Money  /  Journal Article

The Imperative to Buy the Best Stroller

The baby stroller is only the most visible symbol of the ethos of consumer capitalism that saturates American pregnancy and parenthood.

Among the infinite list of products parents are advertised, the stroller is arguably the most public of baby gear. The association (even if often subconscious) of certain brands and categories of baby products not just with safety, diligence, and attentiveness, as Sewell suggested, but with moral, social, or ethical superiority is widespread. Today, it’s not prams nor even $800 strollers but $1,900 UppaBaby VISATA travel systems that line the edges of certain New York playgrounds. In some social circles, the four-figure stroller and its attendant accessories might well serve as a shorthand for a babyhood presided over by cosmopolitan but unhurried mothers and filled with baby music classes, neutral colors, and bento boxes of organic toddler food. In 2000, Janelle Taylor drew a parallel between the meaning ascribed to baby products and a society that views babies themselves as products, noting that pregnancy is “in a variety of ways increasingly firmly embedded within US consumer-capitalist society and culture, as commodities available for consumption like any others.”

An ultrasound technician Taylor spoke with as part of her study of pregnancy and consumption compared patients to “shoppers,” expressing more interest in the baby’s gender than in the anatomical information the ultrasound was meant to gather. It’s easy to see how prescient Taylor’s broader observations about the commodification of pregnancy and childhood were in our world of gender reveal parties and “momfluencers.”

As recently as the early twentieth century, marketing targeted at children and mothers was seen as a kind of profane violation of the sanctity of the home—Sewell’s lecture on subpar prams was about baby safety, not style, after all. Now, though, seeing children and parents as prime grounds for marketing is not unique to prenatal diagnostic. One woman Taylor interviewed recalled going to childbirth classes, where “they were telling us all this different stuff you have to buy, and it all just seemed really intimidating. I mean there’s the baby carrier and the breast pump and the stroller and two different kinds of car seats and I don’t even know how to use them.” The class on childbirth, apparently, was at least in part a class on consumption.

Taylor cites the ways an ethos of consumer capitalism has come to saturate American pregnancy and parenthood. Even more nefarious than the positioning of babies as products is the view of pregnant women as laborers who serve primarily to create that product. In an ideology that centers the role of production in reproduction, “feminists have voiced concern that women are being reduced to the status of unskilled reproductive workers who produce those valued commodities through their alienated labor.”