Is Women’s Emancipation Still Compatible with Motherhood in Western Societies?



Compared to the offspring of other mammals humans make exceptionally large investments in gestation, delivery, breastfeeding and rearing their children until adulthood. Since the contraceptive revolution women are able to fully control their own reproduction: the stepping stone for female emancipation as it freed them from the burden of reproduction and male dominance. For the first time in history women can choose between motherhood and other activities without suppressing their sexuality. However some unforeseen problems emerged: low and late fertility; population ageing. First motherhood is often postponed nowadays to ages beyond the biological optimum, when having a child seems more convenient from a socio-economic perspective. Subfertility and infertility are therefore on the increase. Surprisingly, the health problems related to delay of childbearing have more or less remained unnoticed so far. Is emancipation still compatible with motherhood in the twenty-first century? The 1970s nurture concept on gender equality is still the prevailing concept in emancipation policies and has hardly been challenged by the new biological insights that men and women are different in some essential aspects. Gender equality should not imply that men and women are the same with regard to their abilities and attitudes towards work and children – the implicit assumption of most emancipation policies today. True equality must entail the notion that both sexes are equivalent in the sense of having the same value, which is different from being the same. Unique female features and abilities such as the deep rooted wish to have a child to care for, to be able to become pregnant, deliver a child, breastfeed, look after babies and better empathic qualities, should not only be accepted and taken into account, but highly appreciated.


Labour Force Participation Gender Equality Assisted Reproductive Technology Male Dominance Surrogate Mother 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Utrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Public HealthErasmus University Medical CentreRotterdamThe Netherlands

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