Huge news just in: children learn what they live. The folks over at the Economist seem to be dumbfounded by the fact that research has found that when deciding how to balance work and family, women are heavily influenced by the examples set by their own mothers. It says that women who grew up with stay-at-home mothers were more likely to scale back their careers when they had families than those whose mothers worked a lot.

I am surprised they needed a bunch of researchers to find that out. Just to make the point clear, just to point the finger at ‘you know who’, the piece ends with: ‘All of which is a lesson to those mothers who want their daughters to bridge the gender pay gap. Their wishes are more likely to come true if they lead by example when their girls are young.’

You know what, my daughters bridging the gender pay gap is not top of my agenda. I don’t lose sleep thinking about how being at home when my kids were small makes it less likely my two girls will become pawns for the feminists and close the dastardly gender pay gap.

All of this research was laid out in a piece that explains the ‘child penalty’. There you were thinking your bundle of joy was just that – a bundle of joy. Not so for the beancounters at the Economist. That bundle of joy will in all likelihood lower its mother’s lifetime earnings, an outcome known as the ‘child penalty’. Nice.

The piece explains: ‘A wide range of individual decisions account for this effect. Some women work fewer hours, or not at all, when their children are young. Others switch to jobs that are more family-friendly but lower-paid. There is also substantial variation in the size of the earnings decline, ranging from zero all the way up to 100 per cent (in the case of women who stop working altogether).’

Those ‘individual decisions’ are critical, are they not? If they are freely made, what’s the problem if there is a gender pay gap, or a disparate outcome? The feminists say it is problematic because society made women scale back on their careers and these decisions are not freely made. This is the ‘women don’t know their own minds’ argument, a form of gaslighting.

Feminists therefore demand lots of government coercion to change these decisions, all so that the gender pay gap will close. Where the Economist stands on the issue of government coercion (usually it is against it) is less clear. I sense it respects most individual decision-making apart from that made by the stay-at-home mother. Hell, the Economist wants to support you and your right to take dangerous drugs, but the right to care for your own kids? Not so much, probably because the first will generate economic activity and the second does not.

However, I have digressed. What I wanted to discuss was the subtle telling-off the Economist gives to mothers who just do not get with the programme and work full-time – not only are they wrecking things for themselves but they are sending their daughters down an awful path where they might do the same thing and prioritise their own children over their careers. And we just can’t have that.

The truth is that buried under the data is the rather obvious fact that the value systems of stay-at-home mothers will differ from mothers who work long hours. I’m not saying one is better than the other but I am saying that children often reflect the value system they were raised in.

If you were raised with a mother who was around a lot, picked you up from school, made you eat your dinner and was generally there more than a mother with a demanding career, it is more likely those memories will inspire you to do the same for your own kids.

Similarly, if your mother worked more, and especially if she was successful and enjoyed her work, this will probably inspire the daughter to do the same thing. She will value the public sphere more than the daughter of the stay-at-home mom.

I’m pretty confident that as long as the government stays out of things, men and women can settle on a happy, co-operative medium of what they truly want from life. As long as everyone understands that there are always sacrifices to be made along the way.

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