Why Gender Pay Discrimination Deniers Are Completely Wrong
7:04 pm, April 17th | by Amy Tennery
When a Wisconsin state senator suggested earlier this month that the gender pay gap exists because “money is more important for men,” I wasn’t particularly surprised. Sure, his sentiment was phrased in a ham-handed, can-you-believe-this-guy-was-elected kind of way. But the message he sent was something we’ve seen dressed up in facts and figures time and time again. The message is this: Women don’t get paid less because of discrimination — they get paid less because they’re not trying hard enough to get paid more.
Specifically, the argument goes, women choose “soft” careers (ones that pay less) that allow for more family time. Or, conversely, they choose the “hard” careers (ones that pay more) and are held back by their choice have babies and families.
And today, on national Equal Pay Day, it seems as good a time as any to tackle this issue. Do women really get paid less en masse because of the choices they make?
First, the facts: U.S. women on the whole (italics crucial for reasons that will become apparent momentarily) make around $10,000 less every year than men, according to Center for American Progress data.
One theory argues this is because women choose “easier” careers that require less academic training, offer more time for family life and, therefore, pay less money.
This is not true. Although it would be easy to see why you could get that impression — after all, men outnumber women in STEM careers by a long shot and things are equally grim in the financial sector, which covers a lot of the high-paying gigs.
The problem with this argument is that it lumps women of all careers against men of all careers. But to understand the gender pay gap, you need to take each career field individually.
And boy does the data paint a picture. In fact, the gender pay gap exists in virtually every occupation (as you can see from this handy data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics from Gina Trapani’s “Narrow the Gap” project), including fields dominated by women. But while a Time piece today suggests part of the problem is women’s tendency to shy away from technical careers, all things being equal, women would still earn less than men if they joined high-paying fields at the same rate as the guys do. So, in essence, the fields we pick are largely irrelevant to the issue.
Of course, if you’d really like to advocate to get more women into high-paying jobs, it’s worth noting that massive gender pay gaps exist in many of the most lucrative fields and ones that demand the most education. For example, the financial sector has the biggest salary gap between men and women.
Bringing us to the next common myth about women and the pay gap…
Women choose to have babies, which means that they have to sacrifice their careers for a work-family balance. And that means that they don’t get as far ahead in their careers and then don’t earn as much money.
That it never seems to occur to anyone that this “baby choice” conundrum is a form of discrimination in and of itself (one born of cultural expectations about who cuts back career-wise, mom or dad), is staggering. It’s expected that a woman’s “choice” to have a child will affect her career. Not so for guys. This says as much about the dysfunctional American workplace as it does about our parenting culture.
But you don’t need my hippie rhetoric to prove that time off for mom-hood doesn’t account for the pay difference. In fact, a Stanford University study of job applicants in 2009 (published in the Wall Street Journal), showed that mom hires were offered roughly $11,000 less than other applicants of the same skill level. Put simply, moms were offered smaller salaries — not because they became less qualified through time off but because they were moms.
In closing: Stop blaming us for the gender pay gap. The end.