The Atlantic is the latest outlet to report that differences between men and women’s wages are primarily caused by life factors — particularly the presence of children — and not by workplace discrimination:

We have to talk about the gender wage gap in Ireland. It’s the highest in the world. But there’s a catch. It’s not men earning more than women. It’s women — those without children, at least — earning more than men.

Irish women without kids earn 17 percent more than the typical male worker, according to new research from the OECD. Along with Australia, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, it is one of four rich countries where women without children report higher wages than men.

In the United States, we’ve seen similar comparisons, such as this one, which found that young, childless women living in big cities out-earn their male peers. Other reports, such as the AAUW’s, found that after controlling for numerous variables (career choice, hours worked, family situation) men continue to earn more than women, but the gap shrinks to less than 7 percent. That’s still a difference, but one that’s much smaller than the 77-cents-on-the-dollar figure that we so often hear from politicians.

This is important information from a public-policy perspective: Sex discrimination by employers isn’t the reason why women, on average, earn less than men do. That’s why proposals like the Paycheck Fairness Act, which is advanced under the banner of closing the wage gap through greater oversight of employers, will fail. Children are the key variable. 

Before feminists and other social engineers begin dreaming up proposals to reduce the impact that children have on work decisions and men and women’s earnings, it’s worth noting that places like Germany, which have very progressive policies when it comes to paid parental leave, have higher than average gaps among men and women with kids. 

The simple reality is that men and women tend to react differently to having children, and this has been the case throughout history and all across the globe. No set of public policies is likely to change that, nor should it. We’ve seen a growing number of high-profile women successfully juggling parenting and work responsibilities; that’s a trend that’s likely to continue. Yet it’s unlikely that the wage gap will ever fully disappear, which isn’t a problem so long as that gap is a reflection of the choices that men and women freely make. 

— Carrie Lukas is the managing director of the Independent Women’s Forum.