Parents’ ideological inclinations inevitably impact how they raise their children. Mostly, this is harmless: Environmentalists work to inculcate a love of nature and encourage recycling; classic patriots, a love of the flag and respect for the military.
Yet some parents take things much too far. In Elle magazine, Paul Ford, a father of twins—one boy and one girl—writes about his desire to raise his children free of gender-based expectations and ensure they have equal opportunities. He laments what he sees as a system rigged against his daughter:
A woman on average will make $434,000 less than a man over her career, according to a Center for American Progress study. The gap is much greater if you compare men and women who went to college—$713,000.
Meaning if we raise our daughter as the “equal” of our son, we’ll still have come up 21.7 percent short. How do we give Ivy the same opportunities as Abe? Do we praise her 21.7 percent more? Hug her 21.7 percent harder?. . .
And then I realized, Maybe I can buy my way out of this one.
Ford explains that, projecting his now three-year-old children’s future earnings based on these statistics, he needs to come up with an investment vehicle that will yield between $1 million and $3 million for his daughter to compensate for her expected lifetime of underpayment. That’s how he plans to raise his children “fairly.”
Ford appears deeply influenced by the plight of his wife, a once successful construction industry employee, who took a year off from work and has since struggled to find a job equal in earnings and prestige. One can admire his desire for his wife and daughter to have ample economic opportunity and achieve their dreams, but still recognize that he is horribly mistaken in how he has chosen to define equality and approach his children as representatives of their sex, rather than as unique individuals.
First, Ford needs to recall what the wage gap statistic actually is. To generate the wage gap statistic, the Department of Labor just totals up the earnings of all full-time male workers and all full-time female workers and compares the average earnings. It isn’t comparing two similarly situated workers, one male and one female. Once relevant factors that impact earnings—industry, number of hours worked, experience—are taken into account, the wage gap shrinks to just a few percentage points. In other words, it’s the choices that men and women make about education and work life that are the primary cause of the wage gap.
Ford acknowledges that choices—particularly the fact that women remain far more likely than men to take time out of the workforce to care for family members—are central to differences in earnings, but hints that sexist societal expectations, which unfairly saddle women with the less remunerative role as caregivers, are to blame.
Ford’s son may also wonder why his father chose to focus solely on earnings as the measure of whether or not society treats the sexes fairly. Ford might rather have noted that his son’s life expectancy at birth was almost five years shorter than his daughters. Does his son deserve some compensation for that? Men suffer more than 90 percent of workplace-related deaths and injuries. Statistics suggest his son is also less likely to graduate from high school, college, and graduate school, and is more likely to suffer from an addiction or end up in prison. Should he be saving for his son to help him cope with these extra risks for males?
Rather than trying to sort out all the statistics that could show which sex, on average, faces more obstacles in modern society, Ford ought to recognize that his children aren’t statistics or just representatives of their sex. They are individuals and ought to be encouraged to pursue their interests, while making informed tradeoffs about education, work, and family. One may want to be an engineer or investment banker: Those pay well, but usually don’t afford as much time with family, which is something both ought to consider. One may prefer to be a journalist or teacher, great jobs that usually have family-friendly hours and high levels of personal satisfaction, but don’t pay as well. Each is a fine choice, but inevitably includes tradeoffs.
Ironically, by choosing to create a nest egg just for his daughter, Ford makes it far more likely that his children will take on more traditional gender roles. His son will have to focus much more on maximizing his earnings—working extra hours, in high-paying professions, and climbing the economic ladder—while his daughter will be free to take jobs that don’t pay as well. Without money as a pressing concern, his daughter will also be more likely to take time off from work after having children.
In other words, if making his son and daughter more equal in terms of economic power is the goal, this liberal dad’s interventions in the name of feminism will backfire for his daughter. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.