Why the Gender Gap Won’t Go Away. Ever.

Kay Hymowitz turns her usual laser-sharp powers of research and deduction on a popular feminist myth that just won’t die–the wage gap:

Early this past spring, the White House Council on Women and Girls released a much-anticipated report called Women in America. One of its conclusions struck a familiar note: today, as President Obama said in describing the document, “women still earn on average only about 75 cents for every dollar a man earns. That’s a huge discrepancy.”

It is a huge discrepancy. It’s also an exquisite example of what journalist Charles Seife has dubbed “proofiness.” Proofiness is the use of misleading statistics to confirm what you already believe. Indeed, the 75-cent meme depends on a panoply of apple-to-orange comparisons that support a variety of feminist policy initiatives, from the Paycheck Fairness Act to universal child care, while telling us next to nothing about the well-being of women….

What we do know is that making discrimination the default explanation for a wage gap, as proofers want us to do, leads us down some weird rabbit holes. Asian men and women earn more than white men and women do, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Does that mean that whites are discriminated against in favor of Asians? Female cafeteria attendants earn more than male ones do. Are men discriminated against in that field? Women who work in construction earn almost exactly what men in the field do, while women in education earn considerably less. The logic of default discrimination would lead us to conclude that construction workers are more open to having female colleagues than educators are. With all due respect to the construction workers, that seems unlikely.

Graph by Robert Pizzo

So why do women work fewer hours, choose less demanding jobs, and then earn less than men do? The answer is obvious: kids….

Here’s what the authors found: right after graduation, men and women had nearly identical earnings and working hours. Over the next ten years, however, women fell way behind. Survey questions revealed three reasons for this. First and least important, men had taken more finance courses and received better grades in those courses, while women had taken more marketing classes. Second, women had more career interruptions. Third and most important, mothers worked fewer hours. “The careers of MBA mothers slow down substantially within a few years of first birth,” the authors wrote. Though 90 percent of women were employed full-time and year-round immediately following graduation, that was the case with only 80 percent five years out, 70 percent nine years out, and 62 percent ten or more years out—and only about half of women with children were working full-time ten years after graduation. By contrast, almost all the male grads were working full-time and year-round. Furthermore, MBA mothers, especially those with higher-earning spouses, “actively chose” family-friendly workplaces that would allow them to avoid long hours, even if it meant lowering their chances to climb the greasy pole.

In other words, these female MBAs bought tickets for what is commonly called the “mommy track.” … When working mothers can, they tend to spend less time at work….

In the literature on the pay gap and in the media more generally, this state of affairs typically leads to cries of injustice. The presumption is that women pursue reduced or flexible hours because men refuse to take equal responsibility for the children and because the United States does not have “family-friendly policies.” Child care is frequently described as a burden to women, a patriarchal imposition on their ambitions, and a source of profound inequity. But is this attitude accurate? Do women want to be working more, if only the kids—and their useless husbands—would let them? And do we know that more government support would enable them to do so and close the wage gap?

Actually, there is no evidence for either of these propositions. If women work fewer hours than men do, it appears to be because they want it that way. About two-thirds of the part-time workforce in the United States is female. According to a 2007 Pew Research survey, only 21 percent of working mothers with minor children want to be in the office full-time. Sixty percent say that they would prefer to work part-time, and 19 percent would like to give up their jobs altogether….

Less time at work, whether in the form of part-time jobs or fewer full-time hours, is what many women want and what those who can afford it tend to choose. Feminists can object till the Singularity arrives that women are “socialized” to think that they have to be the primary parent. But after decades of feminism and Nordic engineering, the continuing female tropism toward shorter work hours suggests that that view is either false or irrelevant. Even the determined Swedes haven’t been able to get women to stick around the office.

(Read the piece in its entirety at THIS LINK.)

In her conclusion, Hymowitz concedes that it is “risky” for women in today’s world to take a lot of time off to bring up children. If they end up having to go back to work because their husbands “run off with the Pilates instructor,” then they’ve got to quickly polish up their career skills in order to support themselves. Judeo-Christian ethics provide support and help for abandoned wives and mothers: the extended family is to be the primary support network, and, failing that, the church is to have a concrete, material role in taking care of widows, including abandoned wives. That the majority of families and churches have forgotten this is an absolute tragedy, as it demonstrates that we’ve lost the meaning of “religion pure and undefiled” (James 1:27) and are blatantly ignoring the commands for the support of such women given in Acts 6 and I Timothy 5.

No mother should be forced to hand her children over to strangers so she can keep food on the table. Many single moms (several of whom write for LAF) have found creative ways to support their children from home even while home educating and maintaining their dignity–but it is a bitter pill when the church turns a blind eye and acts like the real answer to such “problem situations” is for mothers to get back on the career track. As Christians, we have better solutions. If we lived them out, there would be fewer women feeling the pressure to stick at a job when they’d rather be taking care of their children and making a real home.

Intact families with one bread-winner have a role here, too, as we can demonstrate through frugality and home-based entrepreneurship that it is completely possible to stay on the “mommy track” without government assistance or fancy corporate programs. Let’s show the 79% of women who do not want to be in a full-time job away from their kids that it is possible to come home and not look back.

2 thoughts on “Why the Gender Gap Won’t Go Away. Ever.

  1. I believe the idea of extended family and/or the church assisting mothers and women is wonderful. However, as correctly pointed out, it’s just not happening nowadays. I know from personal experience that more women are indeed directed to the work world to “solve” their financial woes in a crisis. Church sponsored daycare facilities were few and far between, and were quite expensive (in my experience). Extended family? I now live at least 500 miles from any of MY family and unfortunately they are all too busy with their own lives to be of assistance to me. My husband’s family? Totally untrustworthy. Sadly, we find this all too true in today’s society too, that even extended family cannot be “trusted” to impart YOUR values to your children. I may face widowhood at any time. What will I do? I do not know at this time. Where would I turn, where would I go? I do not know. What I DO know and what I AM finding is that the Church per se doesn’t reach out any more to mothers and widows. It’s so, so, so sad….and what can we do about it?


    1. Kathleen, you are 100% correct, and it is a crying shame and a judgment on the church. If we do not even live what our Scriptures command, how on earth can we reach the lost with the “good news” of the gospel? Our good news is impotent if it falls down on caring for “the least of these,” just as Christ commanded. The loss of the extended family network is also crippling. Here in Kenya, families really do take care of each other, even if they live hundreds of miles apart. When someone dies, the entire extended family comes to the funeral and stays for days to help out. When grandparents grow too feeble to work, the children take them in and care for them — and are happy to do so, because the grandparents help them with the next generation through teaching and caregiving. We’ve become so individualistic in the west that we’d rather shuffle “old folks” into “homes” that aren’t homes. It is a serious investment to care for the elderly, but we owe it to them. It is a serious investment for the family and the church to care for widows and orphans, but it isn’t an option. We need to pray fervently for a revival/reformation in the church and begin (even in small ways) to put these things into practice in our own homes and communities. And, realistically, we need to learn to be more frugal, especially as the US government is only increasing the debt burden on the next three or four generations. Living simply and saving is going to be a survival skill in the coming generation.


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