This morning, I woke up to a comment on my Campaign Facebook page stating that anyone who was "stupid" enough to believe in the pay gap "myth" deserved to be "laughed off the stage". I considered just ignoring the comment (life is short!) but I answered that I'd like to have a discussion about it if he could refrain from insults.
I've heard the arguments against the existence of the pay gap many times, but the comment got me thinking about them again. There are many factors used by those who try to explain away disparities in lifetime earnings between men and women: fewer women enter science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) positions; women accept fewer positions in the workforce that are dangerous; and women are less aggressive in asking for raises and other compensation. Social scientists have studied the reasons for these decisions, and how to address them. Many appear to be rooted in differences in the ways we socialize girls and women in our society.
One of the most frequently cited reasons for why women have lower lifetime earnings compared to men is because of childbearing. The assertion is that women receive lower lifetime wages because they choose to leave the workforce to bear and raise children.
Let's explore that for a minute.
Women are the only gender capable of bearing children, so imagine what would happen if women--all of them--collectively, did the math and decided that they would stop having children, stay in the workforce, and close part of that pay gap. What would be the result of that collective decision?
Within the course of a few decades, our society would cease to exist.
Bearing children is essential to our survival as a species. It is a social good. Without women choosing to bear children, there would be no us. Why do we reward one type of social good--participation in the workplace--and penalize another--childbearing? Why do we assert that women should accept lower lifetime earnings because they choose to bear children?
I will admit that I don't have a solution for this. I'm not sure how we can make these equally worthy societal goods equitable in monetary compensation, although paid maternity leave would be a good place to start. But I do know that pretending that this doesn't exist won't get us there.