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Equality: Childless Woman Demands Maternity Leave

Tags U.S. EconomyValue and Exchange


Meghann Foye, a childless woman, demands that people without children get maternity leave too. The purpose, Foye explains, is to allow all workers the same sort of "self-reflection" that parents of small children apparently enjoy in abundance. Writes Foye: 

The more I thought about it, the more I came to believe in the value of a “meternity” leave — which is, to me, a sabbatical-like break that allows women and, to a lesser degree, men to shift their focus to the part of their lives that doesn’t revolve around their jobs.

Foye's position is that women with children get special treatment and are allowed to work less while people like her pick up the slack. In Foye's world, parents — especially mothers — are constantly getting more time off to tend to their families. Essentially, Foye believes, mothers with children are being subsidized by those who work late and don't take work time off to tend to sick children and other types of non-wage work outside the office.

I say "office," of course, because in Foye's world, everyone works a white-collar job in which "if you poured your heart and soul into your career, you would eventually get to a director level and have the flexibility, paycheck and assistants beneath you to begin to create a work-life balance." Working class women with children who clean houses or serve food for a living are invisible. 

Needless to say, countless religion and politics bloggers have already piled on Foye from the sociological and moral angles. Like every person, I have my own opinions about the value of raising children, but as an economist, I can't say that motherhood is more valuable than doing wage work or entrepreneurial work full time. Each comes with its own set of opportunity costs for both the individual and society. 

So, I'll leave it up to others to fight over Foye's view of moms. 

For our purposes here, the biggest problem with Foye's argument is that the entire premise is based on an empirically false assumption. 

The evidence shows that childless women are not "picking up the slack" for those with children. In fact, as this report from Statistics Canada (the official government statistics portal for the Canadian government) shows, there is a "Substantial earnings gap between women with and without children":

Age-earnings profiles of Canadian mothers and women without children show that women without children systematically earned more than women with children (Chart A). At age 30, for example, the average hourly earnings of women with children were $15.20 while those for women without children were $18.10 (2004 dollars). Averaging the differences over all plausible ages showed that hourly earnings of mothers were about 12% lower than those of their childless counterparts.

This should surprise no one, of course. If a woman has to leave work early and take more time off for family reasons, it is extremely likely that she will end up being paid less. 12 percent less, it seems. 

Not surprisingly, we also find in the same report that women who take more time off work earn lower pay: 

Clearly, long career interruptions had a negative impact on the earnings of mothers (Chart C). For example, the difference in average hourly earnings between childless women and mothers with more than three years of interruption was close to 30% at age 40. 

So don't worry, Meghann Foye, over the course of your career, it's very likely you're getting paid more than those women for whom you think you are covering.

Indeed, this study, from a left-wing organization known as "Third Way" notes that for each additional child a woman has, her wages will decrease by about 4 percent. 

So where are all those "advantages" of having children that Foye imagines?

There are advantages in the subjective calculations performed by of many parents, of course, or people would not elect to have children in a world of cheap contraception. But those advantages do not come at the expense of people like Foye. 

Yes, it's true that at the highest paid, salaried levels, there is not a pay gap between women with children and childless women. But that is likely a function for of the many options available for high-end earners such as the ability to work odd hours and from off-site locations. For most women who are expected to be at the shop, restaurant, or office all day or night, dividing one's time between wage work and parenting work tends to result in a very real pay gap. 

In fact, Foye may be the one enjoying the advantage. As other empirical data has shown, if Foye is a never-married woman, she is among the highest paid groups of workers. As Andrew Syrios explained here:

[W]hen comparing never-married women with never married-men, the wage gap doesn’t just disappear, it flips. As far back as 1971, never-married women in their thirties have earned slightly more than similar men. In 1982, never-married women on the whole earned 91 percent of what men do. Today, among men and women living along from the age twenty-one to thirty-five, there is no wage gap. And among unmarried college-educated men and women between forty and sixty-four, men earn an average of $40,000 a year and women earn an average of $47,000 a year!

These are all statistical generalities, of course. It could well be that in Foye's particular field and location, women with children are somehow convincing their employers to pay out at the same rate they do for childless women. For most people, however, cutting back hours to care for children does exactly what you'd expect it to do: it results in lower earnings.

The astute reader will also notice the connection between this issue and the so-called gender wage gap. One of the key reasons that women earn less than men is because they take more time off from their careers for child rearing. People who are away from their careers for significant periods of time make less money than colleagues who never take the break. However, in order to imagine that women are paid less for the "same job" we have to pretend that distinctions like this do not exist. But, as we can see above, the data (whether published by leftists or by government agencies) clearly shows that becoming a mother impacts your ability to consistently work long hours, and thus impacts your earnings. 


Contact Ryan McMaken

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is executive editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for the Mises Wire and Power and Market, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's degree in public policy, finance, and international relations from the University of Colorado. He was a housing economist for the State of Colorado. He is the author of Breaking Away: The Case of Secession, Radical Decentralization, and Smaller Polities and Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

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