Thursday, April 16, 2015

White House: Motherhood Is a 'Wage Penalty'

    In recognition of Equal Pay Day Tuesday, Betsey Stevenson, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, wrote an entry on the White House blog entitled Five Facts About the Gender Pay Gap. While touching on a number of factors influencing the "gender pay gap", Stevenson cites "motherhood" as one such factor.
    However, rather than present it as a natural choice women make, along with their mates, to enhance their lives and in turn benefit society, "motherhood" is said to be "associated with a wage penalty and lower future career earnings." The article goes on to tout the career-earnings benefits that accrue from delaying childbirth and asserts that women who might otherwise leave the workforce could be persuaded to stay with better paid family and sick leave policies and "therefore bolster their lifelong earnings."
    The full write up on the impact of motherhood on the "gender pay gap" reads as follows:
4. Motherhood is associated with a wage penalty and lower future career earnings. One reason the gender wage gap has narrowed faster among younger women is that between 1980 and 2013, the median age of first birth rose from 22.6 to 26.0. Because motherhood is associated with a wage penalty and lower wage gains later in a woman’s career these delays in childbirth have helped narrow the pay gap. Research has shown that delaying child birth for one year can increase a woman’s total career earnings and experience by 9 percent. But research shows that a lack of paid leave is one reason mothers with infants leave the labor force and therefore earn less later in life. So policies providing paid sick and family leave encourage women to participate in the labor force and therefore bolster their lifelong earnings.
    Throughout the article, Stevenson seems reluctant to acknowledge that other legitimate differences in choices women make versus men can also contribute to a pay gap. She notes that "women are still more likely to work in lower-paying occupations and industries," but says it's important to find out "what we can do to make it easier for women to succeed in high paying occupations." Stevenson's explanation seems to suggest that if men behaved differently, women might be better represented in some traditionally male-dominated fields:
For instance, from college, women are under-represented in STEM fields, receiving only 35 percent in STEM bachelor degrees. However, even among women who begin a science-related career, more than half leave by mid-career, double the rate of men. Forty percent of those who leave cite a “macho” culture as the primary reason.
    Interestingly, as pointed out Tuesday by Mary Katharine Ham at Hot Air, Betsey Stevenson acknowledged, on Equal Pay Day 2014, the impact factors other than outright discrimination can have on the pay gap [emphasis added]:
Betsey Stevenson, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, acknowledged to reporters that the 77-cent figure did not reflect equal pay for equal work. “Seventy-seven cents captures the annual earnings of full-time, full-year women divided by the annual earnings of full-time, full-year men,” she said. “There are a lot of things that go into that 77-cents figure, there are a lot of things that contribute and no one’s trying to say that it’s all about discrimination, but I don’t think there’s a better figure.”
    Despite this 2014 admission, Stevenson, throughout her 2015 article, continually comes back to the "unexplained" differences in this "stubborn and troubling... large gender pay gap," at one point even suggesting that "even though employers are prohibited from discriminating, in cultures of pay secrecy, it is more difficult to enforce non-discrimination requirements." While grudgingly acknowledging that "women are more likely to take time out of the labor force and work fewer hours", the White House's message is clear: even though "American women have made tremendous strides", the work will not be over until the gap is gone.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

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