Equal work for equal pay has been the law of the land for many years. In the United States, if a man and woman each perform the same job with the same results and accrue the same advantages to their employer, the law decrees (rightfully) they should receive the same compensation. Yet, women as a whole earn less than men, and this fact comes under a lot of scrutiny.
Are there malevolent forces of sexism at work here?
My husband and I are a case study in the feminine wage gap, as he makes a lot more money for the “same” work. We met in medical school, when we were ardent first year students with ambitious plans to conquer the pinnacles of medicine. We were pretty much the same, except for our sex. We married in our third year and I got pregnant right away. From then on our professional paths (and our earnings) wildly diverged.
Seven weeks into my pregnancy I discovered that morning sickness, which sounds like a little queasiness confined to the early hours, is actually like being trapped in a small boat in high seas, 24 hours a day. My enthusiasm for long, arduous hospital shifts immediately abated.
When our son was born, I got six weeks of maternity leave, which was extremely generous, since the other students had to pick up the very considerable slack, including 36-hour shifts in the E.R. My husband gallantly volunteered for many of them. Going back to work (and away from our son) almost killed me. After spending an atrocious night trying to get the baby to take the breast again, I turned to my husband and declared: Once I finish training, I will find a way to work and also be with my children —somehow.
I had made the big realization that most mothers make. I realized that what I wanted most of all was to be present in the lives of my kids. I longed for my first baby (and his little sister born soon after) every moment I was at work.
Time with them would be my priority. This change in my way of thinking surprised me. My mother was a working professional and I had been raised to put my professional life first. Then biology intervened.
It turns out my husband and I were not the same. He was still on the same professional path. Nothing had changed with the birth of the baby, because my husband had me. As long as he could rely on me to take the family on as my first priority, and watch me do that with joy, he could go out and conquer the world.
Fast forward 20 years and you will find us just where you expect. Both of us are radiologists, but I work mostly from home. There are five children now, and I make almost every school activity, orthodontist appointment and baseball game. I pick up the youngest every day, and we always go to 7-11 for a Slurpee.
I find a deep satisfaction in all this. My husband appreciates and supports my professional work and even more my time with the children. I am grateful that he values my labor in the care and formation of the children even more than my paycheck. He himself works very long hours. The wage gap between us is huge.
We are happy with our situation and the way we complement each other.Our preferences and strengths, the things that fill us with joy and a sense of accomplishment are equally important but distinctly different. I give him the support at home that he needs so he can concentrate on his goals at work, and he gives me the financial and moral support I need to fulfill my goals at home.
In the evenings and on Saturdays and Sundays, he takes the helm of the family. Each of us is happy with our choice and thankful to the other. We both have the same aim, of course: the spiritual, emotional and material support of our family.
Our wage gap is not a problem to be solved but actually the sign of our mutually satisfying teamwork. Our wage gap is also a choice, in a time when choice is held up as the highest good.We could get rid of it in a moment. I could go back to work full time and make as much as he does. I’d rather do anything else.
We had a medical school class reunion recently and I took an informal poll. Most of the women were married with children, and almost all were working part time.
This is a momentous choice, if you stop and think about it. We had each put in between 12 and 15 years of very intense school and training. And we had chosen the less lucrative path. All of us were satisfied. No, all of us were thankful.