Earn less to land a husband?

Story highlights

  • Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly says equal pay is bad for women
  • Peggy Drexler: Her case that equal pay hurts women's odds of marrying is flawed
  • Drexler says reducing financial independence for women doesn't empower them
  • We need to reduce gender-based salary discrimination, Drexler says

Despite the fact that Republicans recently voted down the Paycheck Fairness Act (for the third time), no one dares to argue in favor of gender-based salary discrimination.

No one, that is, except for "pro-family" activist Phyllis Schlafly, who has made a long career of telling women their place is in the home. In case you're not familiar with Schlafly, she's a veteran right-wing activist and founder 44 years ago of the Eagle Forum, a conservative interest group that, among other things, opposes abortion, vaccines and working mothers.

On Tuesday in the Christian Post, Schlafly declared that equal pay is bad, widening the wage gap is good and that the entire institution of marriage depends on men continuing to earn more than women.

Providing women with equal pay for equal work, she wrote, would lower their chances of finding a "suitable mate," since, as Schlafly argues, women prefer to marry men who earn more than they do while men prefer to marry women who earn less.

Peggy Drexler

But do they? Or is it that neither gender has had very many choices to the contrary?

Talking about the salary gap between partners is the least romantic thing in marriages. But the truth is that women have long married men who earned more than they did for one main reason: Men have long earned more than women.

It's not about desire. It's about numbers. Schlafly says that "men don't have the same preference for a higher-earning mate." Maybe that's because until very recently, the chances that men meet higher-earning women were pretty rare. They still are.

Schlafly doesn't stop there, though.

She argues that beyond the case for "saving marriage," women don't actually deserve equal pay because they "work fewer hours per day, per week, per year." While men work more than women in paid work, women work more than men if you account for unpaid work.

She goes on saying that women "place a much higher value on pleasant working conditions: a clean, comfortable, air-conditioned office with congenial co-workers" -- as if A/C and friends to eat lunch with were not things that men like as well.

She also ignores the reality that professional men and women do not receive equal treatment or consideration in the workplace. Women earn less than men -- about 84 cents to men's dollar.

Although Schlafly proposes that the best way to empower women is to make job prospects better for men, that only works -- if it works at all -- for women who are able, or want, to marry.

What about the rest of them? What about other choices?

Simply put, even if every American man and woman wanted to marry, there are more women than men. Schlafly's math doesn't add up.

She also says, "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." That is, the more men that out-earn women, the more men there are from which those women might choose.

Reducing opportunity and financial independence for women does not empower them. In fact, the result is quite the opposite.

Of course, Schlafly's latest manifesto isn't about making logical arguments. She has long been known for courting controversy with her anti-feminism, anti-liberalism, anti-equal rights advocacy -- it's no surprise that she'd latch onto equal pay to further her own platform.

The truth is that a more likely deterrent to marriage is the higher tax burdens that married couples face. Under current tax codes, two-wage earning couples face higher taxes if they marry. This might be tolerable for middle class couples but is less so for those who earn less.

Economically speaking, there's greater incentive for young couples of modest means to forgo marriage entirely in favor of what Schlafly might regard as (gasp!) living in sin.

Schlafly's message is immensely disempowering for women, but what else would we come to expect from a woman who has made a career of telling women that their place is at home?

Perhaps more importantly, Schlafly's just got the whole "what women want" thing all wrong. Studies show that women are increasingly marrying men who are less educated and who earn less, too.

Could it be that these women are just taking what they can get? Or could it be that there's a new norm in town?

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