Is Pay Equality in the Best Interest of Married Women?

Before you point out that I’m not qualified to discuss what is in the best interest of women, I will agree with you.  Most of the following post comes to me on Facebook, from the wall of a friend.  I’m sharing it because, well, it’s interesting and thought provoking… and a little bit cynical.  It was written by Tonya Britton of Houston Texas a day or so after the Presidential Election.  During the election, it was noted that single women voted strongly for Obama while married women were more evenly split for Romney.

“Megyn Kelly of FOX News suggested that the divide between married and single women is a result of single women’s expectation that the Government would take care of them. That single women are trying to "marry" the government. Given that she framed the marriage divide as one in which a woman is either taken care of by her husband or taken care of by her government leads me to a single conclusion: Conservative married women view their husbands as cash cows whose job it is to financially care for them.

Given this construct, these women are likely not concerned about women’s rights to the same degree as single women because these women incur substantial economic benefits from marriage. They are able to leverage the higher wages provided to male heads of households, so increasing women’s wages will only serve to increase competition against their primary sources of income. When a husband dies, the retired widow can apply for his social security or hers, the difference of which is likely to be substantial as his lifetime income is greater. The difference between his SS and hers is an entitlement paid to her that she did not earn. Married women and their children can also access health benefits through their husbands’ employer.

Because employer-paid healthcare is a transfer fund- it is derived from the profits generated by labor – single women in the workplace supplement the incomes of stay-at-home mothers, which frees additional income for those women to be able to afford to pay out-of-pocket for reproductive healthcare. Single women’s reproductive healthcare costs must be paid out of pocket, an expense that is sourced solely from her income, with no supplemental assistance.

As an aside, married women with children derive other benefits from the tax-payer (secondary schooling, parks and other community services), therefore it is in their best interest to ensure that wages in their community remain high. It would intuitively seem that they would wish to increase single women’s income, except that the vast majority of single income persons do not own homes and therefore do not substantially contribute to the tax base (i.e. property tax) and those that do own homes, often lobby for tax-payer investments in their communities that do not directly benefit families (i.e, higher end retail, art galleries, nice restaurants, etc.). It is to the married woman’s benefit to support policies and laws that build families within their communities, while discouraging those that would entice the relocation of both low and high income single females into their neighborhoods.

On the issue of reproduction, we often hear that single pregnant women should give up their children for adoption because there are “a lot of families who wish to adopt.” If that is the case, effectively, upper class married women stand to gain by being provided access to children without having had to incur the physical, financial, or emotional (burden) of actually having to bear them.
From a single woman’s point of view, I do not wish for the government to care for me. I do, however, seek a government that protects me- from those who view me as more of a resource, than as a human being. And that, at the end of the day, is the point that I think most Republicans, including Ms. Kelly, refuse to acknowledge.” – Tonya Britton

There are some interesting economic points in Ms. Britton’s argument.  From a personal standpoint, I am in no position to argue the issue, because I am a married man, not a single woman.  However, from an economic standpoint, there are some things I can weigh in on.  First off, the following statements are true:

  • Married women incur significant economic benefit from their husband’s income
  • Retired widows can apply for the social security benefits of their deceased husband, often earning more money than with their own (this is the case today with my mother).
  • Employer-paid healthcare benefits married women.  In all likelihood, it is the chief source of healthcare for married women who are not in the workforce themselves.
  • Married women with children derive substantial benefits from tax-payer funds (good schools, good parks, good community services)
  • Single income people are less likely to own their own home than married people (see source).
  • Single pregnant women are often encouraged to put their children up for adoption.

That said, some of the conclusions, while possibly true, are not a direct logical conclusion from the facts presented. 

  • For example, while married women derive benefits from their husband’s income, the divorce rate is still substantial.  25% of couples who married between 1990 and 1995 did not see their 10th anniversary (see source).  Any woman who is voting to keep pay rates down for single women must do so believing that they will never actually be single themselves.  If women are so calculating as to vote to keep pay rates down for other women to benefit themselves, how is it that they are so short sighted as to believe that they will never be single? 
  • While it is true that employer-based healthcare benefits married women, the cost of reproductive care comes out of their pocket just as assuredly as if they were single.  The benefit of paying for reproductive care is much more related to income status than marital status.  That said, I believe that women have no problem remembering how difficult it was to pay for contraception when they were young and broke, and see it as a fairness issue to make sure that young women have as much financial burden as young men.
  • While it is true that single mothers are encouraged to put their kids up for adoption, the motivation most frequently cited is that married couples are usually better equipped to handle the stresses of parenting… not to provide a supply of fresh babies to lazy rich women.

I think the argument above is interesting.  However, it appears to be missing the primary reason that single and married women are voting differently: their husband.  If married men are voting for Romney, women have a person in their house who is arguing for Romney.  Some will want to keep the peace.  Some will trust him to make the decision. Some will agree because they share a trusted leader (like a pastor or priest) who tells them both to vote for Romney.  Some may even fear their husbands.  Regardless, their husband’s viewpoint will impact theirs.  (Note this works for Obama as well… but Obama is not strong among older white men where these indications are more likely to apply than in younger, or more racially mixed, couples).

This isn’t to say that women don’t have their own mind and their own rights to vote.  It is simply the reality that marriage requires compromise and concession.  The choice of a president may very well be part of that compromise.  It is not listed in the reasons above, and I believe it should be. 

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3 thoughts on “Is Pay Equality in the Best Interest of Married Women?”

  1. Hi Nick,

    Thanks for the re-post. I hope that your blog will open up the marriage-gender gap discussion in a way that we can begin a frank and honest discussion about how women’s soci-economic and marital status impacts their priorities and their political decision-making.

    In regard to your comment that many women are persuaded by their husbands, I tend to agree with you, particularly as it relates to the demographic in question – conservative Christian married women. I think that influence extends to their church pastors, fathers and others in their life. Nothing more to add there.

    Beyond that, I would like to clarify- and I do not know if this would be clear to the average reader – that I do not agree that Megyn Kelly’s assumptions about women apply to all women – married or otherwise- however, as she painted such a broad swath of stereotypical behavior, my comments were designed to move that line of thinking to its logical conclusion and so formulated my comments solely on the construct designated by her, as well as by conservative political ally Ann Coulter who more directly outlines the husband’s role as sole or primary economic provider of household goods and services:

    “It’s not the women’s vote generically, it is the single women’s vote. And that is because single women look to the government to be their husbands and give them, you know, prenatal care, and preschool care, and kindergarten care, and school lunches. These are not programs designed to appeal to Bruce Willis.” – Ann Coulter

    That said, I would like to point out that there is a difference between someone being a passive beneficiary of policy decisions and someone advocating for policy decisions in order to actively and directly gain from them. As the author of the book, Blink, discusses, some decisions are made intiutitively and reflexively, and are based on the latent assimilation of years of education and experience, with experiences having occurred as a result of prior decision-making, habit, exposure, and luck, among other variables. Other decisions are made according to a more intentional and calculated cost-benefit analysis, wherein someone is aware of the downfalls, the upside and the repercussions of their choices.

    That brings me to several of your points, the first of which being your last, which is that in your opinion married women are not so calculated as to be motivated to adopt because they are too lazy and wealthy to bear children of their own.

    To re-iterate and this point is being framed only within the construct that women hold different positions on social issues based solely on marital status- irrespective of any other values (i.e., pro-life) – my point is that conservative married women stand to benefit from the availability of adoptable children without having had to carry the emotional, physical or financial costs associated with bearing them.

    It is important to point out that latently benefitting from something is not the same as being motivated to make choices that hurt or injur someone else specifically so that one CAN benefit from them, or making choices because someone believes that they WILL directly benefit from them.

    What I mean is, when people are buffered from the realitiies of the consequences associated with any activity, they are more likely to see only the positive or upside of the outcome – as it impacts them, and to ignore or disregard the possible consequences to the supplier or provider of the activity, good, or service. This phenomena is one underlying principle in what is sometimes referred to as white privilege, male privilege and privilege afforded those in the Western world. I would say that it is also a principle that underlies the phenomena of marital privilege.

    For example, on a broad scale, we see this phenomena played out in just about every community in the country in the retail world of WalMart. Few Americans would actively pursue a policy decision that has the express purpose of enslaving third world populations in sweatshops so that they can benefit, however, the vast majority of Americans do in fact substantially benefit through the supply of inexpensive imported goods from policies and business activities that result from the de facto “enslavement” and human rights abuses of labor in third world populations.

    In the world of economic development, very rarely will you hear an elected official rally against bringing a company to their community because that business engages in business practices that would be wholly unacceptable stateside. In other words, as a nation, we tend toward a Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) mentality, without regard to how our actions impact anyone else’s backyard.

    On the issue of adoption, specifically, there is a great line in the movie Steele Magnolias that reflects this concept as it relates to marital privilege. The set up is that the protagonist, Shelby, is a diabetic and the housewife of an upwardly mobile lawyer who in response to being told that she shouldn’t have children responds: “[Husband] Jackson said that we can adopt. We’ll buy ten of them if we had too.” To which her friends respond, “Jackson sounds like good people to me.”

    What is interesting about this line of dialogue is that it is neither schocking nor out-of-the-ordinary in comparison to a real world conversation that may occur in such a household. The implication of this discource is that there is a ready-supply of “adoptable” infants available to young, married women who would be in a position to pursue such a course of action. When I say adoptable, you can infer that what I mean is healthy and reflective of the adopting couple’s ethnic preference.

    The facts are, however, that in the current climate of Roe v. Wade, the number of infants who are “adoptable” by these standards is much lower than the number of children in the foster care system who actually need loving homes. These children tend to be more racially diverse, have various health issues (mental and physical) and, being older, have a tendency to have experienced a number of psychological and physical traumas that will take a significant commitment of time, energy and money to overcome.

    If Roe v. Wade is suspended, you can expect the number of “adoptable” children to increase and real world married women who are reflective of the Shelby mindset and circumstance will, in fact, stand to benefit from that shift. Conversely, while many understand that adoption may be more difficult when supply is limited, very few are likely to believe that they will experience in immediate, negative consequence if this shift does not take place. In other words, for the average married woman, the shift away from Roe v. Wade will cost them nothing or very little, while some may actually benefit by the elimination of the law. In decision-analysis, people tend to try to mitigate costs while increasing benefit and for those whose position on the issue is neutral, cost mitigation is a first priority. The costs of the elimination of Roe v. Wade and decreased access to reproductive healthcare, is greater for single women, while for some married women, the benefits of these policy shifts either increase or remain neutral.

    This argument holds true on your other points as well. In spite of the high number of divorces, I know very few women or men whose retirement planning is predicated on the possibility that they will lose one half of their income and substantial resources due to divorce. I know this was true of my own mother who was divorced at age 60 and there is plenty of anectdotal evidence to suggest that this holds true for a vast majority of married men and women.

    To your point that women remember what it is like to be single and so therefore commiserate with the plight of the single female, I believe that holds true in some social circles. But please remember, my comments were posted in direct response to the comments made by Megyn Kelly about the subgroup of Conservative married women, and even more specifically, Conservative Christian women. These women typically laud a “family values” mentality that does not consider reproductive rights or an active sex life to be a morally tenable position for single women. As Megyn Kelly, Laura Ingraham and other conservative female pundits have stated on this issue, conservative married women have other prioriities and do not necessarily condone or support the need for contraception for single women because they do not believe that they should need it in the first place.

    Your point that married women pay for reproductive care out of their own pockets is technically accurate. It is technically accurate In the same way that it is technically accurate that tax-payer funds for abortions provided through Planned Parenthood are not used to pay for abortions. The argument has been made, however, that when taxpayer funds are used to subsidize the organization’s other operating expenses – faciliies, equipment, SG&A, the organization’s overall cashflow increases and so funds that might otherwise have been used to cover its general operating expenses can then be transfered and then levied to support or offset the costs of providing abortion services. For example, to my knowledge, Planned Parenthood does not maintain separate buildings, book-keeping staff, accountants, phone lines and computers for abortion service providers from those providing other services, like pap smears and such.

    It is this leveraging of funds to which I referred when I said that single women in the workplace contribute to the overall economic well-being of married women. My labor is used to produce profits that can then be used by the company to negotiate the purchase of insurance packages that are provided to me and to my colleague and his family at a reduced cost. When my colleague’s wife develops her monthly budget, she includes an insurance premium that is less than what she would have to pay if she were to procure insurance on her own in the open market. This cost reduction results in increased household cashflow. This increased cashflow can be leveraged as expendable income that my colleague’s wife can then use to pay for out-of-pocket expenses such as birth control. If the company were to eliminate healthcare and were to instead directly compensate its employees based solely on their labor and without regard to their familial status, my colleague would experience a greater decrease relative to his overall compensation package than would I because he would now have to procure through the open-market not only his own insurance, but that for his family, as well.

    While it could be debated that adding family members to the benefits package because the employee reimburses the company for the cost, the numbers do not bear this out.

    In 2011, according to an annual survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance averaged $5,430 a year for single coverage and $15,070 for family coverage. The employee’s share of the premium averaged $920 for individual coverage and more than four times as much, $4,130, for family coverage.

    In fact, one of the key concerns about the healthcare reform legislation requiring employers with 50 or more employees to begin offering insurance is the issue of whether dependent coverage must be included.

    1. I have discovered something today, Tonya. You know your stuff. Thank you for your well reasoned and thoughtful response. You certainly closed the gap on many points, and I appreciate the time you took to add that level of detail. I agree with your sometimes subtle arguments. Unfortunately , as an individual who reads and thinks about how to change, and lead change, I am not a typical member of the target audience we need to reach. Discussion of the shifting of costs works with me, because I’m willing to consider the possibility of employers who do not cover family members under insurance. Privileged married women may not be so easy to reach. Some will. But the challenge of nuanced arguments is that they work best when “preaching to the choir.” far simpler arguments are needed when reaching out to others, ones that reflect the influences that dominate their thinking. That is why, I believe, your argument is stronger if you place spousal influence and influence by authority as points of greater prominence. Married men and women alike take cues from our partners as a substantial source of influence on decision making.

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