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Fair Pay Could Mean a More Fertile Future

Written by Elizabeth Gregory for RHRealityCheck.org - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

At first blush, the debate over the Paycheck Fairness Act may not look like part of our ongoing national fertility discourse. But the two kinds of “women’s work”—the labor done outside the home (for 23 percent less pay than for men), and the bearing and rearing of the citizenry done at home (for nothing)—are entirely interdependent. Failure to pass the PFA will give women yet another reason to have fewer kids.

Sound drastic? Look at the bottom line. In the days before birth control, women were stuck having kids, and could be compensated unfairly—if at all--for the work they did both inside and outside the home. But things have changed since the arrival of birth control. Women don’t have to have any kids anymore, let alone several, and though the ongoing media campaign for the pleasures of pregnancy and childrearing continues, the deal is looking less satisfactory and less necessary to many women. Discriminatory pay is a hidden tax on women and their families – averaging more than $10,000 annually. Add to that the additional costs of rearing and educating the next generation that families bear, and you’ve got a major disincentive to have more kids.

As you’ve noticed, the terms on which women are taking up the motherhood role are changing. Single-child families have more than doubled since the sixties (now 1 in 5). Exploding numbers of women are delaying children into their thirties and forties, in large part because delay provides a shadow benefits system. Delay gives them time to climb career ladders to higher (but still not equal) pay and flexibility that they can’t access by other means, ensuring that their kids will be better off and better educated than they would otherwise. Delay also limits the number of kids women can bear by the usual means to one or two in general (though that’s okay with most). And many women (and men) are seeing attractions in living childfree. Though a lifetime of indoctrination prepares women for the job of reproduction, the spin is losing speed. Failure to pass the PFA would add more drag.

On background: As Heather Boushey and others have reiterated, the PFA reinforces the Equal Pay Act of 1963, requiring that all citizens be paid equally for equal work, regardless of gender; that they be allowed to document pay disparities in their workplace without retaliation; and that employers be held accountable when pay differences are based in unfair discrimination. These protections benefit all workers.

The effects? More money in the pockets of families that include working women (so men and children gain too). Passage would also spark a much-needed national dialogue about the way pay works in our culture. Of course not everyone welcomes such dialogue, since it could reveal the gross inequities operative along class and gender lines, and unravel the narrative of fairness and equal opportunity that wins support for the unequal pay system from the very ones who lose the most by it. But as the pay gap has expanded enormously between the rich and the rest of us recently, the discussion is now unavoidable.

It’s no surprise that shortsighted employers (and their advocates, like Christine Hoff Sommers) object to having to pay their workers fairly, since that also involves paying half of them more. But that’s not a reason to short half the citizenry. Read more