the wage gap and work pattern
November 25, 2003 03:19 PM

A study from the GAO reported by Reuters last week finds that the wage gap continues, and is attributable to the mommy track. Women are still making 80% of what men make in the US, adjusting for education, marriage, job, etc.

The wage gap was attributed partly to differing work patterns between the sexes, with women being penalized for their frequent dual roles as wage earners while caring for home and family.

While the Reuters summary doesn't tell us anything explicit about the makeup of the group studied, it does point out some findings about men with children (they earn 2% more than men without kids) and women with children (they earn 2.5% less than their childless counterparts) that I thought were interesting.

It's common for various post- and anti-feminists to assert that a wage gap attributed primarily to women's role in the family wasn't a wage gap at all.

It's a paradox. If women are consistently faced with making less than their male partners, who is likely to do more of the child care? If women are assumed to make less and assumed to do more of the child care, are they likely to suddenly start making more? I don't think so.

Back to the post- and anti-feminists. They seem to have two arguments that "prove" the existence of a wage gap is women's "fault".

  1. That women are wired to care for children. Men, coincidentally, are wired to be more aggressive and ambitious. Thus, women are more satisfied by family and will choose family over work, while men are driven to be successful and see their family role as primarily economic.

    This argument is loaded with such obvious sexism on both sides, such notions of biological determinism and the ineffability of gender, that I expect it to be followed with some statement about the sanctity of marriage and why gays shouldn't be allowed to have any. Seriously, though, biological determinism is problematic for people of both sexes - when you assume biology forces certain behaviours, you eliminate choice. It's an overly reductive view of the family that prevents people from making the choices that might really satisfy them.

  2. That feminism made it possible for women to choose family, career, or a mix of both. Since feminism is over an all its goals accomplished, women who make less must do so because they already have the ability to choose. Thus, women make less than men because we choose to.

    Dizzying, but it's the sort of geometric proof logic that post-feminists have argued to me. And inevitably, this argument must revolve back to #1 (biological determinism) or assume that men don't have reasonable choice in their lives, because, barring any innate preference, men and women would equally choose family or career. If that were so, there'd be no wage gap.

It's more complicated than that. A family role-driven wage gap probably indicates a lack of malice or intentional discrimination on the part of employers, but it's still indicative of a lack of equality in general. And given that studies only seem to partially attribute the gap to any one factor, the ability to prove the existence of the wage gap again and again is probably a sign of many different types of economic inequalities.

The wage gap has been and continues to be emblematic of some core inequalities between the sexes. These are real concerns for women and men, because the assumptions we make about breadwinning limit choices for both genders.

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your wicked thoughts

well said.

these are the thoughts of Kerri on November 26, 2003 09:42 AM

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