If Money Changes Everything, Would Equal Pay Make for Happier Marriages?
We said it wouldn’t impact our marriage, but of course it does. How could it not?
My husband makes more money than I do. Of course, he is a financial services consultant, and I work in feminist advocacy – so we saw this coming.
We thought we were prepared. We had a plan. Before kids, we split all the bills down the middle, and lived a lifestyle I could afford. After kids, he paid for daycare. But come on, it seems fair. After all, I carried them for ten months, endured childbirth, breastfeeding, and all sorts of postpartum surprise physical changes (why don’t we talk about these things before conception? I smell a conspiracy).
Fast forward twelve years and he pays for a whole lot more than I do. Our house is bigger, and so is our groceries budget. There’s the mini-van, soccer lessons, and in good years, a family vacation. The pressure he feels to “provide” for our family is immense. It causes him stress. The pressure I feel to support him, at times at the expense of my own career and professional ambition, is also significant. And has the potential to breed resentment.
But the life we’re building together is no longer just about two people who love each other. Running a family is a complex enterprise, and it requires sacrifices from everyone. As we make these sacrifices, our youthful dream of modeling equality in marriage for our children is fading. It’s just damn hard in a real world where he is bound to earn more than I do, and raising a family takes money.
So sometimes- sometimes- I pick up the kids from school when it’s his turn. And I’m much more likely to cook dinner, or make it to the gymnastics performance. And he’s much more likely to work late, and travel further and for longer. And neither of us are thrilled with this situation.
But, what does this have to do with pay equity, you ask? These are, after all, our personal choices.
True! But we’re not making our personal choices in a vacuum. We’re making them in the real world, where women who work full time, on average, make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. Now, if I had to guess, I’d say the average feminist activist makes about 7 cents for every dollar made by a financial services consultant – so I grant you we’re an extreme example. But work with me here.
Let’s remove the primary variables of personal choice: industry, hours, and years of experience. A study from AAUW found women are paid less from the onset of their careers than their male peers (yup, even though they had, on average, higher GPA’s!). One year after graduation, for full-time employees with the same degree in the same job, women made 5% less. And this gap only widens with time. Ten years after graduation, women earned 12% less than their male peers.
Clearly, discrimination is at play in the wage gap. And the wage gap, in my experience, encourages many of us to make personal choices that perpetuate inequalities in our marriages. If someone has to leave early to pick up the kids, miss an important meeting for a doctor’s appointment, work part-time to hold together the household, or otherwise scale back their professional aspirations, well, it just makes sense it would be the spouse who earns less.
So do I think paying women fair wages would make for happier marriages? Absolutely! Closing the wage gap would mean more freedom for each couple to decide what works best for their family. To keep their personal choices personal, without the nasty influence of sex discrimination. The feminist activist in me can’t help but put in a pitch for legislation here – the Senate should pass the Paycheck Fairness Act immediately, which will help eliminate discrimination against women in wages.
And what about my truly personal choice to become a feminist activist instead of, say, a financial services consultant? I can’t say I don’t sometimes have regrets. I wonder, should I raise my daughter to, above all else, “provide” for her family (and speaking of my brilliant daughter, check out her feminist cheerleading in the Equal Pay Day Blunt video) ?
Although I love my job, I know I could never support a family on it without my husband’s income. Still, money may change everything, but money isn’t everything.
After all, why did I get into this crazy career anyway? Oh yes, it’s coming back to me. My first job, I was fourteen. No, It was not a feminist bookstore - it was a restaurant at the mall. I made $4.25 an hour, and the fourteen year old boy next to me? He made $5.25. Why? He told me the hiring manager said boys are worth more.
Well, I may have made a lot of compromises in my life. But that’s something I will NOT be teaching my daughter.