Carrie Lukas is right on target when she points out that the new, improved “wage gap” of 49 cents on the dollar rests upon the same fallacy as the old one: the implication that any difference between the average earnings of women and those of men must be due to sexism. In fact, such gaps are usually due to the differing choices that women and men make. As Lukas writes: “Full-time working women tend to work fewer hours, to choose different industries and specialties, and to opt for better hours over more compensation.”
Lukas is also correct to advise women to gather data and to choose carefully and wisely when “they decide what to study, which fields to enter, and how to plan their work lives.” Yet we all know what happens to the best-laid plans. For example, if a woman’s husband makes more money than she does, as is often the case, his career needs will usually be given the most weight, regardless of what she may have planned. A conservative proposal to address this imbalance might include paid parental leave and child-care support to widen a couple’s options.
Conservatives should continue to emphasize the importance of informed decision-making for everyone who enters the workforce, but we must also be clear-eyed about the amount of leeway most couples actually have when deciding how to organize their family life. Women planning careers should indeed take care to choose wisely — but it would also help if they had a better set of choices.