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Women Sacrifice Pay For Families

Sat., Jan. 6, 1996

I am not the CEO of a Fortune 1000 corporation, nor do I earn 47 times the pay of the lowliest minion in the company (or the country). Is it the glass ceiling? Discrimination against women?

Or maybe it’s the fact that I majored in English and became a journalist.

The Pacific Research Institute has made a stir with a report that argues women earn less than men primarily because of the choices they make, not because of discrimination.

“Free Markets, Free Choices: Women in the Workforce,” by public policy fellows Katherine Post and Michael Lynch, makes a strong case that women who educate themselves like men and work like men can succeed like men.

But women who make family-first choices - such as taking time off to raise children - aren’t likely to end up on the top of the corporate food chain.

Women earn 72 cents on the male dollar, estimates the Labor Department; as an hourly wage, that rises to 82 cents.

But among 27- to 33-year-olds who have never had children, women earn 98 cents on the male dollar, according to the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.

“The gender pay gap virtually disappears when age, educational attainment and continuous time spent in the workforce are factored in as wage determinants,” write Post and Lynch.

Compared to men, women choose less lucrative fields of study and careers, often gravitating toward work that is more compatible with child-raising. For example, a woman who chooses teaching knows she will be able to spend late afternoons, school holidays and vacations with her children. If she takes time off when her children are young, her skills will be not be obsolete when she returns to teaching.

However, this is changing. Women are having fewer children, later in life; divorce remains common. So women are moving into more lucrative fields, such as business.

The Glass Ceiling Commission complained that women make up only 5 percent of senior managers at Fortune 1000 companies. Look back: What percentage of MBAs went to women 25 years ago, when today’s CEOs were starting their careers? The answer is: 3.6 percent. By 1993, however, women were earning 35.6 percent of MBAs, a tenfold increase.

Female entrepreneurship has soared: Businesses owned by women employ 15.5 million people, 35 percent more than the work force of Fortune 500 firms.

Women have moved rapidly into the professions. From 1960 to 1993, the percent of M.D.s earned by women increased sevenfold, from 5.5 percent to 37.7 percent. Law is even more dramatic. In 1960, women earned 2.5 percent of law degrees; in 1993, 42.5 percent.

Still, women tend to earn less than men with the same education in the same careers. Why? Because they sacrifice seniority for family, say Post and Lynch.

A 1984 census study found that men spend 1.6 percent of their work years out of the work force; women spend 14.7 percent at home. According to the census, women with no work interruptions earned nearly as much as men.

In many families, the wife is the primary caretaker, while the husband is the primary earner. A married father’s work hours increase with the number of children, writes economist Thomas Sowell, while the married mother’s (paid) work hours decrease. “Married men with children work the most and earn the most, while married women with children work the least and earn the least.”

This family division of labor can be just fine - if they stay married. If they divorce, the wife will pay a substantial penalty for her family focus.

As far back as the ‘70s, never-married women in their 30s who had worked continuously earned slightly more than never-married men, who earn less than married men, say Post and Lynch. “There is vast evidence that women who choose to remain single, invest in education, and work long hours, have in the past and continue to fare about as well as men in the labor market, and apparently continue to do so.”

It’s nice that single, childless female workaholics can get ahead at the same rate as married male workaholics.

But 81 percent of American women get married. Very few marry Mr. Mom.

Society has an interest in supporting the decision of parents to spend time and energy on maintaining their families and raising their children.

The traditional social structures that kept women in the role of homemaker and mother have crumbled, opening up opportunities and choices.

The traditional social structures that kept marriages together “for the sake of the children” also have crumbled, making it dangerous to rely on someone else’s paycheck.

If more women behave more like men, who will care for the children?


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