First of all, a confession: I think the wage gap is fine. I am paid much less than men with my experience and track record, and I don’t care, because I want to be with my kids.
Still, I know many people are passionate about closing the gap. In this post, I will tell you what you can do to close the wage gap.
First of all, there are more women than men who are qualified to go into STEM but women are not interested.
Second, the gender gap in tenure-track STEM is not any bigger than the one in senior leadership in business. And we know that this gap is not because women don’t have equal opportunity. It’s because men are fine leaving kids home with nannies and women are not.
So men and women have the same choices in life but women want to care for kids more than men do.
And that’s a much bigger problem than a simple wage gap.
The problem starts in school. Teachers constantly reinforce the idea that kids go to school so they can grow up and get important, impressive jobs. They train kids from a young age that they are only as good as their report card. Which means kids lose their natural ability to determine what is valuable and important to them and what is not.
So by the time men and women get through school and get jobs, they have been trained to compete for external validation. That’s what work is.
Once kids come, women feel a drive so strong to take care of kids that they downshift their careers. Men do not feel that drive.
But why do men have to want to take care of kids? After age three it’s unclear if parenting impacts adult life, so the quantifiable benefit of having a parent at home is limited. Because there’s no data that says intense parenting is better than periodic parenting. In fact Judith Rich Harris has astounding research to show that most of parenting is pretty irrelevant. Income impacts adult life way more than parenting. And men are foregoing day-to-day parenting in favor of making money. It’s hard to argue with that.
So why stay home? To make memories. More nice memories of childhood make for a nicer adulthood because nice memories are nice. That’s all. Parenting is not complicated. It’s the choice to make life more meaningful by caring deeply for someone else. And parents can choose how much they want to do that.
It happens that women choose to spend more time parenting than men. It doesn’t mean men are lame for not spending more time with kids. Remember feminism? It’s about everyone getting to choose. It’s not about belittling people’s choices or saying it’s not really their choice but rather a result of societal pressure. In fact that line of thinking undermines feminism because it says there can be no genuine choices because all societies have societal expectations.
It’s a class system, maybe. Consider that a parent who has hired a nanny thinks parenting during the day is not important enough to do. If there is a nanny, the nanny will have playdates with other nannies. A parent who gave up their job to take care of kids sees parenting differently and does not want to spend their adult time talking with someone’s nanny; they want to be with families who share that value. So if your kid is with a nanny during the day, you kid will hang out with other kids who have nannies. And the kids with a parent at home will hang out with each other.
Maybe you are fine letting men choose to work and women choose to stay home. I’m fine with that. Not because I’m great at parenting: I actually suck at it. But it’s interesting and challenging and meaningful and it’s really only a short part of my life that I get to be with my kids.
Maybe you are not fine that men choose to work and women choose to stay home. Then you should push to change that. You probably want more men to choose to spend more time taking care of kids, right?
So if you want men to place higher value on taking care of kids, you have to stop brainwashing kids that the point of going to school is to get a big job. Schools motivate kids by creating constant competition but parenting does not have a competitive component. So we have to start by telling boys that they’re actually going to school to become good, kind people who are team players in a family. And if you want boys to think parenting is a great choice for adults, then be sure to tell your sons how much you admire the parents who have dropped out of the workforce to be a caretaker.
And you know what that means? You probably have to take your son out of school. If you are sending your kid to those classrooms year after year, you can’t say you are trying to raise a generation of boys who will make parenting a priority. Because school teaches the opposite of what you believe is right for boys — for eighteen years.
So if you really want to close the gender gap, you will homeschool, so your kid can learn to find internal validation that he needs to make parenting a priority. And for your family to homeschool, you have to have one parent staying home.