Friday, January 14, 2011

What Women Want

I've blogged before about the myth of the gender wage gap: but I think I may have got it wrong. Apparently the reason men earn more than women is because women want it that way. Don't take my word for it (you wouldn't anyway), for according to YouGov nearly two thirds (64%) of married women wanted to marry a man who earnt more than them before they got married. And 62% did.

Now to me this is all very obvious: it's what women and men do as part of the implicit (and even explicit) marriage contract. The woman intends to bear children when she get married, foregoing income from paid employment as a result, and the man intends to look after her and the children during their dependent years. All very obvious and normal... and all very upsetting to most feminists. For apparently motherhood castrates women.

Catherine Hakim has written a fascinating paper on Feminist Myths and Magic Medicine which addresses this very subject. According to her, it is a feminist myth (no. 9 of 12) that women prefer to earn their own living and hate financial dependence on men. Instead, data shows that:
Women’s aspiration to marry up, if they can, to a man who is better-educated and higher-earning, persists in most European countries. The Nordic countries share this pattern with all other parts of Europe. Women thereby continue to use marriage as an alternative or supplement to their employment careers. Financial dependence on a man has lost none of its attractions after the equal opportunities revolution. Symmetrical family roles are not the ideal sought by most couples, even though they are popular among the minority of highly educated professionals.
The YouGov research confirms this, and it also confirms Hakim's observation that the feminist fetishisation of paid employment ('better a wage slave than a sex slave' is how it goes I think) is something that most people reject. In fact, nearly half of all men (47%) agree that 'society pressures women with children to go to work'. This rises to 59% of all women.

But while 'marrying up' has been with us since time immemorial (nurses marrying doctors, say) what is different now is that doctors marry doctors. And there's the problem: with women better educated and better paid (thanks to their 'unfair' high share of third level places and 'unfair' low share of the unemployed) there is a diminishing pool of men to whom they can 'marry up'. It's called the Apex Fallacy and one inevitable result is that it is only men who earn above average wages who are more likely to get married. Since being married boosts married men's earnings relative to unmarried men (and the gap is getting wider) it follows that women's aspirations to marry a man who earns more than them will lead to greater income inequality for men (married versus non-married), and greater inequality between the earnings of men and women (since women prefer to drop out of paid employment when they have dependent children but men don't). Ergo the gender income gap is the result of women's preference for men with higher incomes.

But enough of marital economics. What do women really want from marriage? And men for that matter? Dennis Prager wrote two excellent articles in the Jewish World Review at the end of last year that get to the nub of the matter. To sum up - and do please read both articles - a woman wants to be loved by a man she respects; and a man wants to be respected by a woman he loves.

Incomes and wages play only a small part is making that particular arrangement work...

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