Phyllis Schlafly, a woman who has built a highly successful career out of telling other women that they should not have highly successful careers, is known for reciting mushy half-microwaved sexism casserole from the 1950's and calling it conservative philosophy. Normally, she's someone I ignore unless I want to laugh ruefully at a dying way of life. But every once in awhile, she'll really outdo herself. This is one of those times.
Today, the Christian Post published an op-ed from Schlafly that argues that if women made the same amount of money as men, marriage as we know it would vanish, and that's a bad thing. Maybe the worst thing.
I suppose engaging with Schlafly on the stupidity of her Wage Gaps To Nudge Women Down The Aisle stance isn't entirely necessary in the first place, especially because the conservative fixation on marriage has become downright silly. Marriage is a great arrangement for some (it's worked for my parents for almost 33 years) and people are going to continue to do it if it makes sense for them, but it's not necessarily for everyone, especially if making it "for everyone" necessitates a society-wide agreement to pay women even less than they're currently earning. We don't need to save marriage like a dirty Bruce Willis elbow crawling through a ventilation shaft. Marriage will be just fine.
But Schlafly would disagree. She thinks that not only does marriage need saving, it needs financial incentivizing in the form of penalties levied against women with the gall to choose not to marry. She writes,
While women prefer to HAVE a higher-earning partner, men generally prefer to BE the higher-earning partner in a relationship. This simple but profound difference between the sexes has powerful consequences for the so-called pay gap.
Suppose the pay gap between men and women were magically eliminated. If that happened, simple arithmetic suggests that half of women would be unable to find what they regard as a suitable mate.
Obviously, I'm not saying women won't date or marry a lower-earning men, only that they probably prefer not to. If a higher-earning man is not available, many women are more likely not to marry at all.
Simple arithmetic suggests that if she believes that dangling the promise of "security" in front of women will convince them to marry in droves, Phyllis Schlafly must be in a pretty joyless marriage. What about other reasons women choose husbands? Maybe a woman chooses to marry a specific man because he's kind, and funny, and thoughtful, and smart, and hard working, and would make a good father to the children that the woman may one day like to mother? Maybe a woman wants to marry a man because she really likes hanging out with him and also doing naked sex stuff with him? How the shit does income disparity become the deal breaking factor in choosing to marry or not marry? Does Phyllis Schlafly literally hate love?
But she's not done.
The pay gap between men and women is not all bad because it helps to promote and sustain marriages. Since husband and wife generally pool their incomes into a single economic unit, what really matters is the combined family income, not the pay gap between them.
In two segments of our population, the pay gap has virtually ceased to exist. In the African-American community and in the millennial generation (ages 18 to 32), women earn about the same as men, if not more.
It just so happens that those are the two segments of our population in which the rate of marriage has fallen the most. Fifty years ago, about 80 percent of Americans were married by age 30; today, less than 50 percent are.
Just a coincidence? I think not. The best way to improve economic prospects for women is to improve job prospects for the men in their lives, even if that means increasing the so-called pay gap.
I guess you're never too old to say things so the boys will like you.
In a single small chunk of a tax day op ed, Schlafly manages to make the following errant implications about income, gender, marriage, and race in America: that people only marry within their own race, that anyone unmarried by age 32 will never get married or have families, that the falling rate of black marriages can be traced to the wage gap, and that marriage should be a lifelong contract between a man who makes a lot of money and a woman in too dire of financial straits to turn down his largesse. Romance.
As gigglesob-inducing as Schlafly's views are, over at the Washington Post, Catherine Rampell spells out a far more popular (and far less dumb) theory for why the marriage rates are declining for the very groups Schlafly says will suddenly pair up if only men get paid even more than women: the tax code's "marriage penalty." Rampell explains how a low-income married couple would face higher taxes and skyrocketing living expenses (childcare costs more than college tuition in many places) if the pair were to marry or if the stay-at-home spouse were head off to work, as well as how a middle income two-wage couple would suffer financially if the pair got married. It makes economic sense in the short term for low income mothers to stay home with their children rather than working, just as it makes sense for young wage earners in a relationship to shack up forever.
If Phyllis Schlafly wants to save marriage, she'd have better luck advocating for a reformed tax code and better support for parents and low-income couples. But she doesn't want to save marriage; she wants to keep women in their place: as wives-by-necessity.