There has been a lot of reaction to my Wall Street Journal piece on the wage gap, but this one on Forbes blog seemed to beg for a response. Sasha Galbraith criticizes the explanation that the wage gap can in part be explained by women spending less time in the office than men because of the extra time women spend on housework and childcare. She writes:
I guess then, the extra hours that women put in at home in unpaid family, elder and household care count for nothing in that wage gap. In fact, Lukas cites one group of people – single, childless urban female workers between the ages of 22 and 30 – who earn 8 percent more than similar men. And that’s my point exactly! According to a University of Michigan study of U.S. families, married women with three kids or more logged an average of 28 hours of housework per week. Compare that to the 10 hours per week put in by their spouses. In fact, getting married creates 7 hours per week more (unpaid) work for the wife….
Why should we care if people work for no pay? Because ignoring unpaid work distorts our Gross Domestic Product and the assessment of our national living standards.
Ms. Galbraith seems to be missing the point of what the Department of Labor measures. When we consider the wage gap, we aren’t talking about how much value women contribute to the world or even their families, but how much employers pay employees for performing a specific set of tasks. Those who are concerned about the wage gap claim that it shows that workers doing the same job are paid differently depending on their sex. Surely no one thinks that employers should pay a woman more because she also cooks dinner that night for her family. The wage gap is an analysis of compensation for pay.
It is interesting to consider how women’s outside responsibilities affect their ability to earn pay outside the home, and indeed all the data suggests that the extra responsibilities women assume often are associated with a decline in work and earnings. Yet that’s exactly the point: the wage gap isn’t evidence of discrimination, but the different choices women make about how to spend their time.
This idea that it’s unfair that women aren’t paid for raising their children and cleaning their homes comes up for time to time (I wrote this piece on the topic). Feminist complain that this labor is discounted or doesn’t count because it is unpaid.
And it may be an interesting exercise to consider how much it would cost to replace the work performed by a stay-at-home parent. In fact, it’s an exercise that families should go through as they consider things like life insurance: Indeed it would be a major financial blow to have to hire a nanny and a housekeeper to replace the vital services of the stay-at-home parent.
But this has no relevance to issues of actual earnings, and it’s absurd to think that there is some kind of conspiracy against women when they take on unpaid work. Typically couples about to become parents think through what makes sense in handling the tasks that come with raising kids. If the mom is going to stay home, then presumably the father is going to support her and the family with money. No, he’s not going to hand her $100 each day as payment for the work she did, but she’s going to share in the use of his earnings so is in a way being compensated.
When you start considering how to add up the value of all the at-home tasks that we perform. Should I pay my husband for fixing a broken light? Or pay myself for styling my own hair?
Thankfully, families don’t think like this, and women know that money isn’t the only way to indicate value.