The Pew Research Center just published a report entitled “Breadwinner Moms.” It is the talk of the “daily talk shows” or the “argument shows.” What people have love to talk about is that the report is said to show that 40%, or so of married women who have children are the “breadwinners,” or more accurately, but still not really right, the “mothers are the. . .primary provider in four-in-ten households with children.” The preceding quote is the subtitle of the Pew Report (Report).
(It is of no consequence that the actual number given in the Report is 37%, not 40%.) The Report’s actual number is 40.4% of all women under discussion, including unmarried women who constitute 63% of that whole. Thus, two separate groups are being discussed. Once that is taken into account, it looks like the percentage of mothers making more that their husbands is 15%. The actual measure is of women being the “sole or primary provider.” The error in the description of the Report findings will be ignored.
Nevertheless, Pew is a highly respected social research company and rightly so. Some descriptions of findings in the Report are wrong, however. There are implications in these errors for lawyers and law firms.
First, what does “breadwinner” mean? Let us suppose that a husband makes $1.00 while the wife makes $1.01. I should not think that this makes either of them the “breadwinner.” It doesn’t even seem right to call them the “primary provider.” (Of course, dollars could be reduced to pennies, and the same problem would result. This part of the Report’s deficiencies are both empirical absences and the use of descriptive language. What does all of this have to do with lawyers and law firms? Hold on! We’ll get there.
Second, the Report says that when both parents are working and the wife is making more than the husband the median income is $80,000 per year, and that number is nearly $13,000 above the median for all families with children. The reader still does not know whose work and pay makes the difference(s) between the $80,000 and the $57,000. One might think it is all attributable to the women who earn more. Out of the $80,000 the husband might make $39,900 while the wife made $40,100. (Of course, these minuscule spreads are unlikely, but they dramatically portray what the differences might actually be.) Does this have anything to do with lawyers and law firms? Now we start.
Third, the median income numbers entail the obvious conclusion that where a couple makes more than $80,000, it is above the median. Let’s pick a high number; suppose it is $200,000. The Report’s findings do not so much as suggest–even hint–that in 40% of families where there is a joint net income of that size, the wife is earning more than the husband.
For any net, I suspect the higher it goes, the less likely it is that the wife will be out-earning the husband. Of course, there are cases in which the opposite is true. He is a classic professor (or an Episcopal priest) and she is a lawyer. They are both lawyers; she is a partner in a corporate giant; he is a public defender. They are both lawyers; she is in the general counsel’s office of an insurance company, while he is an insurance defense lawyer. Both are doctors: he is a GP and she is a cardiac surgeon. He is a high school teacher–geometry–while she is a Wall Street broker. The combinations are endless.
In some cases, there may be a problem in the concept of earnings. Consider the very wealthy man who earns nothing, and his wife earns “whatever.” If she earned one cent a year, she would earn more than he does, and it would still screw up the whole idea, since they might be found in the very top 1%.
What does all this have to do with lawyers and law firms? It should already be clear. A great many lawyers earn a lot more than numbers usable in the Pew calculations.
There are similar problems with the education differences discussed in the Report. Consider a husband who has a law degree but the wife has an M.D. and a PhD. She has more education than he does. This would be true even if he teaches con law at Harvard, argues constitutional law cases in the U.S.Supreme Court, writes treatises, and advises all important X’s and Y, all the while she–the one with more education–works in a basement lab at Mass General.
The Pew Report supposes that if there is more education, then there is a greater income. Sometime this may be true, but not always. There is something called “OJT,” or “on the job training.” Even modern history is full of key people in construction projects who did not go to college at all, but are key people, e.g., sophisticated and indispensable construction supervisors. Or senior non-commissioned military officers. Historically, these job holders have almost always been men. What difference would it make if their wives had college degrees? Or had Master’s Degrees in something. Level of education does not determine income.
Nor does the quality of education. All observers of the real world know this. She went to Harvard; he went to Texas. She went to Chicago; he went to Ole Miss. She studied medicine at Yale; he did his work at the Arkansas Medical School. Income is created by all sorts of factors other than the quality of education. Often, owners of large businesses never went to a distinguished college, if they went to one at all. Some of the most talented trial lawyers went to Class C law schools. Not one word of what has been said in this paragraph could not be asserted in reverse, as it were, so that the husband’s education passes the wife’s education, but here achievements leave him in the dust.
To be sure, the Report tells us something about some fact, and it tells us that some women are making more than they used to, and that some women are making more than their husbands. And it tells us that if both of them work, together, they will make more. What else it tells us about wealthier people, e.g., lawyers, or the businesses in which some of them work, e.g., law firms, is nothing at all.
THE GENERAL POINT IS THAT THE PEW REPORT TELLS US VERY LITTLE ABOUT HOW THESE IMPORTANT NUMBERS WORK OUT IN THE WORKING CLASS OR IN THE LOWER MIDDLE CLASS. ONCE WE MOVE UP THE VARIOUS ECONOMIC STATUSES FROM THERE, THE AMOUNT OF INFORMATION PROVIDED SPREADS FROM NOTHING, TO NEXT TO NOTHING, TO ZERO, TO THE REVERSE. (ALL OF THIS REMAINS TRUE, EVEN IF I HAVE HAVE SOME OF THE NUMBER A BIT OFF.0
Originally posted on 06/06/2013 @ 5:29 pm