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Unnatural Women: Supreme Court Nomination Questions

May 6, 2009

Dahlia Lithwick and Hanna Rosin in Slate have a thought-provoking article about President Obama’s potential choices to replace David Souter as Supreme Court justice. In general, Ms. Lithwick and Ms. Rosin confront the issue of whether any of the many women who have been rumored for the spot are gay and, more generally:

Another question raised by the predominance of unmarried women on the short list: What kind of woman does it take to get there? Several years ago, some conservative women economists set out to prove that the wage gap between men and women was a myth. Anita Hattiangadi, then of the Employment Policy Foundation, concluded that if you compare men and women of “comparable worth,” the wage gap virtually disappears. So what does “comparable worth” mean? It means the same education, experience, and life circumstances. Thus, Hattiangadi found that among full-time workers age 21 to 35 who live alone, the pay gap between men and women disappears. The only significant pay gap, she found, was between married men and married women.

Hattiangadi intended these findings to finally bust the “myth” of the pay gap, but, of course, they just clarified the real problem: Men and women are not very often in comparable circumstances. When they get married and have children, women’s pay shrinks. That means the only women who can keep up with men are the ones who work very hard, and they are often divorced or unmarried and childless. Thus, as we ponder a list of potential Supreme Court nominees, it’s hardly a surprise that the current short list is dominated by such women. And so the list is a Catch-22: The choices a woman may make to achieve stunning legal success are the same ones that may also someday preclude her from a Supreme Court confirmation.

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