Are women unmotivated earners?

An Op-Ed argues that the wage gap results from family-minded women.

Published April 4, 2007 2:00PM (EDT)

In a fiery Washington Post Op-Ed, Carrie Lukas argues that the oft-cited statistic regarding the gender gap in wages -- "women make just 77 cents for every dollar that a man makes" -- is total feminist hogwash. It isn't an issue of institutionalized sex discrimination, she argues, but the natural result of the career choices that women make. Lukas suggests that if women actually examined the career paths of women they know personally, they'd discover that raising their income just hasn't been their top priority.

Lukas' reductivist take is: Men are ambitious and money hungry, women are solely in search of personal fulfillment. And, of course, to illustrate women's tendency toward softer, more emotionally enriching pursuits, she points to herself. She has a strong educational background -- ahem, a bachelor's from Princeton and a master's from Harvard -- and yet has pursued work in the nonprofit world because she finds it "fulfilling." She has also sought out work situations that allowed her to better balance work and family.

I'm afraid there's nothing new about this argument. A little over a year ago, Salon's Rebecca Traister interviewed wage gap denier Kate O'Beirne, author of "Women Who Make the World Worse." O'Beirne insisted that "a never-married single woman makes more than a never-married single man." Traister countered by saying, "If your thesis is that it's not sex discrimination because mothers work fewer hours, but that married men are the biggest earners, then it doesn't track. If it automatically falls to women to maintain the balancing act of parenthood, work fewer hours and therefore earn less, and married men aren't expected to cut back -- in fact they earn more -- then that is gender inequity, isn't it?" O'Beirne responded by arguing that women just want to stay at home!

It's important to remember that most calculations of the wage gap look at full-time employees over the course of a year (i.e., women who take time off for childcare are not included). Yet it still seems feasible that part of the wage gap is a result of women taking time off for pregnancy and parenting -- whether because of a biological drive or societal expectations -- thereby falling behind in their careers. That counts as gender inequality, folks!

What's most troublesome about wage gap denials like Lukas' and O'Beirne's is that they're ultimately arguing that women just aren't biologically built for workplace competition. As O'Beirne said: "Men show devotion to the family by working really hard. Women show devotion to the family by showing devotion to the family." In other words: Women belong in the home, men in the workplace. Sounds like a defense of gender inequality to me!

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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