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Liz O Donnell's picture

More than fifty years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act, the gender-based wage gap has only shrunk by 17.6 cents and it is predicted to take another fifty years until it disappears. Today is Equal Pay Day, the day we acknowledge a woman needs to work a year and three months to earn what a man earned in one year. We can expect the day will be marked in many of the same ways it’s been marked in the past years.

President Obama will observe the day by signing an executive order and a presidential memorandum designed to promote equal pay for women. Other Democrats will most likely raise their voices in support of legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act designed to close the gap. Republicans will most likely respond by citing this type of legislation puts an unfair burden on businesses. (Never mind the fact if a business followed fair pay practices, there would be no burden.) Women activists will wear red and write opinion pieces like this one. And critics will cry foul and say the wage gap is a result of the so-called choices women make, ignoring the role of discrimination or the fact many women are faced with false choices about family and work.

Despite the annual efforts, the gap has remained virtually flat since 2001. It’s time we look for another solution if we want a different result. To close the gap, we need to look at what’s happening in our homes, not just our workplaces.

Women face another gender-based gap at home: the housework gap. According to the Pew Research Center and studies from several universities, women spend between 30 and 60 percent more time on housework and childcare than men do, regardless of who in the household is working. And these inequities at home have a direct and negative correlation on inequities in the work place.

Research from Shelley J. Correll, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, supports the idea that many employers believe "mothers are less committed to their jobs, so they are less willing to hire mothers into good jobs or to offer them high salaries." And two other professors, Joni Hersch and Leslie S. Stratton, published research in The Journal of Human Resources suggesting one theory for this could be employer's negative reactions to women who appear dedicated to household activities.

Certainly these attitudes could account for the mommy penalty. A report published by the University of Chicago Press highlights two studies that show that employed mothers in the United States suffer a per-child wage penalty of approximately 5 percent, on average. No wonder the wage gap is greater between mothers and non-mothers than between women and men.

Twenty-five years after Arlie Hochschild published “The Second Shift” women are still struggling to manage their paid work with their unpaid work. And women I interviewed while writing “Mogul, Mom & Maid” who scaled back at work or turned down a promotion cited the demands of home and work as their number one reason for doing so.

There are 23 million working mothers in the United States and 40 percent of all households with children under the age of 18 rely primarily or solely on a mother’s salary. If we’re going to close the wage gap at work, we must close the housework gap at home.





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