The left hates gaps. First it was the income gap. Now it’s the gender pay gap.
The argument goes like this. Women make 77 cents (or fill in any amount less than a dollar) compared to men. The 77 cents figure recently cited by the White House is erroneous according to strict numbers reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nonetheless, the inference is that of an unfair, male-dominated private sector that arbitrarily and systematically pays women less than men. But even if you want to make the broad generalization that women are victims of discrimination in the workforce, you have to be intellectually honest about the details. Proponents of legislation designed to combat this ostensible discrimination are not, because the facts just don’t work for them.
The first problem is with the calculation of the numbers. Without even considering job categories, it’s obvious that some people work longer hours than others. Historically, men tend to work more hours than women because women typically bear more of the childrearing and home responsibilities. I’m not suggesting that ALL men work longer hours than ALL women—we all know exceptions—but if we are comparing one group to another, we need only consider the averages. When you compare men working 40 hours a week with women also working 40 hours a week, the gap (according to the BLS) is 87 percent.
The second problem is job category. While most jobs are open to both men and women, the two sexes are not equally distributed. Women are disproportionately represented as grade school teachers, secretaries, nurses, and cashiers. Men are more likely to hold positions as firefighters, police officers, soldiers, and auto mechanics. Any serious look at pay differences should be within the same field and should account for obvious individual differences such as experience, education/training, and specific job-related skills. If you do not, you’re just comparing apples to oranges.
The third problem is that of individual choices, such as time off during a career. Studies suggest that pay gaps typically do not exist at the beginning of a career, but can emerge over time. Women are more likely to take time off to bear and raise children, and typically lose ground when they return to the work force. Others choose positions that require fewer hours or “job hassles”—distance from work, overnight travel required with the job, etc.—to accommodate this choice. These jobs are more “family-friendly” and may pay a little less.
When all is said and done, women and men in the same jobs, working the same hours, with the same experience, and making the same types of career choices earn roughly the same. This should end the argument but it doesn’t. Many on the left claim a form of institutionalized sexism is still at work. For example, they claim that teachers and office workers earn less than many other professionals because most are women. While this theory is impossible to prove, it defies logic. If auto mechanics are paid too much and cashiers too little given the demands of their positions, then more women can train to be mechanics and cash in on the excess wages. Good mechanics are always in demand, and female job applicants with the right skills can have a rewarding career. Most women don’t make this choice, however. The differences in wages across jobs can be attributed to market forces.
But wouldn’t many auto repair shops discriminate against female applicants? I’m sure some in the industry might not give women a fair shot, but this could work the other way around as well. At the end of the day, devoid of government interference, the most successful businesses are the ones that find the best people. Any repair shop owner will tell you that competence drives performance, so anyone who discriminates gets what he or she deserves, less qualified workers.
The gender wage gap argument is easy to counter, but it still has an emotional appeal to many who would rather blame society and/or free markets for various job woes. “Equal pay” legislation is really about government control of employment decisions in the private sector. It’s but a leftist solution searching for a problem to solve. Talking about fixing the “problem” is a powerful political tool without a clear basis in economic reality.