Where would you rank the United States on a list of the best places in the world to be a mother? Would you be surprised that in a recent study, the U.S. didn’t crack the top 10 countries? Or even the top 20? According to Save the Children’s 2012 Mothers’ Index, the U.S. placed 25th on the list. That’s a six spot improvement over last year’s ranking, but still below countries like Norway (#1), Australia (#7), Slovenia (#13), Greece (#20) and Belarus (#24).
“A woman in the US is more than seven times as likely to die of a pregnancy-related cause in her lifetime than a woman in Italy or Ireland,” said Carolyn Miles, president & CEO of Save the Children. “When it comes to the number of children enrolled in preschools or the political status of women, the United States also places in the bottom 10 countries of the developed world.”
The U.S. is also one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee working mothers paid leave.
My initial reaction to the findings of the study was shock. Surely in a nation with more wealth, knowledge and opportunities than most, mothers would be provided with excellent healthcare, access to early education and prospects to lead their communities. The truth is, however, that these opportunities aren’t open to everyone, and the proof is right here in our own region.
A report published by Washington Area Women’s Foundation shows that our region is marked by significant disparities in receipt of prenatal care. And once women in our region give birth, they often find that early education is expensive and sometimes ineffective. Across the DC metro area, center-based child care can account for one-third to half of a single mother’s income. And even though research has shown that preschool programs are crucial to the future educational success of children – especially those who live in low-income households – enrollment in public preschools remains low. Just 14 percent of four-year-olds in Virginia, 35 percent in Maryland and 40 percent in DC were enrolled in public preschools.
This spring, motherhood briefly became a hot button issue in the presidential campaign. Presidential candidates noted that it is a tough and important job and one candidate’s wife called motherhood a “glorious” crown. It’s only been a few weeks, but the campaigns have already moved beyond the motherhood rhetoric, leaving a serious unsolved problem behind. A better support system for mothers and their children would go a long way in making the U.S. a better place for us all.