Mothers earn less than non-mothers, fathers more than non-

Quite the most annoying thing concerning the current furore over the gender pay gap is that the explanations of why it exists are now, finally, zeroing in why it actually exists. As horrible little neoliberals like myself have been pointing out for a couple of decades now. It’s not really anything about the world of work itself, it’s not discrimination by employers, it all stems from the manner in which people organise their own lives. Specifically, it’s about the arrival of children, who cares for them, who thinks they will care for them when they arrive and so on.

It’s not, after all, that much of a stretch to think that the central event of life, the arrival of new life to perpetuate it, has an influence upon life now, is it? And all we do need to call into evidence to explain the current observed gender earnings gap is that among women mothers earn less than non-mothers, among men fathers earn more than non-fathers. Yes, this is after all the other varied influences, age, education and so on.

Why, it’s almost as if a sexually dimorphic species has a different reaction – on average of course – to the arrival of anklebiters. Who could have thought that one up?

Thus Suzanne Moore:

Men are seen as always more committed to work, with their families taken care of. Sure, there may not be jobs for life; but there aren’t that many top jobs for women who create life. Pregnancy is a sign of wavering commitment. Despite some advances, a woman’s earnings often drop even if she goes straight back to work after having a baby. Certainly, over her lifetime, becoming a parent will penalise her financially.

This has become more than an issue about equal pay. It is about the unpaid care a woman does, and how that affects her choices. Apart from children, she may have to look after other family members, and this often again means low-paid part-time work.

The pay gap, therefore, is not simply about equal pay for equal work: it’s about trying to minimise the structural inequalities in the system. Part-time workers need to sign up to unions, and we have to stop speaking of part-time work itself as either the destiny of women, or as a sign that women are all less ambitious than men. How is it right to have highly paid men in top roles being served by women who are themselves penalised for having children?

What is perceived as a choice for women is not much of a choice. High-earning women, of course, can pay others to sort out their family lives; at a certain income you can cut out the parental penalty. But that is not most people’s lives.

Well, yes, that’s a pretty good statement of exactly what I’ve just said. The gender pay/earnings gap is about caring, home life, children. And?

That and? being the most important part of the discussion. For we’ve two possible different responses here. One is what Moore seems to be suggesting, that there’s some imposition here by some impersonal force – say capitalism, the patriarchy – which causes this. It’s also possible to say that it’s simply the aggregate outcome of personal choices being made by parents as I would put it.

Dependent upon your answer there you’ll end up with different prescriptions for society. Moore’s answer, the current popular one, seems to be that society must be changed. Mine is to celebrate that we’ve reached that level of freedom and liberty where people can indeed choose, as they are. And then to deliver the downer, which is that you’ve got to put up with the aggregate results of people exercising that freedom and liberty.

Which is where today’s society seems to have the problem, isn’t it? That unwillingness to agree that decisions have consequences, that there are always opportunity costs…..

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  1. Even if successful women can “pay others to sort out their family lives” they usually pay other women to do it, and they pay them less. Childminders for example, a very significant number will do it so they can look after their own children too.

  2. Even when lefties are gotten to understand that more than 100% of the gender earnings gap* owes to the personal choices of the “victims,” they proceed under the same model of white-male class hatred, saying, “Then women’s choices must be modernized.” Ultimately, individual choices must be scrapped in favor of pretty statistical totals. Do they ever wake up and decide to stop talking foolishly that day?

    * More than 100% because laws compel some of us (such as universities) to hire and promote women as equals even when their priorities are obviously elsewhere.

  3. The biology argument, though sound, is a bit too close to “That’s the way things have always been done around here” for my liking. Let’s assume that there is some proportion of mothers, maybe ten per cent, maybe ninety, who would like a successful career outside the home just as much as a man does.

    The latest US Census Bureau figures say that 69% of households with children are two-parent, 23% are single-parent, with the remaining 8% being presumably households where the carers are not the parents. The UK Office of National Statistics figures are somewhat opaque. Two people living together with no children in the household are considered a family; single-parent families are 15% of all families. With some more digging, which I’m too lazy to do, I could probably render both sets of statistics in a common format, but I would guess that the US figures are representative of both the US and UK, and probably of all North Atlantic countries as well. Add divorce and separation and the situation becomes even more complicated.

    Going back to the ambitious mother, how does she achieve her career goals? I imagine, though I’m not at all sure on this point, that she faces strong societal pressure to be a good mother and put her children first. On the telly she hears about some paragon mother who started out baking cookies and now runs a mammoth catering company. She’d love to have a go at something like that, but when you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s hard to keep your focus on draining the swamp. If she’s a single parent too, life just became a whole lot tougher.

    Earnings are a measure of productivity, and lower earnings means that there are a lot of people working at below their potential. There’s an underutilised resource sitting here, and saying “You made your choice, now live with it” isn’t any kind of solution to the problem. With things as they are, we’re all a bit poorer than we could otherwise be.

    The gender pay gap is an obvious red herring, but the biology argument is not a full explanation either. Before the problem can be addressed it must be defined and understood. Here at ConTel there are some very good brains. Let’s hear some novel, contrary and unconventional opinions too.

  4. “Which is where today’s society seems to have the problem, isn’t it?”

    It’s the old argument about ‘equality of outcome’ versus ‘equality of opportunity’. They’re still trying to get the former accepted as the default.

    “Earnings are a measure of productivity, and lower earnings means that there are a lot of people working at below their potential. There’s an underutilised resource sitting here”

    No. The problem is that people can produce for themselves, or for other people, and both are equally forms of production making the world better, but we only measure the latter using money. (Since money is specifically a measure of what we have produced for the rest of society that society has not yet repaid.)

    “The gender pay gap is an obvious red herring, but the biology argument is not a full explanation either. Before the problem can be addressed it must be defined and understood.”

    Part of the issue is understood. If people take time out of work, they’re not earning, and they’re not accumulating experience. Perhaps a little less obviously, even when working part-time, pay progression stops. (Figures 6, 7, and 10 in makes the issue particularly clear.)

    The question is simply why do more women than men take that time off? Is it because the fathers earn more (since the expectation is costed in) and therefore the family loses less income if the mother gives up work? In which case, it’s a “vicious-circle” problem and briefly forcing equal pay would fix it for once and all. Is it because society imposes the choice on people, by its social norm expectations, or how it treats stay-at-home dads, or by financial penalties imposed through the tax system? If so, you could stop society imposing its choices on other people. Or is it by personal preference? If so, this shouldn’t be considered a problem. Whether the source of the preference is biological, cultural, or anything else should be irrelevant.

    The “equality of outcome” argument has always had a problem with people making choices that naturally lead to different outcomes.

  5. If you take, biologically, the family unit as a whole the gender pay gap is irrelevant as their earning as a single economic unit are what matter not the gender divide.
    The fact so much is made of the gender pay gap just shows what feminists think of ‘traditional’ families

    • Economically, sure. You have a point. But what also matters is whether people’s choices are forced, or whether they’re all being allowed to do what they really want.

      Suppose the father wants to stop work and look after the kids, and the mother wants a career, but they have to face the fact that if they do it that way round, they’ll lose a lot more earnings as a family because society expects women to take time off and therefore factors it into the pay each gets. Or because the “traditional family” standard says it’s the man who has to work and they’d face a social penalty of disapproval or a reputation as a social heretic if they violated traditional norms like that.

      I don’t think this is the case, nowadays. But the “traditional family” developed in a time when society was just as authoritarian as the progressives are today – just with a different set of rules to follow. Just because it’s “traditional” doesn’t mean it’s good. Doesn’t mean it’s bad, either.

  6. You get less pay if you work less. That’s a fundamental fact.
    Biology forces a working female to take time off work to give birth. That is also a fundamental fact.

    There is a minimum that females biologically MUST take off work to give birth. My sister-in-law was in labour for more than 20 hours, so it’s unlikely you can squeeze it down to doing it over the weekend, so biology FORCES a female to take at least SOME time off work to give birth.

    So, that is the starting point. Everything flows from there.

    Biology forces mothers into a state where they have less accumulated work. Fathers have been given the choice to also accumulate less work, but evidence shows many chose not to chose to accumulate less work. Additionally, non-parents are also not chosing to voluntarily accumulate less work. As long as non-mothers do not chose to accumulate less work than mothers there will be an earnings gap.

    So, any solution has to start from that point. What do you do? Temporarily lay off the non-mothers in your company to force them to accummulate the same amount of work as the mothers? The Guardian has been shouting about this the loudest, and even subtitles articles “how it can be solved”, but I have yet to actually find any solutions.

    • Absences forced by biology is a tiny piece of the picture, minimized even further by the fact that many fathers want to be present during labor.

      “More/less accumulated work” presumably means continuity in the workplace. Given a two-parent household, this depends on personal decisions, which vary greatly by sex.

      Although you address techniques by which we might find any solutions, I do not see a problem statement on this page. Is it that we need to devise one or many coercive solutions that will render people equally valuable to their businesses despite differences in their preferences, priorities, and life focus? That would be total makework with a heavy focus in compelling third parties to deny reality.

    • As tomorrow seems to be a U.S. commemoration of this pay gap (hence the source article?) Investors Business Daily on the U.S. West Coast has an editorial noting there are a bunch of other inequalities, such as that women have a shorter average daily commute. So much to be equalized! Force them to take side roads?