Closing the gender pay gap is a national priority, but due to misunderstanding the problem we have failed to fully close it. The good news is we are already making great progress in this area, albeit largely by accident. Even better, now that we understand the true culprit we can speed up our progress via more deliberate efforts.
Misunderstanding the nature of the problem.
For decades we have labored under the misconception that the gender earnings gap was due to institutional discrimination against women. In order to combat this, we have focused our efforts on affirmative action programs and equal opportunity laws and enforcement. However, as economists have stubbornly pointed out, if women were being systematically paid less than men for the same productivity this would create an opportunity for employers to gain a competitive advantage by only hiring women. What we now understand is that the earnings gap is actually caused by women and men making different choices regarding education and employment.
The simple solution
Some have looked at the root cause of the earnings gap and determined that there is either no real problem, or that the problem can’t be solved. This is untrue. Equality of the sexes is a national priority and we are a wealthy nation. No matter what the cost, it will be worth it to close the earnings gap. Now that we understand the root cause of the problem, the solution is surprisingly obvious. We need to remove the incentives which are causing men to prioritize higher earnings. Men prioritize earnings under the outdated patriarchal system where men are seen as the breadwinners. Until we solve this problem, the wage gap will persist. Part of the problem is biological, but we know that there are institutional ways to circumvent these differences of biology.
What we need to do is remove the powerful incentives men and boys perceive to being the family breadwinner. These incentives are the root cause of men choosing harder but higher paying majors, accepting a longer commute, working longer hours, choosing a more demanding or even dangerous work environment, etc. It is important to understand that these choices are cumulative and begin very early in life. As I mentioned above part of the problem is biological; men are motivated to make these sexist choices by a desire to be more successful sexually. While we can’t change men’s and women’s sexual natures, we know we can do a great deal to change the rules of the sexual marketplace. We need to move away from the old sexist view of men as breadwinners, and instead have men focus on being as sexually desirable as possible. To do this, we need to move away from our outdated and sexually restrictive marriage based sexual/family system to one based on continuous sexual re-choosing.
How do we know this will work?
Radically changing our sexual and family structure is going to be expensive (although we have already made great progress here), so it is important to know ahead of time that doing so will achieve our goals. Fortunately because we have already been moving in this direction, we can test the hypothesis. For brevity I’ll only offer three separate data points in this essay, but the evidence that a marriage based system creates incentives for men to study/work/earn excessively is overwhelming. The first data point I’ll offer is from the American Enterprise Institute. Their most recent study on the topic found that married men earn at least $15,900 per year more than unmarried men. This greatly understates the perverse incentives marriage causes for men to work harder however, because it doesn’t account for the incentives men experience to maximize their earnings potential in the years leading up to marriage. Men who choose marriage as a sexual/family strategy know that the more they can earn the better their options in marriage will be, and this is why so many men persist in making problematic choices in their education and early career which lead to much of the gender pay gap.
The second data point I’ll offer is more tangible. To prove that marriage is the source of the pay gap problem we need to find a community which has moved away from marriage and see if the earnings gap has actually disappeared. In the US the logical choice for this test is Blacks, as marriage has all but collapsed among Black Americans. Over 70% of Black children are now born out of wedlock, and this statistic continues to improve. At the same time, we also know that the Black gender earnings gap has all but disappeared. As Hanna Rosin explains, Black women earn 94% of the weekly earnings of Black men. Black men are leading the way here, and all we have to do is get the rest of the nation’s men to follow.
But do we know that moving away from marriage works to reduce the productivity of White men as well? Can we count on White men ceasing to disrupt our efforts at gender equality if we do something as simple as move away from marriage? We know the answer to this is yes. In just the past few years our decades long investment in weakening marriage has become undeniable, and White men have made incredible progress in closing the gender earnings gap. The charts below show the exciting nature of this progress over time, and as you can see the greatest improvements are being made for the older age brackets. White unmarried men are now nearly as likely to earn nothing as White married and unmarried women:
These Peter Pan men are national heroes who are leading the way to a much more equal society. Unfortunately as you can see the married men continue to be the source of the problem by continuing to earn at nearly the same rates during the Great Recession as they did in the years leading up to it. The same pattern of married men creating gender inequality is also visible if we look at the top earnings brackets:
We need a national strategy.
Now that we know that marriage is the problem, how do we solve it? Unfortunately we won’t be able to ever entirely eradicate marriage. However, even where we can’t entirely prevent weddings we can sufficiently weaken the institution to achieve something very close to gender equality. To do this, we will need a coordinated effort across all of our legal, social, and religious institutions.
Legislature & Family Courts:
Our lawmakers and family courts have already done much of the work required to weaken marriage as an institution, so our focus should be on ensuring that we don’t lose existing progress while further weakening marriage. Child Support teamed up with No Fault Divorce are our best policy tools to eradicate marriage and the incentive for men to work harder. With these two policies working together, we can remove all or nearly all of the status of husbands.
No Fault Divorce is a potent tool not only to convert husbands into child support payers, but to weaken the status of husbands within marriage. By continuing our national policy of No Fault Divorce those young men who don’t witness their fathers being evicted from the home will see that their father can only remain in the household so long as he caters to their mother. By continuing with this policy we send a powerful message to young men that being a husband is low status and not something to aspire to. This message is reinforced every time a young man sees his own father or the father of a peer evicted from the home and treated harshly by our family courts.
We need to remind our family court judges that the work they are doing in destroying marriage is a multi-generational effort. While judges can’t immediately see the positive social results each time they reduce a husband and father to impoverished child support payer, with each man they crush they are sending a powerful message to future generations of men. Family court judges are the true heroes of our efforts to destroy marriage, and they must continue investing in generational progress. Even in cases where the father is not married to the mother, family court judges are crucial to erasing the incentives for men to earn more than women. Unlike marriage which creates an incentive for men to work as hard as possible, child support is a structure which discourages productivity by assigning men an earnings quota (imputed income) and threatening them with imprisonment if they fail to meet this quota.
Family court judges and even legislators may be tempted to see harsh penalties against men for not meeting earnings quotas as working against the goal of reducing men’s earnings, but since the earnings quotas are assigned based on each man’s past earnings over time this creates a culture where men learn that productivity is punished. The point to remember is the goal is to change the culture so that men no longer perceive an incentive to work harder. Just like with the Soviet Union, a quota system will (and already has) greatly reduce men’s perceptions of the importance of working as hard as possible.
The entertainment industry:
As with any drive to change the culture, our entertainment industry will be crucial in destroying marriage. They are already doing an excellent job in creating books and movies selling divorce to women, but we can do better. I propose the President create a blue ribbon commission to look for ways to create more visibility to the importance of selling divorce to women. The commission should use the book/movie Eat Pray Love as the template for success in this regard. Young men already see that divorce is openly celebrated by women, but we can still make this more clear. We need to create a national dialog on why divorce is empowering for women, while reminding men that discarded husbands are villains who deserve the harsh treatment our courts reserve for them. This effort by our entertainment industry will reinforce the message our family courts are working so hard to send to young men. All young men need to learn that marriage and even fatherhood are foolish choices for men, and that working hard to be a breadwinner will make them both a fool and a villain. One area of special focus for the entertainment industry should be plot lines which blame husbands for making their wives unhappy by focusing on work.
Our churches and religious institutions:
Last but not least is the essential role our churches and other religious institutions are playing in the crucial goal of destroying marriage. If you haven’t already spoken with your pastor about this, be sure to remind him of the importance of giving moral cover to women who divorce and/or have children out of wedlock. Whenever possible, religious leaders need to refer to single mothers as “heroic”, and suggest that they should be treated as widows. In addition, pastors and other religious leaders need to abolish the outdated and dangerous concept of headship. If young men are allowed to see husbands as the head of the household, they will have an incentive to focus on preparing for marriage instead of mastering their skills at picking up women. As I have shown, men who focus on marriage are creating our gender earnings gap by working too hard and producing too much. To solve this problem, pastors should simply ignore the parts of the Bible and Christian tradition teaching headship and submission. In addition to ignoring Christian teaching on headship, religious leaders should also work to teach Christian men that headship is really a form of abuse. Instead of traditional headship, religious leaders should teach Christian husbands that their proper role is to submit to their wives. They should also teach wives that threats of divorce are a powerful and appropriate way to grasp power in their marriages. The movie Fireproof and the accompanying book The Love Dare are excellent teaching tools in this area, but we need to make sure that the message is continually driven home.
Beware the naysayers.
While what we need to do is obvious, we need to constantly guard against reactionary forces which could cause us to lose progress. As we can already see, the more successful we are at destroying marriage the greater the costs will be. As we continue to achieve the glorious progress of gender equality, reactionary forces are going to try to stand in the way by pointing out that our tax revenues and economic growth will stagnate and fall while our social welfare costs increase dramatically. In addition, opponents of progress will point to the host of social problems a nation of fatherless children causes. We need to steel our resolve and never turn back from achieving our goals. No matter how many more social workers and police we need to hire, or how many more prisons we need to build, we need to hold fast and keep the importance of gender equality in mind. We have already come a long way, and we are too close to give up now.