Career Women Face Less Money, Less Marriage

ByKate Klonick

Sept. 7, 2006 — -- Two weeks ago, when Forbes published its now infamous article attempting to answer what qualities a man should look for in a wife, it wasn't looks, education or compatibility. Instead, the story advised men to avoid marrying women with careers -- advice that ignited a firestorm of objection across the Internet.

Just hours after the Forbes article "Don't Marry Career Women" was posted online on Aug. 23, it was removed from the Web site and quickly repackaged -- this time in the opinions section, with a counterpoint.

Six days later, the U.S. Census Bureau revealed a static wage gap. Women working full-time and year-round continued to make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, a number that remains virtually unchanged from 2004.

The intersection of the two events might be more than coincidence. With increasing reports in the last few years of women shying away from careers in favor of family -- or failing to seek promotions in the workplace -- is there a war on women who work?

"Whatever you do, don't marry a career woman," wrote Michael Noer, author of the controversial article and an editor at Forbes. As evidence, Noer cited a number of scientific studies that show a higher likelihood of divorce in marriages in which women work.

A higher statistical probability of women having extramarital affairs, a decline in women's hours spent on housework, and a greater prevalence of spousal sickness were all listed as contributors to a spiked divorce rate in such marriages.

Noer's article sparked an online outcry within moments of publication. Dozens of bloggers across the country wrote about the article. Some attacked Noer directly, calling him "completely sexist," and even more expressed incredulity at the financial publication's gender gaffe. Many called for a boycott of the magazine.

By the end of the week, anti-Forbes feminist blogging seemed to have accomplished its mission -- the magazine's publisher, Steve Forbes, apologized publicly for the piece.

But for many, the existence of the article was more important than its reception.

Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority, called the Forbes story "totally off the mark."

"Research has shown just the opposite," Smeal said. "Women who earn more tend to have stable marriages -- as much as anyone does in this day and age. Women's studies experts, she said, "have written on this for years -- that these gender myths are hurting our marriages, hurting our children and our jobs."

But not all women consider the Forbes piece a gender myth. Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the conservative Eagle Forum and widely believed to have spearheaded the successful fight against the Equal Rights Amendment, has, unsurprisingly, a different perspective. "I don't see anything wrong with the article," said Schlafly.

"I believe in free speech, and I think it's fine for people to express those views, and I think when a woman is absorbed in a career and she has a baby, the husband ranks third. And most marriages don't stay together when the husband is only ranked third in his wife's views."

But career, said Schlafly, was not the thrust of marital problems. "The way I would put it, I would say, 'Don't marry a feminist.' It's not the career, it's the feminist attitude."

Although Forbes magazine bore the brunt of the recent controversy over working women, the U.S. Census Bureau published the yearly wage statistics, which reveal -- once again -- that women lag men in their paychecks.

An analysis of the numbers reveals surprising discrepancies: Women over 25 with bachelor's degrees make only about $6,000 more than men with just high school diplomas -- the median annual pay was $42,173 for women with college degrees and $36,372 for men over 25 with only a high school education.

To compare, males over 25 with a bachelor's degree had a median salary of $60,071 -- 142 percent more than their female counterparts.

While many claim the wage gap numbers are skewed by incomplete information, Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, believes the statistics indicate sex discrimination.

"There have been numerous studies done to evaluate whether the wage gap would exist if all the different factors were controlled," said Gandy, "such as years of experience, level of education, number of hours worked and so forth. And in each study, there was a significant chunk of wage disparity that could not be accounted for on any basis other than discrimination."

Joan Entmacher, vice president of Family Economic Security at the National Women's Law Center, said the statistics expose more than discrimination.

"If we pay, for example, people who work in child care centers wages that are comparable to those paid to parking lot attendants, or people that run dog kennels ... it's clearly just an undervaluing of female work," said Entmacher.

Schlafly, however, is among those who say the census numbers no way indicate the reality of women's and men's wages.

"That 77 cents figure is just a complete lie," said Schlafly. "In that figure, you have women that aren't working as hard as men, lumped all in together."

Despite the debate over figures and scientific studies, the detailed census statistics show that working women with similar education, background and hours as men still make significantly less-- even as education increases. The National Women's Law Center's analysis of full-time, year-round workers over 25 (a number that excludes young, often minimum-wage workers) reveals that among those with master's degrees, women's pay is 68.5 percent of men's, almost 9 percent lower than what the Census Bureau reported for all full-time workers.

If the wage gap is as great as the figures indicate, the solution, said Entmacher and other feminist leaders, is to support more education for women and more involvement at home for men.

"It's still the case that women need to have a bachelor's degree. They earn less than men with associate's degrees working full-time. Women really, really need to earn that college degree if they want to earn as much as men," said Entmacher.

She believes progress could be made if men realized the benefits of sharing home- and wage-earning responsibilities. "To be the sole wage owner for a family is a heavy burden," Entmacher said. "If you've got two people who can both cook dinner, [and] both clean up after themselves, it's beneficial for both parties and the family."

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