August 3 2011

Hymowitz Admits Kids Explain the Wage Gap

Sabrina Schaeffer

Kay Hymowitz, author of Manning Up: How the Rise of Women has Turned Men into Boys, has a great article about the wage gap in the current issue of City Journal. (See what Charlotte has already written here.) 

Hymowitz helps debunk many of the misperceptions about the pay gap - the oft-repeated statistic that women still earn only 75 cents for every dollar a man earns. As Carrie and I have written repeatedly (see here and here, for instance), there is a lot at fault with this 75-cent statistic. And Hymowitz identifies most of these problems - for example, the notion that "full time" often means different things to men and women.  

Hymowitz's article brings additional value to the conversation, however, in two ways. First she acknowledges that even when you control for things like college major and time taken off of work, a small wage gap remains. "Now, while a 5 percent gap will never lead to a million-woman march on Washington, it's not peanuts," Hymowitz writes. "Over a year, it can add up to real money, and over decades in the labor force, it can mean the difference between retirement in a Boca Raton co-op and a studio apartment in the inner suburbs."  

And the author acknowledges that it's impossible to discount discrimination altogether - from both men and women who may view female employees as less reliable, less flexible, or less willing to work long hours. For those of us who tend to explain away the wage gap through women's choices, it's a healthy reminder that the labor market is still imperfect.  

The other way Hymowitz adds to the debate is by acknowledging what's really behind the gap: kids. It's this "mommy track" Hymowitz explains, that helps largely explain the pay gap. She points out that "a number of researchers have found that if you consider only childless women, the wage gap disappears." But the fact is, "when working mothers can, they tend to spend less time at work."  

So the question remains: Is it necessary to completely close the wage gap? Will that make women happier? Is that the final frontier for modern feminism? Or, should we begin to accept the fact that wages and salaries are just one measure of success for women. That by choosing to be a pediatrician rather than a surgeon women are not necessarily worse off; rather they have found a way to exercise their professional ambitions as well as their inherent desires to be mothers.  

If we want to have an honest debate about the wage gap - something those who continue to advance this 75-cent statistic do not - we should consider what the ramifications would be if we were somehow able to magically close the wage gap completely. What would be the impact if we placed all the emphasis on competing in the workforce rather than recognizing the value in motherhood?  

I suspect there may be some very imperfect results in this imaginary perfect world.      

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