I used to make good money. I worked long hours, sought out opportunities and took advantage of them. Largely because of my efforts, my wife and I were able to buy a nice home with a big yard.
All that changed when, at my wife's urging, I gave up much of my career to be the manager of a household, specifically, to be the main caregiver for our baby daughter and young son. I cut back my work schedule, turned down job opportunities, closed my side business and took on the traditional female role of homemaker. I now earn just 30% of what I previously did. My wife's income, once considerably less than mine, has now soared past.
Many families with young children are in similar situations, except with more traditional gender roles: The husband works a 50-to 60-hour week, while his wife is at home, working part time or working full time at a convenient job close to home. The men's wages have soared, and the women's have plummeted. Even after their children are older, most of these women will never catch up.
The National Organization for Women supports Equal Pay Day, a day dedicated to highlighting pay discrimination against women who, we are told, earn only about 75% of what men make. What NOW doesn't recognize is that the pay gap has little to do with "discrimination" but is instead a product of the gender roles of the nation's mothers and fathers.
NOW gets 75% by comparing apples and oranges--adding up what the average full-time employed male and average full-time employed female earn, without accounting for the following:
Full-time employed males (whether fathers or not) on average work eight hours a week more than full-time employed females. According to the International Labor Organization, the average American father works 51 hours a week, whereas those mothers of young children who do work full time (themselves a minority) work a 41-hour week. Women earn 76% of what men do for working 84% (not 100%) as many hours.
Full-time employed females have, as a whole, 25% less job experience than their male counterparts. Most of this gap appears in older workers and, accordingly, the gender wage gap among older workers is far greater than that among younger workers, where recent studies indicate that it is often nonexistent. Older women earn less, in part, because they've lost years of career progress to child rearing and homemaking.
Of the 25 most dangerous jobs in the United States (according to the U.S. Department of Labor), all of them are overwhelmingly or exclusively male. Over 90% of American workplace deaths and serious injuries occur to men. It is not unfair in the least that dangerous jobs pay more than safe jobs at the same skill level.
If NOW were correct that women earn 75% of what men earn for the same job, why wouldn't American businesses hire all-female work forces, cut their labor costs by 25% and annihilate their competition?
And remember, we're only talking about wages, not spending or net worth. On those, American women come out at least even to and often ahead of American men.
Who gets the better deal: the modern mother or the modern father? I could make a long list of advantages and disadvantages for both. It depends upon the jobs and personalities of those involved.
Being at home with my young children has been the greatest experience of my life. Many stay-at-home mothers I know feel the same way. I feel sorry for my male breadwinner friends who miss out on so many of the joys of raising children. I remember the days when I'd work until 10 p.m., get home and carry my sleeping son around the house on my shoulder because I missed him so much. I have no desire to return to the demanding work schedule that most working fathers endure.
Leaving aside the mythical "wage gap" and the idea that family issues only negatively impact women and not men, NOW does have some good ideas for families. Making childcare more affordable would help both mothers and fathers, as would flextime, better health care benefits and more opportunities for family leave. Freeing up women to pursue their careers would take breadwinner pressure off men and allow them to spend more time with their children--a great benefit for families and society as a whole.
But please, stop claiming that women make less money than men because of "discrimination." And stop ignoring the contributions and sacrifices of men, who work the longest hours at the most demanding and dangerous jobs to provide for their wives and children.
This column first appeared in the Los Angeles Times (5/12/01).
Glenn Sacks is a men's and fathers' issues columnist and a . His columns have appeared in dozens of America's largest newspapers.
Glenn can be reached via his website at www.GlennSacks.com or via email at .
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