Terri Lynn Land, War on Women — April 15, 2014 at 9:10 am

Don’t Use Inequality at Home as Excuse for Workplace Discrimination


Terri Lynn Land, we need equal pay AND more flexibility

TerriLynnLandSquareTerri Lynn Land (deservedly) caught a lot of heat last week over her suggestion that women would prefer flexibility over equal pay. Just yesterday, Senator Stabenow slammed Land again in a strong op-ed in the Free Press, bringing home the tangible impacts of lost wages. And as Chris notes here, Terri is on the defensive about it.

Stabenow and others are right that it is unjustifiable for women to be paid less than men for doing the same work. But there’s a kernel of something worth addressing in Land’s comments, something that points to another ongoing inequality in the U.S. – inequality at home, linked in a vicious cycle to lower pay at work.

Land is right that women shoulder more of the domestic burden in this country. Pew Research has found, for example, that women in dual income households spend an additional 5 hours on childcare and 6 hours on housework compared to the men they live with.

Part of that is surely our cultural expectations of women’s roles, though these are slowly changing. In addition, however, lacking equal pay pushes women to do more of the child and home care. Start with the fact that women make less than men, and women with kids make even less. So when a couple is making decisions about who stays home with a sick kid or goes to doctor’s appointments, it makes financial sense for the person with more income (the man) to prioritize work. Mothers, missing more work, do not advance as fast and lose even more income compared to the men in their lives. So we make a series of “choices” with the effect, as Terri Lynn Land suggests, of trading pay for flexibility. Where Land is wrong, however, is in thinking that the answer is to keep forcing us into that choice.

Instead, we need equal pay AND greater flexibility for both men and women. If women are paid equally, and if there is more expectation that men can take a couple of hours to take a kid to the doctor, both parents can share the responsibilities of child-raising. Or if one parent wants to play more of a lead, at least that choice can be arrived at fairly.

As a parent of a pre-schooler, I will say it: yes, the balancing act is rough, even with a flexible job, enough money to pay for decent child-care, and a spouse who is a real partner. The kid gets sick and someone has to watch him, snow days close school but not work, there are, yes, doctor and dentist appointments and teacher in-service days and then the after-school babysitter gets sick and then I get the bug and miss work for that. Having a small child demands a certain level of flexibility. It shouldn’t have to be one parent taking the whole hit.