Why Some Israeli Women Still Choose Full-time Motherhood

Given the choice between career and family, many are consciously choosing the latter, says Prof. Dahlia Moore

File photo: A mother and her newborn daughter.
Tomer Appelbaum

Prof. Dahlia Moore, a scholar who specializes in work-family issues and gender stereotypes, has learned that even the best-laid plans for bringing about gender equality often produce unexpected results that run counter to their goals.

Take the issue of paid maternity leave, which is now offered in many countries. Legislative changes legitimized the idea of combining a career with motherhood, but at the same time, starting in the 1980s there was increasing pressure on women by doctors and nurses to breastfeed.

“That started a new trend that wasn’t intended by giving women paid maternity leave: The life of a stay-at-home mom was found by women had been working before giving birth to be less stressful than juggling a family and career,” Moore said, in an interview with TheMarker for International Women’s Day on Friday. As a result, many women chose not to return to work or work only part-time,” said Moore, who has recently published a book (in Hebrew) called “Seventy Years of Women: Values, Perceptions and Behavior.”

“The result has been that even women with a well-formed feminist consciousness returned to a situation where they are financially dependent on their spouse — a situation that completely contradicts the primary goal of feminists,” she said.

Moore notes that even as women are demanding equality and career opportunities, more and more are opting for “intensive motherhood” — a choice they may be making for a limited period of their lives but that will inevitably have long-term consequences, said Mor, who had been vice president for academic affairs at the Academic College of Tel Aviv Jaffa and is now retired.

“We’re not talking about a housewife like a generation ago,” said Moore. These are career women who are focusing on motherhood, not on cleaning or cooking. Making a decision about what they see as the most important thing for them, they decide to stay out of the labor market. [But] when their children are grown up and no longer need them they find it hard, if not impossible, to return to work.”

These women find themselves financially dependent on a spouse who has meanwhile advanced in his career. Moore said many of these women feel frustrated and angry.

So, do you propose that women refrain from breastfeeding and return to their jobs right after giving birth?

“Certainly not. I would suggest that women remember that while moving from a career to full-time motherhood had its advantages, it also exacts a price. More than that, there is no convincing research that has shown that full-time mothering is better than loving parenting by two parents doing it part-time.”

So what is the right amount of time to leave the job market?

“There are no rules. Every woman has emotional, psychological and social needs. I believe that in Israel we would extend maternity leave enough that women feel they can have the experience but not take so much time that their training and professional skills degenerate and make her irrelevant.”

Still, there are women who are wholly dedicated to their careers?

“That’s not very common in Israel, but is becoming more significant. Some of these women delaying bringing children into the world as much as biology permits them. A smaller number choose the option of nonparenthood, which means they consciously choose not to be parents.”

The rate of nonparenthood in much of Western Europe for women between the ages of 40 and 44 was about 20% in 2005. In the United States and European countries such as France and Germany, the rate is a lower 15%.

And what happens in Israel?

“The Israeli solution has been a mix of parenting and career while reducing the ‘price’ involved. Most mothers in Israel continue to work part-time. Even when they work full-time, they work fewer hours than men.”

The average workweek for Israeli women is 36.2 hours, compared with 45.5 for men. Those figures are about the same as in the U.S., where research has shown than mothers with young children working full-time still spend much more time than their husbands do on housework. Women average about 15 hours a week of childcare and 21 hours of general housework, compared to nine and 15 hours, respectively for men.

“The ideal solution is equal parenting, “ said Moore, “in which both partners share the burdens of career and home, instead of preserving reality as it is today — women who perform two roles, both new and traditional, without the cooperation of working men.”

Moore said she sees signs of a shift toward equal parenting happening in Israel, with the entry of Generation Y (people born during the 1980s and early ‘90s) into the labor market. The men of this generation are considered less afraid of emotional attachment than their older counterparts. There is also the trend of rising divorce rates.

“These two phenomena have made the idea of the ‘New Fatherhood’ more widespread.

“It is the antithesis of traditional fatherhood, which focused on supporting the family and building a career, while spending time with the family on weekends and holidays and having only limited acquaintance with his children and their emotional needs.”