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WHATEVER the truth of the aphorism that a mother's place is in the wrong, it seems that working mothers, at least, are in the wrong place. Or so concludes the Women and Work Commission (WWC), whose long-awaited report on the causes of the “gender pay gap”, the difference between men's and women's hourly earnings, was published on February 27th. The commission found that the pay gap (British women in full-time work currently earn 17% less per hour than men) was due not so much to a pattern of paying women less than men for doing the same job as to something far harder to root out. Women are making the wrong choices early in their careers and sliding into dead-end part-time jobs after they have children, with serious consequences for their lifetime earnings. A few days earlier, the European Commission brought out its own report on the pay gap across the whole European Union.
 Its findings were similar: per hour, European women earn 15% less than men. In America, the difference in median weekly pay is around 20%. According to the WWC, the gender pay gap opens early. Boys and girls study different subjects in school, and boys' subjects lead to more lucrative careers. They then take different degrees and work in different sorts of jobs. As a result, average hourly pay for a woman at the start of her working life is only 91% of a man's, even though nowadays she is probably better qualified. The gap widens to a chasm during women's working lives, for a fundamental biological reason: motherhood. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), a research outfit, the hourly pay of women with children relative to that of men with children falls to 67%. And the Institute for Public Policy Research, another think-tank, recently calculated that a woman with middling skills who has a baby at age 24 loses £564,000 ($981,000) in lifetime earnings compared with one who remains childless. (The figure is lower, although still substantial, if she waits a while.) The Labour government sees affordable child care as crucial to narrowing the pay gap. The Conservatives are following suit, trying to re-position themselves as modern and woman-friendly. In a speech on February 27th, George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, hinted that his party would subsidise a wider range of childcare options than the government does currently. He went on to say that it should not be the business of the state whether women choose to work or stay at home with their children. He is right. But most British women do not want to work full-time and park their babies in nursery care all day, as mothers in some countries do. They would prefer to work part-time while their children are young, and perhaps have their partners do likewise. (Around two-thirds of British women with children under 11 work part-time.) Often, though, they cannot do this in their current jobs, but must move to a lower-paid, lower-skilled job, or leave the workforce altogether. Too often this move to the “mummy track” is irreversible. According