In one of last month’s posts on the Freakonomics Blog, Dubner highlights a chapter in SuperFreakonomics that discusses the wage gap between men and women, finds that many women have a lower participation in the workforce after having children and conclude that women end up earning less than men because "many women, even those with MBAs, love kids”. This is an oversimplification of the chapter, of course, but the ease with which the authors jumped from the statistic "women with kids work less” to the conclusion "women love kids and thus choose to work less” was pretty irritating to me.
Here are some more statistics: women do significantly more housework than their husbands, even after controlling for how many hours each spouse works and their earnings. Is that because they like cleanliness better or are better at cleaning? Maybe. You almost never hear of men changing their last names when they get married or of children getting their mother’s last name when they’re born. Is that because women don’t like their last names? Maybe.
But it’s also entire possible (and I think likely) that women feel more societal and family pressure to put their careers second to children and to be responsible for the housework. If society on average expects women to be the primary caretakers of children and houseworkers rather than men, women may end up working less and doing more housework even if they don’t care about kids any more than their husbands.
Imagine you come to a couple’s house for dinner and see that it’s a mess (dishes aren’t done, male and female clothes on the floor). You have to pick either the husband or the wife as the one who failed in their responsibilities. I’m sure you would be equally likely to pick either one because you’re so egalitarian? But do you think only 50% of the people would blame the woman for the mess?
How many people would think a man was a bad parent if he said, "I won’t be taking any time off when my child is born” v. if a woman said the same thing (minus some necessary time off to recover from giving birth)? Assuming no one wants to be thought of as a bad parent, who do you think will be the one taking time off? And if you’re a married woman of child-bearing age, think about what your mother would say to you if you told her that you plan to keep working while your husband stays home with the baby.
This is of course not meant to offend any women who don’t feel pressured to step back from their careers to spend more time with their children. And maybe the statistics in Dubner’s post do explain the direct cause of the wage gap. But the statistics don’t explain the fundamental cause, the reason for the career differences, and I think those causes are pretty damn important to figure out. Saying that it must be because "women love babies” is like saying that black kids score worse on standardized tests because "black people don’t like learning”.