Feb. 11, 2009
With great fanfare, President Barack Obama last week signed his first bill. The White House was the backdrop for a celebratory East Room signing ceremony. The bill, backers acknowledge, "overrules a Supreme Court ruling." The subject was a favorite of feminists: equal pay for equal work. Now, the sight of a roomful of liberals cheering when Congress and the President overrule the Supreme Court ought to make any of us happy. But I wish the President had not repeated that old feminist line: women make just seventy-eight cents to every one dollar men make.
The fact is true, but it is also misleading. Liberals claim that it is because of job discrimination that women are relatively disadvantaged. This is not the case. The reason that the average woman earns 78% of the what the average man earns is because the average woman spends part of her adult life outside of the paid workforce or working only part-time (generally while bearing and raising children), whereas the average man works full-time for all or nearly all of his adult life. And there is no injustice in paying workers (whether male or female) more money when they have more work experience.
On the very day the President made his East Room statement, my daughter called me to announce she was quitting her job. Despite her fine education and her excellent promotion prospects, my daughter and son-in-law had decided that she would stay at home with their newborn son. I thanked God for their decision. Our daughter was exercising her freedom to choose. I thought liberals were in favor of "a woman's right to choose."
The falsehood of the 78-cent comparison could be seen at my own breakfast table. For most of the 30 years that my wife and I have been married, I earned 78 cents for every dollar she earned. That's because she was a senior military officer and I have worked for Washington-based non-profits. Again, we were exercising our freedom to choose.
The only way there can ever be a complete parity of pay for all women in relation to all men is for women to reject the high calling of full-time mother and homemaker. Granted, tens of millions of women are pursuing careers, many of them contributing greatly to the nation's economic life. No one wants to hinder them. When women choose, however, to raise families full-time, that choice should be honored, supported, even applauded. Such families deserve equitable treatment in our tax code. There should not be government pressure-real or implied-to push them into the paid labor force. And that's just what canards like the 78-cent fallacy are designed to do.