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Re-examining the 77-cent statistic

| Tuesday, February 4, 2014

In Conor Durkin’s Feb. 3rd article, “Examining the 77-cent myth,” he critiques President Obama and other statisticians for their deceptive use of the statistic that claims women make 77 cents for every dollar men earn.
Durkin is correct that the statistic does not directly point to an unjust treatment of women in the workplace. However, the statistic reveals something more broad than direct gender discrimination. Durkin claims there is a problem with the statistic itself, that it is a misleading comparison. Though the statistic does not provide an “apples to apples” comparison of individual workers, the real deception is that the statistic disguises an unfortunate consequence of woman’s socialization into American society. It reveals a work-life balance dilemma that is felt to a greater extent by women than by men.
The same factors Durkin points to in his article that account for the disparity in men and women’s earnings — namely, “women are more likely to work fewer hours or part-time,” “women are more likely to leave the workforce,” and they “tend to choose entrance into lower-paying fields” — reveal women’s situation based upon the responsibility of reproduction and their resulting choices from within that situation.
In our postmodern day, many women choose to go to school and to pursue careers based on individualistic ideals. As a result, there are increasing numbers of women achieving higher education and entering the workforce.
Kathleen Gerson and Jerry A. Jacob’s article, “The Work-Home Crunch” points out that “women’s strengthened commitment to paid employment has provided more economic resources to families and given couples more options for sharing the tasks of breadwinning and care-taking. Yet this revolution in women’s work has not been complemented by an equal growth in the amount of time men spend away from the job or in the availability of organized childcare.” It is the responsibility of women to find a replacement for the childrearing role in their absence.
As Gerson and Jacob suggest, because options are lacking, the burden often falls on women to care for their children, and their salaries suffer. It is suggested that lifetime earnings of women who take a motherhood trajectory is 10 to 33 percent less than those who choose a career path. This reduction is due to women’s lack of work when they take time off to care for their children, as well as their inability to progress in their fields.
Durkin is right to be concerned with the “underlying analysis” of the statistic, but perhaps he is asking the wrong questions. Instead of asking, “Are our government’s childcare and family leave policies inadequate for encouraging women to enter into higher-paying fields instead of those offering more flexibility?” we should instead explore the root of the problem. We should ask if the government is pandering to the gender expectations by offering leave policies so women can care for children. We should ask if we are perpetuating the indoctrination of females’ roles in which womanhood equals motherhood.

Jacqueline Cassidy is a junior
studying English with a minor in Philosophy, Religion and Literature. She can be reached at
[email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.

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