Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Earn less to land a husband?

By Peggy Drexler
updated 12:16 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
The names Betty, Gloria and Shirley probably come to mind when most think of feminists, but there's a whole group of young women -- and men -- who are working toward equality. Here is a short list -- who would you add? Tweet us <a href='https://twitter.com/cnnliving' target='_blank'>@CNNLiving</a> with #fem2.<!-- -->
</br><!-- -->
</br>Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani student and education activist, who gained international attention after she<a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/11/world/europe/nobel-peace-prize-speculation-malala/'> was shot in 2012 by Taliban gunmen</a>. "I want to become a prime minister of Pakistan," she said, saying it could make her "the doctor of the whole country." The names Betty, Gloria and Shirley probably come to mind when most think of feminists, but there's a whole group of young women -- and men -- who are working toward equality. Here is a short list -- who would you add? Tweet us @CNNLiving with #fem2.

Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani student and education activist, who gained international attention after she was shot in 2012 by Taliban gunmen. "I want to become a prime minister of Pakistan," she said, saying it could make her "the doctor of the whole country."
HIDE CAPTION
Young feminists
Young feminists
Young feminists
Young feminists
Young feminists
Young feminists
Young feminists
Young feminists
Young feminists
Young feminists
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
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

Editor's note: Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @drpeggydrexler. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- 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.

Peggy Drexler
Peggy Drexler

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.

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?

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 3:28 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT