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…..