NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How Conservatives Can Erase the Gender Gap

April 17, 2012

Republicans are waging a "war on women," some Democrats say.  But conservatives are not at war with women.  Further, they can erase the gender gap with a set of policy proposals that empower individuals, expand choice and remove ridiculous government regulations, says John C. Goodman, president and CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis.

The most important economic and sociological change in our society in the past 60 years has been the entry of women into the labor market.  Despite this, tax law, labor law and a host of other institutions are still built on the assumption that men will be full time in the labor market, while women will stay in the home.


  • When a wife enters the labor market, she is taxed at her husband's tax rate, even if she earns only the minimum wage. When all taxes and all costs are considered, a second-earner wife in a middle-income family can expect to keep only about 35 cents out of each dollar she earns.
  • If the woman's husband dies prematurely, Social Security will provide a modest benefit as long as she stays home and takes care of children. But if she works, the combined effect of direct taxes plus loss of benefits will create a marginal tax rate of 75 percent -- leaving her with only 25 cents out of each extra dollar she earns.
  • If the woman goes on welfare, she will confront a newly reformed system that is supposed to encourage work; however, when explicit taxes are combined with loss of benefits, her marginal tax rate will be about 79 percent -- leaving her with only 21 cents out of each dollar of wage income.

Many changes are needed to bring aging institutions into sync with the way people are living their lives in the 21st century.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • We need a fairer tax system for two-earner couples, ideally a flat tax.
  • We need a flexible employee benefit system that makes it easier for dual-earner couples to obtain higher wages rather than unneeded, duplicate benefits.
  • We need flexibility in labor law, making it easier for workers (especially parents with young children) to choose alternatives to the traditional 40-hour work week.
  • We need a complete reform of the treatment of spouses under Social Security, as well as reform of the unemployment insurance and our welfare system.

Source: John C. Goodman, "How Conservatives Can Erase the Gender Gap," Roll Call, April 16, 2012.

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