Perhaps we should start talking about the “gender hours gap” instead of the “wage gap.” Beloved of old time feminists, who still cry discrimination in an era when women outnumber men on campus and have bright futures, the wage gap is name for the difference between what men and women earn.
Feminists like to cite the figure 77 cents to the dollar for the gap, but IWF has long argued that, when women’s choices are factored into the equation, the wage gap shrinks to a much smaller amount; indeed, in the cases of young, urban professionals, women actually out-earn their male counterparts.
Now, the always interesting Manhattan Institute fellow and author Kay Hymowitz restates the “choices” theory as an hours worked gap. She calls the gender hours worked gap a “cousin” of the wage gap. Hymowitz writes:
The Labor Department defines full-time as 35 hours a week or more, and the "or more" is far more likely to refer to male workers than to female ones. According to the department, almost 55% of workers logging more than 35 hours a week are men. In 2007, 25% of men working full-time jobs had workweeks of 41 or more hours, compared with 14% of female full-time workers. In other words, the famous gender-wage gap is to a considerable degree a gender-hours gap. Hymowitz writes:
The main reason that women spend less time at work than men—and that women are unlikely to be the richer sex—is obvious: children. Today, childless 20-something women do earn more than their male peers. But most are likely to cut back their hours after they have kids, giving men the hours, and income, advantage.
One study by the American Association for University Women looked at women who graduated from college in 1992-93 and found that 23% of those who had become mothers were out of the workforce in 2003; another 17% were working part-time. Fewer than 2% of fathers fell into those categories. Another study, of M.B.A. graduates from Chicago's Booth School, discovered that only half of women with children were working full-time 10 years after graduation, compared with 95% of men.
Women, in fact, make up two-thirds of America's part-time workforce. A just-released report from the New York Federal Reserve has even found that "opting-out" by midcareer college-educated wives, especially those with wealthy husbands, has been increasing over the past 20 years.
Hymowitz notes that activists generally propose two solutions to what they regard as a problem: first, men should become more involved with childrearing, and, second, the government should introduce more generous family leave and childcare policies. Since about 40 percent of children in the U.S. are born out of wedlock, the first “solution” has some built-in drawbacks.
Sweden and Iceland have led the way with leave policies and publicly-funded childcare. Yet in both countries, an hour and wage gaps persist. In fact, all over the developed world a larger percentage of women than men either work part-time or say they wish they could work do so.
A 2007 Pew Research survey came up with similar results for American women: Among working mothers with minor children, 60% said they would prefer to work part-time, while only 21% wanted to be in the office full-time (and 19% said they'd like to give up their job altogether). How about working fathers? Only 12% would choose part-time and 70% wanted to be full-time.
Some counter that the hours gap would shrink if employers offered more family-friendly policies, such as flexible hours and easier on-off ramps for moving in and out of the workforce. We don't know if there is a way to design workplaces so that women would work more or men would work less or both. What we do know is that no one, anywhere, has yet figured out how to do it. Which means that for the foreseeable future, at least when it comes to income, women will remain the second sex.
One thing this shows is that all the expensive government policies and mandates in the world aren’t going to "solve" a “problem” that women create by making their own choices about the kinds of lives they want to lead.