Dissecting the Gender Wage Gap
A few Democrats are trying to push a previously-blocked bill called the Paycheck Fairness Act, which will update the 1963 Equal Pay Act.
Except, it’s not completely necessary.
If anything, it just proves how much political posturing the Democrats are doing to try to make the “war on women” more than the phantasmagorical illusion than it is.
Many feminists and their supporters often repeat the same trite line: “It’s not fair! Women get paid 77 cents of every dollar that men do!” Certainly, they mean well. Nobody is opposed to paying men and women equal.
Or, perhaps they are guilt-tripping the rest of society into believing that an unnatural problem exists, that only a more expansive and bloated government can treat.
But, statistics frequently lie. Or, more bluntly in this case, people use statistics to tell lies.
This statistic is not true.
To arrive at the 77 cent stat, economists measure the gap by taking the median yearly income of women, and dividing it median male yearly income. Needless to say, this manner of calculating the gap is prone to much error.
Frankly, women and men with exactly the same qualifications, experience, competency, and leadership qualities are paid exactly the same. A male cashier isn’t paid $10, while a female cashier is only give $7.70. An engineer will be paid $100,000 for a base salary, whether male or female.
The 77 cent statistic does not take multiple factors about the differing roles that men and women play in the labor market into account. For example:
Men tend to take “dirty jobs”:There are a disproportionate amount of men in industries such as mining, logging, and fishing. All of these industries are seen as dirty or unpleasant work. Hence, there is what economists call a “compensating wage differential”—firms pay higher wages to workers in these industries to entice them to work. A person might not want to be a lumberjack if paid at minimum wage, but if paid at triple or quadruple the minimum wage, he or she may take the job. Conversely, women statistically gravitate towards professions such as teaching, which are considered more desirable. Jobs that includes working with animals or children are often considered more desirable, so people are less likely to need higher wages to take a position dealing with them.
Women work fewer hours than men, on average: If men and women face the same base wage, then obviously whoever works longer will make more money. Plain and simple. There’s no use complaining about a male working being paid double what a female is paid if he worked twice the amount of hours she did, or vice-versa. Men tend to work more hours, and more hours means more income.
More women work part-time than men, on average: Similar to above, working fewer hours or not having a full-time job means that income will be below someone who does.
Women tend to opt-out of the labor market, or opt for lower hours: As Lisa Belkin says in her famous article, The Opt-Out Revolution, “Why don’t women run the world? Maybe it’s because they don’t want to.” Women almost always can have the glitzy and glamorous jobs, but often just refuse them. Or, even with a normal-paying job, women still think slightly differently than men. Women are often associated as primary caregivers of children, and are more likely to leave the labor market to take care of children than men are. Men tend to instead stay in the market, even with a child. Women usually value jobs with flexible hours, but that also lets them have time for children or other activities. Men usually take the jobs with inflexible and long hours. Plus, many women leave the labor market after childbirth, and either do not return or return after a long period of time.
Of course, this list is not meant to be exhaustive, and neither do all of these criteria apply to all men and women. However, these general labor market trends explain why we see this “77 cent” statistic. People have known this for years, but our political and cultural dialogue has never thought to explain why this statistic is so misleading.
This is also not to say that men and women do not face inequities in labor markets. Proper maternity leave is still lacking in many sectors, while men face huge stigmatization when taking what is traditionally seen as a “female” job. Sexual assault and harassment are issues facing both sexes. These and more must be addressed moving forward.
However, that doesn’t mean that feminists should brandish the “77 cent” statistic over society’s head anymore, or pressure the government into forcing a solution to a fabricated dilemma, since it’s not true. Such dialogue adds little of meaning to efforts to actually help men and women be treated equally.