Hewlett, Sylvia Ann 1946-

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HEWLETT, Sylvia Ann 1946-

PERSONAL: Born 1946, in Wales; immigrated to United States; naturalized citizen in 1970s; married; children: four. Education: Cambridge University, B.A., 1967, M.A., 1971; London School of Economics and Political Science, Ph.D., 1973; additional study at Harvard University.

ADDRESSES: Office—Economic Policy Council, United Nations Association of the United States of America, 300 East 42nd St., New York, NY 10017.

CAREER: Barnard College, New York, NY, assistant professor of economics, 1974-81; United Nations Association of the United States of America, New York, NY, vice-president for economic studies and executive director of Economic Policy Council, 1981—. Research fellow at Girton College, Cambridge, 1972-74; graduate fellow at Harvard University.


The Cruel Dilemma of Development: Twentieth-Century Brazil, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1980.

(Editor, with Richard S. Weinert) Brazil and Mexico: Patterns in Late Development, Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1982.

The Global Repercussions of U.S. Monetary and Fiscal Policy, Ballinger, 1984.

(With Alice S. Ilchman and John J. Sweeney) Family and Work: Bridging the Gap, Ballinger Publishing (Cambridge, MA), 1986.

A Lesser Life: The Myth of Women's Liberation in America, Morrow (New York, NY), 1986.

When the Bough Breaks: The Cost of Neglecting Our Children, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1991.

(With Cornel West) The War against Parents: What We Can Do for America's Beleaguered Moms and Dads, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1998.

Taking Parenting Public: The Case for a New Social Movement, Rowman & Littlefield (New York, NY), 2002.

Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children, Miramax (New York, NY), 2002.

Baby Hunger: The New Battle for Motherhood, Atlantic Books (New York, NY), 2002.

After the Apple, Miramax (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor of articles to periodicals.

SIDELIGHTS: Economist and author Sylvia Ann Hewlett sparked heated debate among American feminists with the publication of her 1986 book A Lesser Life: The Myth of Women's Liberation in America. At issue is Hewlett's charge that the U.S. women's movement is "anti-men, anti-children, and anti-motherhood" and has not worked effectively toward the economic betterment of women. Additionally, Hewlett claims, American feminist activists have ignored the needs of the majority of women, especially working mothers. She supports her arguments with statistics and cross-cultural studies that compare women's earning power and support services in the United States and in four Western industrialized nations.

Although she has been accused by many of writing a book that, according to Bronwyn Drainie of the Toronto Globe and Mail, "will fan the anti-liberationist flames and give the back-to-the-kitchen movement greater credibility," Hewlett maintains that she is a feminist. In A Lesser Life she recounts that as an assistant professor of economics at Barnard College during the 1970s, she unsuccessfully lobbied for maternity leave for faculty members. She contends that her out-spoken activism—combined with her determination to have children—made her unpopular at the college and is the reason she was eventually denied tenure. She left Barnard in 1981 to serve as vice-president for economic studies at the United Nations Association, where she was also named director of the Economic Policy Council, a U.N. think tank that studies international economic matters. Her frustrations at trying to combine a career and a family during her years at Barnard and her findings as a member of the Economic Policy Council led her to write A Lesser Life.

Described by Florence Graves of Common Cause Magazine as "an impressive book" with "trenchant analysis and encyclopedic documentation," A Lesser Life presents a bleak view of the American woman's economic status. Despite nearly two decades of strong feminist activity, Hewlett reports, women's salaries are still only sixty-four percent of men's earnings—only one percent higher than they were in 1939. The wage earning gap between men and women in the four other nations she studied—France, Great Britain, Sweden, and Italy—is considerably narrower. Among her other findings: male high school graduates typically earn more money than female college graduates; only ten percent of U.S. working women earn more than twenty thousand dollars a year; and the majority of women work in service jobs that offer low pay and little advancement. Hewlett adds that ninety percent of U.S. women bear children and that seventy-three percent of those women hold jobs outside of the home. In the New York Times she concluded, "Unless we help women resolve their double burden as mothers and workers they are bound to remain second-class citizens."

Hewlett's contention that the U.S. feminist movement has done little to improve women's second-class status stems from her claim that the focus of the movement—that of attaining equality through the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)—is misguided and is irrelevant to most American women. She asserts that American feminists, unlike their European counterparts, have largely ignored the needs of working mothers; rather than attempting to enact legislation that provides support services for working mothers, feminists have concentrated on becoming "clones of the male competitor." European feminists, Hewlett points out, joined forces with the unions in the early part of the twentieth century to pass laws that helped working mothers. As a result, women in Britain, France, Sweden, and Italy now enjoy greater benefits, including child care subsidies and family allowances. Furthermore, Hewlett notes, maternity leave is a guaranteed right in more than 117 nations, while in the United States sixty percent of women work without such a policy. She urges that the U.S. women's movement rearrange its priorities to focus on the working mother and suggests that women join forces with the unions to accomplish their goals. "The fact is," wrote Hewlett, women "need more than equality if they are to attain equal earning power in the marketplace."

Hewlett's book has drawn impassioned responses from many longtime feminists, some of whom have rallied in support of the author's ideas. Others, like writers Betty Friedan and Robin Morgan, assert that A Lesser Life obscures the gains made by the American feminist movement. They fear that Hewlett's criticisms unintentionally lend support to a growing trend of anti-feminism in the United States. Friedan, quoted in Common Cause Magazine, argued: "Women's liberation in America is not a myth. It's real that women's lives are better today. And it's not a lesser life. That title is simply playing to the backlash that is undermining the very things [Hewlett] enjoys." Friedan also took issue with Hewlett's criticism of the ERA and with her suggestion that women "need more than equality" to be successful in the workplace. The New York Times quoted Friedan as saying that the author "wants to go back to reactionary things like getting special protection for women. But these things are all wrong. . . . If these are asked for only as protection for women, it would give employers reason not to hire women, as they did before we demanded equality and forced them to open up more jobs and positions for women."

Robin Morgan of Ms. magazine claimed that "Hewlett's premise—that the U.S. [women's] Movement is 'anti-motherhood'—is true in terms of fabricated media image but false in terms of reality." She added that the author's comparisons of women's movements in the United States and in Europe are "illuminating, but wobbly in context, and simplistic." Morgan argued that Hewlett does not take into account problems that are unique to the United States—such as ethnic diversity—that render such comparisons inaccurate and misleading.

Writing in the Toronto Globe and Mail, Drainie agreed that Hewlett's analysis has some flaws. Yet the reviewer judged the book "an exhilarating read. It's honest, well researched and passionate." Hewlett argues "persuasively" that American working mothers need more support services, noted Beryl Lieff Benderly in the Washington Post Book World, who added, "At the main task [Hewlett] sets herself . . . she succeeds very well indeed." And Joan Beck of the Chicago Tribune Book World credited Hewlett with raising some important issues and concluded: "The women's movement is still unfinished business. It's important to reassess what it has accomplished, see where it has gone astray and point out what still must be done. To that end, Hewlett's book does make an important contribution."



Hewlett, Sylvia Ann, A Lesser Life: The Myth of Women's Liberation in America, Morrow (New York, NY), 1986.


Atlantic Monthly, June, 2002, review of Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children, pp. 108-110.

Chicago Tribune Book World, May 11, 1986.

Commentary, July-August, 2002, Lisa Schiffren, review of Creating a Life, p. 52.

Common Cause Magazine, May-June, 1986.

Globe and Mail, (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 21, 1986.

Journal of Marriage and the Family, February, 2003, Sylvia Yuen, review of Taking Parenting Public: The Case for a New Social Movement, pp. 267-268.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 30, 1986.

Ms., March, 1986.

Nation, May 13, 2002, Katha Pollitt, review of Creating a Life, p. 10.

New York Times, April 21, 1986; May 20, 2002, Warren St. John, review of Creating a Life, p. A1.

New York Times Book Review, March 30, 1986; April 5, 1987; June 9, 2002, Susan Chira, review of Creating a Life, p. 16.

Political Science Quarterly, winter, 1980-81.

Time, March 31, 1986.

Times Higher Education Supplement, September 6, 2002, Katrina Wishart, review of Baby Hunger: The New Battle for Motherhood, p. 32.

Times Literary Supplement, March 27, 1987.

Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2002, Carol Hymnowitz, review of Creating a Life, p. B1.

Washington Post Book World, April 6, 1986.*.