Hymowitz: Stop Government-Mandated Gender Equality of Outcomes

July 12, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Kay Hymowitz is far from the worst commentator on men, women and that old elusive work-life balance. And this article does a pretty good job of skewering most of the false notions that have plagued that debate for so many years (Foreign Policy, July/August, 2013). Still, like just about every other article on the subject, it’s hard to escape the sensation that, in Hymowitz’s mind, this is all about women; men just don’t play a very important part.

Let me be clear. Hymowitz’s basic point is this: we’ve been trying for decades to force gender equality on family life and the workplace, and it hasn’t worked; the reason is that we’re trying to get men and women to change roles and they don’t want to.

Everywhere on Earth — including in the Scandinavian countries that have tried almost everything short of obligatory hormone therapy aimed at equalizing power between the sexes — mothers remain the default parent while men dominate the upper echelons of the business world. There are limits to what governments can do to create gender equality — and it’s time we acknowledge it.

Hymowitz proceeds to wander, pretty much at random, through several issues that may or may not have much to do with her thesis, but still provides some good information.

Feminists and policy-makers anguish daily about the fact that fewer women work, fewer women hold positions of power in large corporations, fewer women hold positions of power in government, etc. than do men. And in the time-honored feminist tradition, we must all pitch in and Do Something about that. The fact that there may not be much to do about it because those male/female imbalances are due largely to the preferences of each sex never seems to cross anyone’s mind. Likewise, the idea that we should simply allow all people — men and women — to simply live with the consequences of their own decisions, goes unnoticed.

No, according to the prevailing sentiment, if women earn less than men, Something Must Be Done. Never mind that the Wage Gap of song and story is almost solely the product of differing decisions by men and women about how much to work, how much time to devote to childcare and at what jobs to work.

Are there “too few” female elected officials? Again, Something Must Be Done, and that something isn’t to trust democracy. No, we must establish quotas for representation in legislative bodies. It’s anti-democratic, and has been shown to elect poorer candidates to office, but what matter? Of course the reason there aren’t more women legitimately elected is that so few of them choose to run for office. The French thought they’d solved that problem when they began requiring political parties to run slates with sufficient percentages of female candidates or pay a fine. It was no use; the parties couldn’t recruit enough female candidates, so every election year, they paid the fine and went on their merry ways. The lesson? Far fewer women than men want to do the awful work of running for office, so they don’t. It’s their choice, but for feminists, it’s not good enough.

Anyway, the “Something Must Be Done” crowd always has a solution to the latest non-problem. So, the fact that fewer women work at all than do men and when they do, they work fewer hours demands legally-required parental leave, or so they say. But how does that work out in fact? As Hymowitz shows, it doesn’t. In fact, it tends to have the opposite effect. It tends to attract women to the workplace who only work part-time and who therefore don’t earn much, a fact that ironically widens the Wage Gap. (If they hadn’t worked at all, they wouldn’t be considered in the Wage Gap statistics.)

On the other hand, the opposite works pretty well. The United States has among the most limited parental leave policies in the world, leaving it largely up to individual companies that, unsurprisingly, don’t provide much.  So who’s near the top in placing women in senior management positions? That’s right, the U.S. in which some 43% of senior managers are female.

While family-friendly policies may make many women — in particular those in lower- and mid-wage jobs — happier and perhaps even more productive and their children healthier, there is a growing body of evidence that they also inadvertently create a "mommy track." In fact, more generous leave policies partly explain the glass ceilings, as well as stubbornly large wage gaps in more progressive countries. Such policies, Blau and Kahn have found, "may encourage women who would have otherwise had a stronger labor force commitment to take part-time jobs or lower-level positions." In practice that means that part-time work has ended up accounting for most of the increase in female labor-force participation, they found.

Fathers, by contrast, need no encouragement to work and earn. In fact, encouragements for them to stay home with the kids are met with considerable resistance.

Then in 2008, dissatisfied with the remaining large gender gap in the leave taken by dads versus moms, the government introduced yet another reform: the "gender equality bonus." Under this law, the more couples shared leave time, the more money they would get. Amazingly, the reform had no impact. According to official statistics, women still took 76 percent of leave days in 2011. The long-term effects of Sweden’s parental-leave policy, in other words, have been negligible, all the more so when you consider how many women gravitate toward part-time jobs.

And then there’s the confounding fact that paternity leave only has an effect on a woman if she lives with a man. Hymowitz points out that 28% of U.S. families with children are headed by a single parent, almost exclusively women. She doesn’t say it outright, but that’s one of the many problems with our decades-long hymn to the virtues of single motherhood. For them, life is pretty much all about making ends meet and, often as not, failing. The average earnings for a single mother in this country is about $23,000 a year — not enough to worry about any kind of leave, maternal, paternal or otherwise.

Hymowitz basically gets it right. The fact is that, in the past few decades, the ship of state has run aground on the shoals of gender roles. As countless studies and datasets show, women don’t want to do as much paid work as men want to do, and men don’t want to do as much childcare as women want to do. If everything about our efforts to balance our work and non-work lives were equal, I would argue that we should leave well enough alone. We should make an end to this constant striving to force people to do what they don’t want to do in the name of a feminist utopia that no one but feminists seem to want.

But of course all is not equal. Our high divorce rate still strands too many kids with their mothers alone and without their fathers. That damages all three – children, mothers and fathers. We need to equalize mothers and fathers in family courts. Fathers must be seen for what they are — equally important to their children’s well-being. That eventually will require us to value the contributions to the family made by fathers as much as we do those of mothers. As I’ve said many times before, working to buy food for a child cannot be seen as less important than feeding it. Once we get that one worked out, women will be able to work and earn more and fathers won’t fear doing more of the childcare because they’ll know they won’t lose the children on divorce.

But then, and in the meantime, we need to stop trying to enforce feminist prescriptions on society at large. Give everyone an equal opportunity and equal protection of the laws, and then let them do as they wish as long as they don’t violate those laws. It’s a simple concept, and one I suspect that won’t sit well with feminists determined to remake women in their own image.

Thanks to Paul for the heads-up.

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