Lately, I’ve received several anguished pleas from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) calling for passage of the latest round of legislation to correct what they claim to be unequal pay between men and women.
My guess is that the so-called Paycheck Fairness Act won’t pass this year any more than it did last year. If it doesn’t, that may be because Congresspeople have finally figured out that sex discrimination in wages is rare and that the male-female earnings gap is due to choices made by men and women about how to spend their time.
This article by Carrie Lukas tells it like it is (Wall Street Journal, 4/12/11). Or at least it does with the exception of the headline, “There is No Male-Female Wage Gap,” which is incorrect. There clearly is a male-female wage gap, but, given the fact that it’s purely a product of people’s independently-made choices, it’s cause for neither alarm nor legislation.
As has been shown countless times, most notably by this meta-analysis of some 50 separate studies, the difference in earnings of men and women is due almost entirely to the facts that (a) women do less paid work than do men and (b) women tend to work at lower-paying jobs than do men (CONSAD, 1/12/09).
Take out those two factors and the gap in men’s and women’s earnings narrows to about 5%. Lukas puts it this way:
Feminist hand-wringing about the wage gap relies on the assumption that the differences in average earnings stem from discrimination. Thus the mantra that women make only 77% of what men earn for equal work. But even a cursory review of the data proves this assumption false.
The Department of Labor’s Time Use survey shows that full-time working women spend an average of 8.01 hours per day on the job, compared to 8.75 hours for full-time working men. One would expect that someone who works 9% more would also earn more. This one fact alone accounts for more than a third of the wage gap.
Choice of occupation also plays an important role in earnings. While feminists suggest that women are coerced into lower-paying job sectors, most women know that something else is often at work. Women gravitate toward jobs with fewer risks, more comfortable conditions, regular hours, more personal fulfillment and greater flexibility. Simply put, many women–not all, but enough to have a big impact on the statistics–are willing to trade higher pay for other desirable job characteristics.
Men, by contrast, often take on jobs that involve physical labor, outdoor work, overnight shifts and dangerous conditions (which is also why men suffer the overwhelming majority of injuries and deaths at the workplace). They put up with these unpleasant factors so that they can earn more.
The AAUW’s track record for intellectual honesty is less than stellar. For decades it was a prestigious organization, but in the past 30 years or so its publications have won such dubious honorifics as “politics dressed up as science.” That’s how reputable psychologist Judith Kleinfeld described the AAUW’s essentially fabricated claims that American education “shortchanges” girls.
So it should come as no surprise that the AAUW is now promoting the wage gap as requiring congressional intervention. In this economy that finds men’s unemployment continuing to outstrip women’s by about half a percentage point, their chances of persuading Congress to further hamstring employers in order to address sex discrimination that exists largely in the minds of certain activists, look to be slim and none.
So most of us know, whether the AAUW does or not, that the wage gap is almost totally explained by the facts that women do less paid work than do men and that they work at lower-paying jobs. That raises the question of why those things are true and why they continue to be true throughout 40 years of second-wave feminism and massive changes in men’s and women’s education that now sees 58% of college graduates being female.
Whether the AAUW wants us to know it or not, there’s an answer to that question and it’s all about children. For four decades or so, certain activists have been trying to convince women that marriage, family and children constitute bondage for women. Although we certainly have much more divorce than we once did, it seems that the message about children still hasn’t resonated with many women.
The simple fact is that, as a general rule, women are strongly motivated to have and care for children. Across decades and through strong economies and weak, women tend to place children ahead of work on their list of priorities. That’s found by numerous studies referred to by Dr. W. Bradford Wilcox, sociologist of the University of Virginia. He pointed out that, for example, only 20% of women with children under the age of 18 want to work full-time.
Combine that with the fact that, in about 75% of those households, the father is the chief breadwinner, and the explanation for the different work patterns of men and women appears. Countless studies of many different professions and occupations show the same thing – women, at all levels of education and earning capacity, often take time out of their jobs and careers to care for children. Their male partners facilitate those choices by earning the bulk of the family’s daily bread.
I don’t criticize either men or women for their choices. Working for a living and childcare are both honorable and necessary endeavors. The twin inequalities between the sexes – earnings and child custody – reflect those choices, whether rightly or wrongly.
So if the AAUW really wants to address the earnings gap between men and women, it’ll march into battle against the many laws and practices that frankly do discriminate against fathers when it comes to child custody. The more men are encouraged to be fathers, the more women can work and earn.
And as long as family courts and family laws view fathers as expendable in the lives of their children, women will find themselves with little choice. Someone has to care for children. Until we equalize family laws, there’ll be no way to convince men to abandon their traditional role of breadwinner.
Equalizing the sexes in custody matters would have a real impact on women’s earning capacity. That, unlike fictional notions of sex discrimination in wages, is a worthy undertaking for anyone who truly cares about gender equality, fathers and children, and women’s financial independence.
Will the AAUW take note?