The one thing you can do today to help close the pay gap

never tell girl give up earning potential

 

I keep hearing the same story again and again from professionally successful women. Variations on:

“My grandma told me: ‘Always have your own money.'”

It could be a mother, aunt, neighbor, Girl Scout leader, teacher, cousin, mentor or favorite coach.

The bottom line: An older, respected woman looked her straight in the eye, and in her own but direct way said:

Do not ever depend on a man financially.

Money is power, and never, ever give up that power. 

You are powerful. Never chose to give up that power. 

You are responsible for your own life. 

You are not a victim.

I believe in you. 

Many of the women who tell me these stories are in their 40s, 50s and older, and their champions were women of a generation or two more senior than that. This is important because it is clear that women found ways to be financially independent — whether through work, or even squirreling away cash in their own name or shoebox in the back of a closet — even if they had but a fraction of the economic and career opportunity you and I enjoy.

They got it. And they made sure that the women who came after them got it, too.

Somehow, we have not collectively gotten it. By ‘it,’ I mean the giant, enormous pressure for women to be stay-at-home moms and abandon their financial power, and therefor, their autonomy as adults.

There is a lot of pressure on women to forsake their economic power en lieu of family. Pew found that an astonishing 40 percent of Americans believe that children suffer when their mother works outside of the home. And study after study finds that the 21% gender paygap is a result not of rich white men in C-suits keeping competent women down, but rather women choosing to compromise their careers to care for loved ones. This pressure is so great that women who actually earn a living, falsely label themselves “stay-at-home moms.” A recent project between my friend time management expert Laura Vanderkam and Redbook magazine found that 62% of described stay-at-home moms contributed to their household income, including 25% who run businesses. I know a blogger who earns $80,000 per year and calls herself a stay-at-home mom — a disconnect that is both common destructive, since it perpetuates the economically oppressive pressure to abandon our livelihoods and lives for our children and husbands.

Meanwhile, all research confirms: It makes zero difference how much time a parent spends with a kid after age 2, and the greatest indicators of a child’s future wellbeing is her mother’s education and income level. Let us not forget: Working mothers are far less prone to depression and anxiety, and divorce rates are 50% higher for families in which one spouse does not work.

In other words: We glamorize stay-at-home moms, when science proves again and again that everyone is happier, healthier and more financially secure when both parents work.

After all: Divorce rates have been more or less steady at 50% for 40 years. The other 50% of couples? Unemployment, disability, death and other catastrophes mean a one-career family is a precarious financially agreement indeed.

So this is what you will do to make sure we break this cycle of women sabotaging their own wellbeing, and that of their children, marriage and for women and society overall:

You will identify a girl. Maybe it is your daughter, or granddaughter. Niece, student, mentee or neighbor. She might be 6 or 16 or a young woman of 26. You will tell her with zero nuance or caveat:

Always have your own money. 

Never give up your ability to earn.

You are not an adult if you chose to be financailly dependent on another person. 

In my research, I have found it only takes telling a young person this critical message one time. The message taps into such a primal, visceral need for freedom, power and independence, even very young girls understand it intuitively.

But do not tell her just one time. Tell her again and again. Like you make sure your child knows to be kind, and say thank you and not to chew with her mouth open. Just as you make sure that young people know how to swim and must eat vegetables, this is a non-negotiable.

Because when a child is raised to reap the magnificent bounty that is the education, professional, political and financial equality that women in this country in 2016 enjoy, and understand that she will never, ever chart her own course in this world until she embraces it as her duty to exercise it in its fullest, you set her on a certain course. On the right course. It is a course that affects every single vertical of her life:

The choices she makes in where she attends college, and how she will pay for it (because when you are wise about your education and related finances, and do not assume that a man will take care of you and your debt eventually, you make better choices).

The career path she pursues.

The relationships she forges with friends and colleagues (because these are the spine of her entire life).

The money she does and does not spend on fun.

The money she does and does not invest.

The partner she selects (or rejects).

The children she choses to have (or not).

The way she sees herself in the world, the value she brings to her partner, her children, friends, and the world around her. 

By saying: “Always have your own money,” to a girl you are saying:

“You are powerful. And I believe that you will never, ever give up that power.”

She gets it. She will thank you. And women everywhere, forever, will thank you.

 

Did an older woman inspire you to always have your own money? Share your important story in the comments.

 

 

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8 thoughts on “The one thing you can do today to help close the pay gap

  1. Thank you so much for this post. When I was married, I definitely had “stay-at-home-mom” fantasies. My mom stayed home with me and my brothers until I (the youngest) went off to kindergarten, so that was my model of how things should be done. I really, really wanted that same situation for my baby and me. I have a “good job” but do not love it or find it rewarding by any means, so I would much rather have been home being a mommy all day. And it may have been possible…my husband at the time had a very promising career. Until he spiraled out of control (very surprisingly and very quickly) with addiction. I then realized how very lucky I was to have my career. I was lucky I never took a break from earning my own money. I was SO lucky that I could easily support myself and my child. I did not have a specific person who inspired me to do these things. I just learned by chance, through personal experience, that you cannot and should not ever rely on anyone financially. Because you never know when the rug will be pulled out from under you, and all of a sudden you are on your own again. And you don’t know if there will be child support or not. In my case, there was not for a very long time. I was able to divorce my husband and get on with my life and my child’s life without too many financial woes. And I am so thankful that’s how things went for me. It could have been very different had I been able to give in to my SAHM fantasies. I still don’t LOVE my job, but I love the income, I love the health insurance, I love the roof over our heads in a nice neighborhood, I love that it allows me to pay for sports and activities and vacations for my daughter to enjoy. I thank my lucky stars that I have this career, and I’m proud that this is the model my daughter is growing up with. Thank you again for this post….it is so important for our daughters to hear this message!

    1. Dee,
      That’s a very unfortunate situation with your ex…but I do hope many marriages can also be based on a partnership model and a division of labor. Men or women who are educated and had a career means they could go back to working and earning in event of job loss of the spouse, disability, divorce, death, etc.
      I don’t believe all married parents should work because they are worried about the sutuation changing and feel they would never be able to renter the workplace.
      All best to you,
      Shira
      NYC

      1. Statistically, this is false and a fantasy that women use to drop out: “Men or women who are educated and had a career means they could go back to working and earning in event of job loss of the spouse, disability, divorce, death, etc.”

        The pay gap is attributed to women stepping off the career path to stay home, and there is no such thing as relying on a formal education from a zillion years ago to launch you back into a career-track job. Tons of research and anecdotal evidence on this.

        1. Totally agree! It’s hard enough to find a better job or a more rewarding job when you are IN the workforce. I can’t imagine how hard it would be trying to get back in after years of being absent.

    2. Thank you for this perspective … this isn’t about what is fun and nice, but being a responsible adult, parent and member of society. Muah!

  2. Hi Emma!
    I’m all for financial independence, and diligently saved and invested for the first 20 years of my career before having kids. But I also am one of the people who believes time with children IS important. Bloggers and other business owners who make money working at home call themselves stay at home moms because they are HOME all day with their children, and fit in work around what their children need, It’s very different than leaving all day for a workplace.
    As a fellow journalist and interested parent, I’m very interested to see some of the research you mention re: all “research shows it makes no difference how much time a parent spends with children after age 2,” and that science shows repeatedly that “everyone is happier, healthier and more financially secure” with two working parents. (the financially secure part makes intuitive sense, but not the rest)
    Please do provide some links so we can see some of this scientific research and consider it.
    All best to you and your girls!
    Shira
    NYC

    1. Sounds like you drank the Kool-Aid:

      “Though American parents are with their children more than any parents in the world, many feel guilty because they don’t believe it’s enough. That’s because there’s a widespread cultural assumption that the time parents, particularly mothers, spend with children is key to ensuring a bright future.

      Now groundbreaking new research upends that conventional wisdom and finds that that isn’t the case. At all.

      In fact, it appears the sheer amount of time parents spend with their kids between the ages of 3 and 11 has virtually no relationship to how children turn out, and a minimal effect on adolescents, according to the first large-scale longitudinal study of parent time to be published in April in the Journal of Marriage and Family. The finding includes children’s academic achievement, behavior and emotional well-being.

      “I could literally show you 20 charts, and 19 of them would show no relationship between the amount of parents’ time and children’s outcomes. . . . Nada. Zippo,” said Melissa Milkie, a sociologist at the University of Toronto and one of the report’s authors.”

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/making-time-for-kids-study-says-quality-trumps-quantity/2015/03/28/10813192-d378-11e4-8fce-3941fc548f1c_story.html

      “The part-timers were less depressed, had better health, were more sensitive to their children and were better able to provide them with learning opportunities.”
      http://healthland.time.com/2011/12/13/working-moms-particularly-part-timers-are-happier-and-healthier-than-at-home-moms/

  3. First off, I love your blog and view myself as a single mother, yet am married. I believe in having my own identity… That being said, I stepped off the career path with 6 months worth of reserves when transitioning out of the military. My intention was absolutely never a career path. My intention was making my own way in the world. Since then, I have failed at over 8 business initiatives in my attempt to fine tune it over the past 5 years. If I didn’t live with my husband, I would live in a tent until I got it right. I have before. When you need money for something, it becomes imperative that you earn it, and provide for yourself. Entrepreneurship requires living on the edge, as you could always lose everything. I think that’s the level of confidence we need to give our girls. Fear of being without is laughable in most places on earth, and fear of not being perfect is why people wait till 40 for kids. If everyone would quit being so damned afraid of everything, they wouldn’t wake up at 40 wondering what happened.Fear of investing is something we need to teach them to get over. Maybe that isn’t your point, maybe you disagree, but my children will never be afraid of walking away from a bad situation, so won’t be scared to truly love someone, either. Have your own money is interchangeable with have a set of valuable skills, the ability to make money, and the courage to go for it. How hard is it to leave a bad relationship? Why is it easier to walk away from independence than abuse? For the love of God: someone turn the tables!! I think you are off to a good start. I’m rambling… It’s a good start to tell them what to do, but just tell them how, too, ok?

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