NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

October 16, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

When I read this article, my first response was “Late to the party, as usual.” (Forbes, 10/1/15). But now I’ve reconsidered. The fact is that, as long as certain segments of the commentariat insist that the wage gap between men and women is a matter of anti-woman discrimination, there’ll be a need for articles that debunk that notion. So, good for its writer, Tim Worstall, for getting it right on the main points of the wage gap. Yes, he misses some important aspects of the matter, but we can live with that.

Now, the National Parents Organization is for equality in all things, at least insofar as equality is possible. Obviously, equality is the very core of the idea of equally-shared parenting. And, needless to say, no one should be discriminated against in their pay based on race or sex or age or any of a number of legally unacceptable categories. Those are basics on which most people agree.

And so, rejoice! In the United States and in most industrialized Western countries, there’s essentially no indication of discrimination in wages on the basis of sex. Good for us. We’ve known this for many years. The notion of a wage gap with its roots in discrimination is not new and many, many researchers have tried to locate it without success. What they have found again and again is a wage gap based in two major phenomena – men’s and women’s differing choices about how much paid work to do, and men’s and women’s choices about what type of work to do. Here’s one analysis of about 50 such studies.

Put simply, any way researchers have looked at it, all but about five percentage points of the wage gap between men and women is explained by those two factors. Even former Clinton Administration Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich admitted as much in an interview with the New York Times seven years ago.

So we’re all glad that, overwhelmingly, U.S. employers obey the law and don’t discriminate against anyone on the basis of their sex. Well, not all of us. Those who’ve made a cottage industry of the notion that women in the aggregate earning less than men in the aggregate is a problem that government must solve aren’t about to admit the obvious. And as long as they don’t, articles like Worstall’s remain a necessary part of public discourse.

But Worstall doesn’t just get right the part about non-discrimination. He understands why the wage gap is based elsewhere.

That women, on average, earn less than men is true. That this is the result of discrimination seems not to be true. Rather, it appears to be down to the different reactions of men and women to becoming a parent. Which, given that being a mammalian and viviparous species is pretty much central to the experience of being human means that the gender pay gap just might be one of those things not amenable to having a solution.

That pretty much nails it. Worstall goes on to quote a Wall Street Journal article:

“June O’Neill, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, concluded in a 2005 study that “there is no gender gap in wages among men and women with similar family roles.”

He elaborates by quoting this article from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Table 9 (last column) further highlights the relative importance of family responsibilities versus labor market discrimination by examining the gender gap among men and women in apparently similar lifetime family situations—namely men and women who were never married and never had a child. In this case, the unadjusted gender gap is actually positive—women earn about 8% more than their male counterparts. This observation is an important one because it suggests that the factors underlying the gender gap in pay primarily reflect choices made by men and women given their different societal roles, rather than labor market discrimination against women due to their sex.

Never-married men and never-married women without children are similar in that they are not responsible for the financial support of a family as are most married men. Nor do they have the of responsibility of child care that is usually assumed by women with children. However, never-married women have better credentials than never-married men with respect to education, AFQT scores and even years of work experience (Table 11). But never-married men are not notably inferior to other men. In fact, compared to other men a higher proportion of never-married men are college graduates and they have about the same AFQT scores. When we control for these differences in characteristics, the gender gap in favor of women is eliminated, but the negative coefficient is small and is not statistically significant.

That all agrees very nicely with recent studies showing that, prior to having children, both men and women espouse the virtues of an equal division of labor between husbands and wives. The level of fidelity to the idea of both partners working equally, earning equally and doing equal amounts of childcare is reported to be quite high, particularly among those who’ve recently finished college. But then along comes the first child and all that changes. Both men and women begin to lean toward traditional gender roles.

Of course, the current discourse would like us to believe that it’s perfidious men who are responsible for that. Their selfishness, so the story goes, forces women, against their will, to care for their kids so that men can be their slovenly breadwinning selves.

That narrative of course is outright nonsense, ignoring as it does, women’s powerful biological need to be mothers to their children. Unfortunately, even though he recognizes the fact that mothers tend far more than fathers to opt out of paid work, at least for a while, to care for their kids, Worstall never mentions why they do.

As I’ve pointed out many times, nature has provided human mothers with a set of hormones that, during pregnancy and thereafter, powerfully connect them to their offspring. Given the facts that human infants are born extremely immature and dependent, take years to reach sexual maturity, take years to mature to the point where they can start to provide food for themselves, are born usually one at a time and that, for most of human history, had a high probability of not living to adulthood, something had to convince adults to care for them. The fact is that human infants, like those of most mammals are a threat to the survival of the adults on whom they depend. Therefore, something must convince those adults to risk their own lives caring for their young.

Those things are hormones like oxytocin, prolactin, estradiol, cortisol and others. And because the job they do in connecting parents to children is vital to the survival of the species, they’re among the most powerful motivators in existence. That means the human maternal motivation to care for their children is likewise among the most powerful of all human urges. Of course countless mothers have given voice to the experience of connecting with their children that, sometimes to their great surprise, simply swamped all other desires.

So it’s no surprise that, however much millennials swear allegiance to equality in all things, their actions often don’t match their words. Nor is it a surprise that it’s so often mothers who call the shots about who works for pay and who stays home.

Now, we shouldn’t forget that, unlike the great majority of mammals, humans are bi-parental. That means fathers care for children too, which in turn means they experience a similar hormonal bonding to their children. Not as much research into fathers’ attachment to offspring has been conducted as mothers’, but investigations into the roles of prolactin and oxytocin are beginning to demonstrate what we’ve always known – that fathers care for children too, albeit usually in a secondary role to that of mothers.

What does this have to do with shared parenting? Just this: As surely as both parents bond with their children, children bond with both parents. Bi-parental species that we are, our kids need both a mother and a father. So when parents split up, they, and the courts entrusted with ensuring their children’s well-being, must recognize the fact and provide circumstances in which one parent isn’t lost to the child.

Worstall twice refers to the wage gap not being amenable to a “solution.” But the very idea of a solution assumes the existence of a problem. There’s not one. As long as couples agree on how parenting and wage earning are to be accomplished and as long as the child has a meaningful relationship with each parent, there’s not a problem.

The only problem exists in the minds of those who believe that mothers who opt out of paid work to care for their children are in some way deficient and that we must all bend heaven and earth to prevent them from doing what millions of years of evolution demand.


National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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