Equal Pay at the Altar? (and the war of statistics)
My thoughtful feminist husband first told me about it: the latest salvo in the defensive battle being waged against equal pay for equal work by women. It was the grenade tossed by Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the so-called “pro family” organization Eagle Forum. As she wrote in a Christian Post op-ed published earlier this week and reported on ironically in Huff Post, it is her opinion that “providing women with equal pay for equal work would deter their chances for finding a suitable mate.”
Schlafly argued that since women prefer to marry men who make more money than they do, decreasing the gender gap would leave a woman tragically unable to snag a husband. She names this “fact” hypergamy, which she says means that not only do women instinctively prefer higher paying mates but that men also generally prefer being the higher earner in a relationship.
So if somehow the pay gap between men and women ever is eliminated, she reasons, using what she admits is simple arithmetic, half of all women would be unable to find a husband. Which is a very bad thing, worse than being poorer and less valued.
This longtime opponent to the equal rights amendment went on to add that besides the need to protect women from a marriage-less existence, equality of pay is undeserved by women because “they work fewer hours per day, per week, per year” and prefer a pleasant working environment and conditions over an evened out paycheck.
In other words, this aspect of what is sometimes coined the war on women (on both sides of the spectrum), the commonly accepted statistic that women earn only 77 percent of what men earn is either a very good thing — or a status women bring on themselves. Or is an essential part of their nature, the inherent difference between women and men.
Fellow conservative columnist Thomas Sowell also took on equal pay for equal work this week, alleging that the reason this statistic is what it is—which he doubts is accurate at all on the face of it — is due to the whole range of what he sees as reasonable and inevitable difference between women’s patterns and men’s patterns in the labor market. It’s just who they are.
For example, he points out, some women are mothers and others are fathers. He admits that the biggest disparities in incomes are between fathers and mothers. The reason: “if you don’t think children take up a mother’s time, you just haven’t raised any children,” he says.
How surprising is it, he postulates, that men with children earn not only more than women with children but men without children (just the opposite of the gap between women with no children and mothers) earn more than men without children because “a man who has more mouths to feed is more likely to work longer hours and take on harder and more dangerous jobs to earn more money.”
He disputes any allegation that men are offered and paid more than women every time they hire a man to do a job that a woman could do just as well. They would be fools, he declared.
In a new book What Works for Women at Work, co-authored by Joan C. Williams, founding director of the Center for Worklife Law at the University of California’s Hastings law school, and her daughter Rachel Dempsey, they lay out the actual statistics. Women with children indeed not only make less money in the workforce, they are 79 percent less likely to be hired at all than are similarly qualified women without children. Men with children, on the other hand, are more likely to be given a promotion or pay increase.
Statistics can be dry and impenetrable. We often prefer narratives, the stories behind them, as we work for change. But in the wrong hands, data can be used in manipulative and insidious ways.
Women: arm yourselves.