Monica Potts examines what critics of pay equity must ignore to make their case:
Some argue that the motherhood penalty can be explained by the fact that women are choosing to have children, and are often taking some amount of time off work to take care of them when they’re young. The question of why there’s no fatherhood gap, or why men rarely choose to take time off to care for young children, remains unexplained.
The other component is that women dominate in college majors leading to fields with relatively low salaries, like early childhood education, while men dominate in the high-paying ones, like engineering. All of these things, however, ignore the fact that choices aren’t made in a vacuum, and pretend as though the only real gender discrimination happens when a manager sits in his dark office poring over ledgers, dutifully subtracting 23 cents per dollar from every worker in the female column. Discrimination is more complicated and often internalized, in everything from little girls picking up subtle cues they’re bad at math or building things, to pregnant women seeing their hours cut at work even when they haven’t asked for such a change or don’t want it. It also doesn’t account for an odd distinction made between “women’s” and “men’s” fields. Call yourself a janitor, and you make about $3,000 more dollars a year than if you are a maid or a housekeeper.
Considering the “motherhood penalty”, Marjorie Romeyn-Sanabria advocates more parent-friendly work policies:
The fact that the U.S. is the only industrialized country that does not offer paid parental leave punishes women who participate in the natural experience of having a child. With the rising costs of childcare, and without the security of regular wages, the message that employers are sending women is that they are no longer valuable once they become pregnant.
We don’t need to close the wage gap; we need to remove the stigma that treats pregnant women and new mothers like pariahs, and the economic structures that punish childbearing.
Meanwhile, Evan Soltas notices occupations like manufacturing reverting to their men-only status:
Economists explain away about a third of the pay gap according to workers’ choices of occupation and industry. Implicit in their framework, though, is the idea that men and women fully choose their career. A retrenchment of the “man’s job” world weighs against the view that much progress has been made. … Women made up 32 percent of manufacturing workers in 1990; as of last month, that figure had fallen to 27 percent, lower than in any year since 1971. In the information sector, which includes computer engineering, telecommunications and traditional publishing, women’s share of jobs has dropped to the lowest on record: 40 percent, down from 49 percent in 1990.
The social concept of a “man’s job” or a “woman’s job,” that is, has sharply reasserted itself over the last two decades. Industrial change — such as technology replacing workers in manufacturing — is pushing out women more so than men.