Do Women Earn Less Than Men?

President Obama’s been loudly hitting the supposed pay gap between women and men. All too typically, this is a phony issue distracting from our true economic problems he should be tackling.

Unknown-1Obama dismisses pay gap deniers by saying, “It’s just math.” I’m reminded of the old line, “figures don’t lie, but liars can figure.”

True, if you average all American women, and all men, women earn less. But what’s the significance of this? Not much – because it ignores differences in jobs, industries, career paths, etc. The fact is that women and men don’t have comparable working lives. Women – for a host of reasons (many having to do with differences in psychology and temperament; male and female brains don’t work identically; not to mention divergent parenting roles) – tend to have different talents and proclivities, to want different things, and to choose different careers and jobs than men. They tend to interrupt their career paths more often. And to be less aggressive in seeking advancement.

Such factors explain why, on average, women earn less. But – studies have found that if you control for these factors – that is, you analyze women and men following comparable career paths in comparable jobs – the pay gap is practically zero.

The President might reply that, well, women can’t necessarily get the jobs men get. But that’s wrong for the same reason that pay for comparable jobs really is virtually equal. imagesBecause in today’s highly competitive globalized economy, businesses cannot afford to discriminate against women, instead needing to get the best talent, irrespective of gender. In fact, if it really were true that firms could hire women with equal qualifications for less pay than men – why would they hire any men?

Undoubtedly, at one time women did face severe career limitations. images-3But that time is long past, and so this latest presidential crusade is disgracefully bogus; a cynical political ploy to posture as the champion of women (against a purported Republican “war on women”) and to perpetuate a gender gap that really does exist – in voting.

But it actually sends women a bad message, falsely warning that they face workplace discrimination. How many young women will thereby be discouraged in their career choices? Wrongly imagining they’d be blocked in their true ambitions, and choosing lesser ones instead? And I don’t think the politics of stoking resentments is good for the country.

Nor are the remedies Obama seeks for this largely nonexistent bugaboo of discrimination. All would reduce flexibility while adding bureaucratic and paperwork burdens for businesses, and pretexts for proliferating litigation, making it harder and costlier for firms to function. Yet again we see a president who constantly whines about jobs and pay yet constantly does things that handicap the businesses that provide jobs and their ability to pay workers.

images-4Meantime he ignores what is surely our biggest economic problem: ever more retirees soaking up pensions and health care, with an ever shrinking percentage of working people taxed to pay for it. That’s our real pay gap, and borrowing cannot bridge it forever. It will end in an equal-opportunity catastrophe, for all Americans – working and nonworking – and women as well as men.



7 Responses to “Do Women Earn Less Than Men?”

  1. xtalentblog Says:

    Reblogged this on xtalentblog.

  2. Pedro Dunn Says:

    You hit it on the head with that last paragraph…”Meantime he ignores what is surely our biggest economic problem: ever more retirees soaking up pensions and health care, with an ever shrinking percentage of working people taxed to pay for it. That’s our real pay gap, and borrowing cannot bridge it forever. It will end in an equal-opportunity catastrophe, for all Americans – working and nonworking – and women as well as men.” And with all due respect, our Republican side of the political house shares in this problem. If not fixed, I suspect we could have gold at $5000 an ounce, certainly not in this decade, but maybe in the foreseeable future. That would be especially sad for us old folks, because when all falls apart, the youth of America will rebel against the system we created, tossing it, and ourselves, into Lenin’s “dustbin of history.”

  3. William Smith Says:

    Common sense here, which is rare in Washington.

  4. npowermentnow Says:

    In Spain, women earn 20% less than men.

  5. rationaloptimist Says:

    For what jobs, specifically, npowerment? Or for the entire economy? In which case the datum is just as meaningless as when Obama says American women earn seventy-odd percent of what men earn.

  6. ebay313 Says:

    Actually if you look at the research on this topic you will find that discrimination does play a role in much of what you talk about, and thus we should NOT control for all these factors.
    For example you say women are less aggressive in seeking advancement. This is true. Its also true that women cannot afford to be as aggressive as men, because men are rewarded for that aggressiveness and women are not. Women who do the same things men do in terms of asking for higher pay and wages are regarded more negatively- they are seen as aggressive, dominating, and bitchy, and as such are then less likely to get the jobs, pay, and raises that men get when they are aggressive.
    Parenting is also a factor. Not simply because women make different choices than men, but because studies have shown that mothers face negative bias and discrimination in the workforce that fathers do not, which negatively impacts their career, pay, and promotions.
    And limiting the discussion of pay gaps to the same careers is, actually, also problematic. Because it is a problem and is a form of discrimination that industries that tend to be made up of mostly women are valued less and paid less. And this is not even a factor of women choosing less valued work- it’s a factor of us valuing work less when women do it. If you look at trends in fields that have moved from being predominately men to predominantly women, the increase in women working in the field also leads to lower real wages over time.
    So yes, if you control for all the ways that discrimination happens, the pay gap drops to nearly zero. But we shouldn’t be controlling for all the avenues of discrimination when trying to study discrimination. Doing so misses the mark.

  7. rationaloptimist Says:

    Thank you for your comment, which shows that this is indeed a complicated subject (which cannot be reduced to just saying “women earn 77%” as Obama has). A lot of what you talk about it is true, but I would not agree that it necessarily reflects “discrimination.” Rather it reflects the reality that men and women just are not interchangeable, there are profound differences, in brain function, psychology, and the way they view and live their lives, all of which pervade their respective workplace experiences.

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