There are many reasons why women only earn 75% of what men make.
- They don't negotiate higher salaries (although negotiating tends to be associated with even lower salaries for women).
- Women who earn more money than their husbands tend to get divorced.
- They choose to go into lower paying fields.
- They take time off for childcare (and sometimes "leave before they leave").
All of these are more interrelated than you think.
Women tend to go into fields such as media (which we all know is fucked), education, health care, and administration (i.e. become secretaries). Men go into fields such as finance, technology, engineering, and construction. I'm not saying these fields are not important, but I think that education and health are pretty important. For that matter, I think childcare is important. But society doesn't. We don't even pay most childcare workers. And when we do, we pay them less than we pay parking lot attendants. We are willing to pay people more to look after our cars than our children.
So how do you juggle the demands of being a parent with the demands of your job? People who can afford private nannies and people in New York State spend a lot of money on childcare. That's just the average. There is a nursery at UCLA where my developmental psychology professor sent her child--for $17,000 a year, but she said, "You're smiling when you sign the check, because you know your child is going to be well-looked after." More and more people are willing to spend a reasonable amount of money to have their children well looked after. But what a "reasonable amount" is actually very high. So high that some women quit their “hard-core corporate life” jobs to take care of and educate their kids themselves. Some women choose to be the child-carer because they were making less money than their husbands anyway (such as in social services). Even women with a “hard-core corporate life” do so though, possibly because childcare, not earning money, is women's work.
Of course, if you're going into a job such as education, the idea is that you'll automatically have more time to take care of kids (whether or not this is true is up to debate), which may be one of the reasons women go into these fields in the first place.
Education has always had a low status in the United States. It was traditionally performed by recent (male) college graduates, before they could move into more profitable, higher-status jobs. As more and more children started getting educated, more and more women entered the field. Sometimes there were not even high school graduates. Many were required to be unmarried. In this way, education was not only feminized, but treated as a young person's temporary job.
To a large extent, this has not changed. Educators are mostly women, and educators stay in the field for an average of 11 years. Women are also paid less than men. Primary school teachers (and as a previous TA for elementary school students, I say that their job is not any easier. Think you know long division? Try explaining it to a 7 year old), make less than secondary school teachers. Teacher make less than administrators, who are mostly men.
Why is this? Education is a government-subsidized career, but so are certain astronomers, and teachers in the private sector are, if anything, being paid less. The real reason is this: we as a society deem women's work less valuable. The more women are in a field, the less money we think people in that field should make. What's the lowest paying field? Household work. Why pay anyone to do it when your wife will do it for free? Even if she has a job. Especially if her job pays more than yours.
Just as men are a majority of educational administrators while women make up a majority of teachers, 93% of executive chefs are men, but women cook 78% of home meals, make 93% of food purchases, and spend 3x as many hours in the kitchen as men. Is this because women want to stay at home? Because they aren't ready for the rigors of executive cooking? Maybe. Or maybe because A) it's difficult for women to become executive chefs because of discrimination B) aforementioned work-life conflict and C) men are less willing to work for free.
I think our society needs to reevaluate its values. Larry Summer basically got ousted as president of Harvard because he claimed that women didn't put in as much work in the STEM fields. But women do just as much work as men, if not more. Maybe instead of women leaning in at work, men should lean in at home. It's not just about work-life balance. Rearing children, taking care of your home, educating children, taking care of the sick, the poor, the abused--this is work. Noble work. We need to start valuing it as such.