to replace the prosecutorial machismo of the current male DA with the \"perspective of someone who spent the majority of her life raising kids.\" 

According to a Pew Research report, in 1970, women made up only 38.1 percent of the workforce. Today, that figure is closer to 50 percent. So while over the last two generations, women have made strides in the workplace, they have done so while having to adapt to the unfair man-versus-mom bias that Prady uses to trap Alicia.

This bias privileges the idealized male worker over the marginalized female caretaker. And it's this same bias that some say motivates corporations to pay for the cold storage of women's \"ice babies.\" Gender inequality in the workplace is perpetuated, not solved, by making this benefit seem like a reliable option.

The disparity between men's and women's earnings over time is reflected in the newly released World Economic Forum Report on the Global Gender Gap. The report ranked the United States a distressing No. 20 out of 142 countries, behind Rwanda and Nicaragua, in its assessment of overall gender disparity. It also placed the United States at 65 in women's comparable earnings. 

Last year US women working full time, year-round made an average of $10,876 less than their male counterparts.That is 78 cents to the male's dollar.

For mothers, this income gap is even greater.

The research of Shelly J. Correll, professor of sociology at Stanford University, shows that employers place mothers at the bottom of their pool of ideal applicants, while fathers rise to the top.

According to Michelle Budig, a sociologist at the University of Massachhusetts, employers tend to advance fathers because they are considered stable and committed to their work.

On the contrary, motherhood is a liability for these same employers. Their message is that moms who work tend to be flaky and easily distracted. 

Health-care policies that encourage the freezing of eggs seem to have the same bias.

To be sure, some men take advantage of the paternity leaves that have become more familiar in larger firms and corporations. But the US government's recent report \"Eleven Facts about American Families and Work\" shows that 70 percent of women and men are opposed to parents taking equal amounts of paid family leave. 

Two-thirds of those surveyed agreed that women should be the primary leave takers.

Given these statistics, freezing your eggs isn't going to save you from employer bias once you have a baby. It's the post-natal period that is the career killer. You would be better off asking your employer to give you $20,000 to spend on an on-site nursery, or a night nurse.

This is the lesson that women who want to be parents should remember: Freezing your eggs is no guarantee of career advancement because if you delay motherhood, you will still have to raise your children. And that is when the struggle of blending career and family begins.

- Kate Baldwin is an associate professor of communication studies at Northwestern University.

Topics: Business, Opinion

Editor's Picks

Back to top