Men in their 20s no longer earn more than women, an official analysis of the 'pay gap' declared.
It found that the difference between the earnings of men and women twenty-somethings is 'non-existent'.
Women who choose to stay single are likely to earn more than single men throughout their lives, it said.
This has been known for some time. Women are not paid less than men until they have children and decide to scale back their work commitments. I've seen this many times at work myself: women with strong feminist beliefs who are very ambitious at work until a few years after the birth of their first child, at which point they change their life priorities.
The research findings prompted this comment:
Ruth Lea, adviser to the Arbuthnot Banking Group, said: 'It is a matter of choice. People earn the same until they get together, and then they make choices about work, family and lifestyle. That is what adults are expected to do - make decisions.
'I suspect that in reality the pay advantage lies with women and I think the whole pay gap debate should stop now.'
I doubt, though, that the debate will stop. In part, this is because there are many in the political class who believe that women are less autonomous than men, and are therefore unequal, and that careers are the way for women to get the same autonomy as men. People with this idea won't easily accept an arrangement in which men redouble their efforts at work to support their families, whilst women scale back to care for their young children.
This approach to equality is wrong on a number of grounds. First, it doesn't make much sense to think of the money earned by a husband as a "male" wage existing in competition with a "female" wage. Most of what the husband earns will go straight into family expenses - with much of it being spent by the wife. In reality, what husbands earn is a family wage, spent for the benefit of the family.
Second, it's debatable that careers provide a greater level of autonomy than spending time with family. The men in their 40s who finally do earn more on average than women have a great part of their time and energies committed to work duties. They don't get to choose to do whatever they want whenever they want; on the contrary, their lives are closely regulated by their work. Women too at this time of life are likely to be busy, but they do have a little more flexibility in choosing how to arrange their lives.
Even more importantly, why should autonomy be chosen as the overriding good? Why shouldn't people think it important to do what's best for their children and for their family?
There's one other possible objection to women choosing to scale back their work commitments: it means that the family is playing a significant role in how people organise their lives.
We can't assume that everyone in the political class approves of this. If your aim is to establish a system in which everyone is treated the same along universal, centralised, rational lines, then the continuing relevance of the family in providing support for women to care for their children won't be so easily accepted.
In other words, there is a conflict between those who envisage social organisation in terms of the client individual and the state, and those who accept the family as a natural, non-bureaucratic unit of society.