NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Women vs. the State

April 10, 2012

March was Women's History Month, so students across the country were taught about the extraordinary contributions of women in American history.  What they likely were not taught, however, is that a number of policies continue to harm women disproportionately under the guise of gender-neutral government considerations, says Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

First, high marginal tax rates are extremely detrimental to the ability of married women to work and receive fair compensation for their work.

  • Unless a wife makes more than her husband (and 72 percent do not), the government will tax the first dollar the wife earns at her husband's highest marginal rate.
  • This tax policy and the steep jump in the marginal rates as a couple's income rises discourage women from working, as they receive disproportionately low after-tax compensation.
  • The effect is a marriage penalty on women's desire to work.
  • According to economists Nada O. Eissa and Austin Nichols, married women increased their employment substantially in response to reductions in marginal tax rates following the 1986 tax reform, and similar results were seen again in the 1990s.
  • It also explains why, despite the fact that almost 80 percent of working mothers say they would prefer to work part time, almost two-thirds work full-time instead.

Second, immigration policies that limit the entrance of low-skill migrant workers undermine the position of women, as women would take disproportionate advantage of these workers' services.

  • Women who reenter the workplace after maternity leave often do so at the expense of housework and childcare.
  • Low-skill workers could easily accomplish these goals for a low wage, thereby leading to more gainful employment and higher wages for women.

Finally, the War on Drugs has been even more disastrous for women than men.

  • The proportion of women imprisoned for drug offenses is much higher than male drug imprisonment.
  • According to the American Civil Liberties Union, between 1986 and 1999 the number of women in state facilities for drug-related offenses increased by a factor of eight.
  • Sociologists Bruce Western and Becky Pettit found that this incarceration has significant negative impacts on women's lifetime earnings.

Source: Veronique de Rugy, "Women vs. the State," Reason Magazine, April 2012.

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