Melanie McDonagh puts it about right:
Well, not so fast. There are two ways of looking at these figures. One can be summed up by The Guardian\’s take on the story: "Study finds a third of mothers slip down the career ladder". Another might be that some women are deciding to walk right off, or indeed under, the career ladder to do something better instead. Indeed, the whole metaphor of a career ladder is pretty loaded, suggesting that the only thing to be done is get to the top of it.
Obviously, given a choice between a highly-paid and stimulating part-time job and a rubbish part-time job, no one would voluntarily opt for the latter, and the Economic Journal report makes that clear.
But what the discussion leaves entirely out of account is whether the woman is making a rational choice in opting for part-time work in the first place. What if she actually enjoys spending time with her children and regards the trade-off as being worthwhile? What if you put the argument differently: "Women opt for better quality of life as opposed to running themselves ragged in the rat-race"?
The woman in question may indeed be earning less than her baby\’s father but she may feel that she, at least, is getting to see the baby make its way in the world rather than hearing about it from the childminder. It may be why, according to a report by the Equal Opportunities Commission, 80 per cent of full-time working mothers would prefer to work part-time.
This is indeed the most important question about the pay gap, about part time working mothers, about "downskilling" and all the rest. Is it the result of the choices made by the people involved, or is it something imposed upon them from outside, against their will?
If it\’s the former, then what is everyone getting so het up about?