Women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes… or so we are told. The problem with that figure is that it’s just plain wrong. There was a time when men made significantly more than women. When the Equal Pay Act was passed 50 years ago women made 59 cents for every dollar a man made. Today? Not so much. Obama made a lovely speech yesterday about how over her entire career “a working woman with a college degree will earn on average hundreds of thousands of dollars less than a man who does the same work.” It’s pure and utter bull. Unless she works for Obama in the White House. Then she only makes 88 cents for every dollar a man makes for doing the same jobs. The President should really do something about the log in his own eye before worrying about the non-existent speck in someone else’s.
What pay gaps come down to is not an attempt by US businesses to pay less based on gender, but the choices that women make that effect pay. How do we know this? Well, to start with unmarried, childless women have salaries that equal or often exceed men’s salaries. When unmarried and childless men and women between the ages of 35 and 43 were compared, women earned $1.08 to every dollar a man earned.
The “gap” comes down to a lot more than that. The first problem with the comparison is that it compares apples to oranges. All jobs women perform are compared to all jobs men perform. That means a full time hairstylist is being compared to a full time attorney. A teacher is being compared to a physician or engineer. Those jobs are hardly equal in pay no matter who has them.
The next problem with a “pay gap” isn’t a problem at all, it’s the choices that women make during their lives when it comes to working. Women choose, by and large, lower paying professions, part time work, staying home and then re-entering the work force, and lower risk professions. This all adds into how we are paid. So let’s look at each one:
Choice of profession: Women as a whole, tend to choose more humanities or liberal arts majors over science and math majors at the college level. The jobs they can get with a degree in the humanities are much less than one in math or engineering. Upon entering the workforce, they tend to choose jobs in non-profits or government over private sector. Women also tend not to choose jobs that involve physical risk, or risk in compensation (such as law or finance), both of which have higher salaries. So out of the gate we are deliberately putting ourselves at a disadvantage by the choices we make in career path.
A good example is my own profession. I am a paralegal. Most paralegals are women. Men tend to become attorneys. My choice was to be a paraprofessional. The education I needed was less expensive because I only needed four years and one degree versus seven years and two degrees. I certainly had the ability and intelligence to continue to law school, but I chose a career path I knew would allow me to put my family first.
Hours worked/leaving and re-entering the workforce: Women choose to work fewer hours than men, either by choosing to work part time, or by working a shorter full time week. We do so to better balance work and family obligations. According to the Labor Department, as of May 2013, 23% of women worked part time versus 11% of men. Women are much more likely to leave the job market to care for children.
But leaving the workforce and re-entering it means that we have years of space where there was no income or raises, no additional experience. When we re-enter the workforce, we value jobs that are flexible in hours and leave time over jobs that are demanding and have less flexibility. Why? So we can care for kids, take them to doctor’s appointments, be with them when they are sick, go on field trips, volunteer in their classrooms, or whatever other Mom duties we decide are just as important as working.
I did this too. I left the workforce when my children were very young. When I re-entered my profession full time, I chose a workplace that pays less, but gave me flexibility in scheduling and time off. My decision to put my children first means that my income now isn’t where it would be if I hadn’t made that choice. It was worth every penny. It was my own conscious choice, and I’m glad I made it. The “fringe benefits” of being available for my children was worth more than the money I missed out on.
So let’s be more honest about the supposed “pay gap.” Yes, there are likely a few places that still pay women less because they are women (we’re looking at you, Mr. President). There are also more places where women are paid commensurate with their experience, education and work history. When we intentionally make choices that effect those areas, we put our pay at a disadvantage. That isn’t the fault of men, but of our own. Our pay inequality is in our hands and choices.
Unless you’re female and work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue!
Image: Courtesy of: http://journalistsresource.org/studies/economics/workers/workplace-discrimination-glass-ceiling-glass-escalator