Discussion: care taking and the wage gap

Anytime there’s a discussion about the wage gap between men and women, someone blames pregnancy for it. The argument goes something like this: “Well, you ladies take off all this time to have babies, so of course you miss out on promotions.”

They say it like women are taking time off from work to get caught up on their soaps. Of course if you were absent a lot for some totally frivolous reason, you would have no right to complain if you miss out on raises or promotions.

But the two main reasons women miss work, or take a few years out of their careers, is (a) to give birth, (b) to raise kids and (c) to take care of elderly or disabled family members. Only the first is something that falls to women because of biology. The others fall to women because of culture. If you’re going to heap a chore on someone for no reason other than bias, then you have a duty to make sure they don’t experience additional collateral damage for doing it.

But another point is that none of these reasons women miss work are strictly for their own benefit. Caring for the elderly or disabled benefits not only the person being cared for, but the whole family. Nurses and care homes are expensive, and may not be ideal for a variety of reasons. A woman who misses work to take care of someone this way is performing a self-sacrificing act for the greater good. Surely this should not be rewarded with less pay and promotions on the job.

Giving birth and raising kids are also not frivolous things that only benefit women. Men also want children. And governments want people to have babies; this is evident by the way in which they totally panic every time the birthrate slips a percentage point or so and start offering people all sorts of incentives to make more babies, quick! So even when a woman has a baby on her own just because she wanted to, she is still doing something her government encourages and would in fact panic if enough women like her weren’t doing it. (Well, if she’s white at least – government stereotypes about women of color having children is a whole other discussion.)

So why should women be penalized for doing something that both men and the government want them to do, and that everyone criticizes them for not doing?


  1. Alex says

    The answer to the question is “they shouldn’t, but it happens because no matter how uncool outward bigotry culturally becomes, most people still harbor prejudice against some kind of other and act with that ulterior motive”.

    One thing I have to wonder is if the rise of high speed internet, VPNs, cloud computing, video conferencing, etc. will not only render some of the concerns of this topic moot, but may also preclude the need for the office building in general? There are already a ton of “virtual software studios” that consist of a decentralized group of people working from home despite great distances. If this became the model for office work, I would think that it would both allow more flexibility for either partner to take care of other affairs without sacrificing career prospects.

    Of course, this is a radical change of doing things that scares the current ancient white men that control the business world, but come 2050 or so, there won’t be a whole lot of people that ever ran a business without extensive computing technology.

    I also think a lot of the problem with the business world is how management has turned into this utterly bloated monstrosity of a culture that can only be described as the new aristocracy. That system, itself, really needs to be razed to the ground and rebuilt from the ashes if we want to fix not just office sexism, but the global economy in general. Google, Valve, and Github are steps in the right direction with their flattened hierarchies and nobody would say they’re not successful.

  2. SunlessNick says

    Caring for the elderly or disabled benefits not only the person being cared for, but the whole family.

    And yet – if there’s a worthwhile inheritance on the cards from the elderly relative – the woman who looks after them will still be monitored for gold-digging.

  3. Cheryl says

    But women *do* get benefit out of caring for others, didn’t you know that? We’re naturally programmed to want to care for others and derive pleasure from that, so we’re doing what comes natural to us when we care for family and raise our children. We’re doing what nature designed us to do and fulfilling our God-given roles, which will, of course, bring us so much pleasure and enjoyment and bliss beyond words! [/tongue-in-cheek sarcasm] I can’t remember the book I read or who wrote it, but it’s about (summary) the ways women who choose to stay home with their kids are looked down on and screwed over by society, screwed over in the work force, get the raw end of the deal in general, and some ideas about how to go about changing that. It was published in 2000 by a woman who used to work for the NY Times before deciding to be a SAHM, and I remember one thing she said that stuck with me was that mothers staying home with their children began to lose value in society’s eyes as the economic value of labor began to be viewed in terms of wages and salaries. Housewives and mothers don’t draw a salary, so what they do stopped being viewed as an economic contribution. The reality is that being involved in your child’s life is of economic value because children with involved parents grow up to be more productive, involved citizens. So many people think being a SAHM is a walk down Easy Street, where you sit around and watch TV and eat bon bons all day, with making lunch and changing the occasional diaper or going shopping or to the occasional appointment now and again. People have clearly been brainwashed by television commercials.

    I can’t help but think of the female anchor at Fox News who gave a male anchor a piece of her mind a few years ago when he made dismissive comments about maternity leave. That was the same guy who had taken a week of paternity leave after his son was born and thought that was enough to bond with his son. I just snorted and rolled my eyes when I read that. Keep telling yourself that, Mr. Manly Man Who Knows Women And Their Needs Better Than They Do.

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