Last week, emails poured in, informing me that women are paid much less than men for the same work. I started to get indignant about this injustice. And I don’t even buy the rhetoric over the wage gap.
No one should stand for being paid less for equal work. That’s the definition of unfair. And today’s women are hyper-attuned to fairness.
Tuesday marked Equal Pay Day, the day into a year when women’s earnings match what men earned the previous year. Statistics show women in 2015 earned 80 percent of what men earned, when looking at full-time U.S. workers.
That’s a fact. But there’s a reason it’s true — and it’s not discrimination in the majority of cases, even though liberal politicians and interest groups would have you believe otherwise.
“It’s not a myth, but a harsh reality that as far as we’ve come, we still have work to do to ensure women are paid equally for doing the same job,” wrote U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn. She marked the day by co-sponsoring the Paycheck Fairness Act, perennial legislation that promises to close loopholes in existing laws.
But those who promulgate the wage gap distort the “less pay for the same job” claim. That’s not what’s happening at all.
The generic wage statistics don’t compare pay and gender for the same jobs. Instead, they use median salaries of all full-time men and women in all jobs.
Women overall do earn less than men largely because of the career choices they make.
That’s because women are more likely than men to prioritize flexible hours and time off. And the Department of Labor data shows that women working full-time put in fewer hours than their male counterparts. Also, men traditionally take the most dangerous jobs and account for nearly all workplace fatalities.
That’s the big reason the wage gap stubbornly remains the same, despite five decades of having the Equal Pay Act and Civil Rights Act. Those federal laws offer women the ammunition they need to battle discrimination when employers go astray.
If employers honestly thought they could get away with paying women less for the same work, the opportunity cost would be too great for most businesses not to hire more women, says Gary Wolfram, a professor of economics at Hillsdale College. Consequently, women would be in stronger demand, and the market would increase their pay over time.
The “gap” for women of color is even larger. Yet this points to other, more serious underlying issues. Blaming the wage discrepancy won’t help these women.
“It's a distraction from the real problem,” says Wolfram. “Why are the labor skills poor for certain groups?”
Not understanding the real forces behind the wage gap — including education and tougher family decisions women have to make — invites additional regulation to get the government involved in defining what work and professions are “equal.” That will lead to an avalanche of litigation and increased costs for businesses. Translation: fewer jobs.
Carrie Lukas, managing director of the Independent Women’s Forum, believes telling women there is a wage gap doesn’t empower them, but rather holds them back.
Making the pay gap someone else’s fault draws attention away from encouraging women to make choices that would boost their paycheck, including choosing more demanding and higher paying careers. Art majors probably aren’t going to make as much as engineers, for example, whether they are men or women.
Lukas does recommend that women do more to negotiate their salaries and be less reticent about asking for raises.
“You need information to make smart choices,” she says.
And that information should be based on facts, not myths.