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Danielle Smith: Removing gender gap would eliminate choice for women

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It is International Women’s Day and already I’m fed up with the obsession over the so-called gender pay gap.

Here’s the truth, the way I see it: We will always have a gender pay gap and it will never be eliminated. The reason has nothing to do with patriarchy or male privilege. It has to do with biology.

This was brought into clear focus a few weeks ago when legendary rocker Keith Richards apologized to his old friend Mick Jagger for an interview he gave last year after the birth of Jagger’s latest child: “It’s time for the snip – you can’t be a father at that age. Those poor kids!”

Jagger was 73 years old when his son Deveraux was born. Mom, ballerina Melanie Hamrick, was 29.

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Whatever the wisdom of fathering a child in your 70s, the fact is – biologically – men can do it, and women can’t. Women are encouraged to have babies before the age of 35 to minimize issues of infertility, genetic disorders and complications at birth.

So, the issue for women is that the prime time to have babies is also the prime time to get an education – including advanced degrees – and focus on their career, seek a promotion and start a business.

I will put it to you that if women could have babies at 73, there would be no wage gap. If every woman could first get her education finished, work a few different jobs, pay off her debt, get financially secure, buy a house and find the love of her life to settle down with before having kids sometime in her 40s or 50s – we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

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But, because women do have to make these choices, a certain percentage of them are going to choose a different path than remaining the hard-charging career girl and going back to work at the earliest opportunity.

Some will choose to get married and have kids right away and forego school. Some will choose to work part-time so they have the flexibility to work around their partner’s schedules. Some will choose to stay at home entirely until their kids are in school. Some will choose to homeschool their kids. Some will choose to never go back to work – even when their kids are grown – because they are full-time homemakers and volunteers.

I put it to you that this explains why the workforce participation rate for women is 61 per cent, whereas it is 70 per cent for men.

If you want to argue that any difference in the workforce participation rate is a problem that needs to be fixed, then you are telling women that these choices in balancing parenting and career are wrong.

That is what I find so offensive about Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce this week. He lamented, at length, about how “poorly” Canada rates on this issue – that we are only eighth out of 29 OECD countries on the measure of women’s workforce participation.

“I would hazard a guess that no one here running a business is aiming to be eighth,” he admonished the crowd.

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He went on to say, if we could increase women’s workforce participation by two percentage points it would add $150 billion to the Canadian economy. He quoted an RBC report that said if men and women participated equally in the workforce, our $2.2-trillion economy would be four per cent larger.

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So, that is the real issue. With the federal government taking one third or more of every dollar we make, Morneau wants to push mothers back to work – whether they want to or not – to generate more tax dollars so the federal government has more money to pay for more social programs.

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It may be unpopular to say so, but I think it is perfectly legitimate for women to choose to put taking care of their children ahead of making money. That’s what having choice is all about.

Danielle Smith can be reached at danielle@770chqr.com