Re: Gender Wage Gap

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Re: Gender Wage Gap

Zane Placie, Political Correspondent

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On December 1st, 2016, the Opinions Editor of the Mustang Messenger published an article entitled “A Dollar Is Not a Dollar for Everyone.”  The article failed to take several pieces of information into account, so I decided to write a response.

The central claim of the article, as stated in the conclusion, is that “someone [male], offering the same credentials, makes 21 cents more for every dollar another [female] makes.”  However, there is simply no truth in this statement.  The Editor herself, earlier in the article, acknowledges the method used to derive this statistic simply compares the average earnings of all males and females who work full-time, and therefore may not take into account differences in occupation, position or tenure, education, or hours worked per week.  According to Christina Hoff Summers of the American Enterprise Institute, “Most workplace pay gaps narrow to the point of vanishing when one accounts for all of these relevant factors.”  Failing to do so, says Summers, creates a statistic which is “so deeply misleading as to border on outright falsehood.”  Even Betsey Stevenson, an economist in President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, stated during a briefing, “77 cents [earned by women for every dollar earned by men] … [is not] for equal work…There are a lot of things that go into that 77-cents figure…no one’s trying to say that it’s all about discrimination.”  Government data from 2014 shows even female White House employees are paid 88 cents on the dollar when simply comparing the average salaries of the two sexes, and no one would accuse Obama of sexism.

There are several differences between the work tendencies of men and women which explain the vast majority of the pay gap.  In SuperFreakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner write that women are more likely to downshift or pause their careers in order to start a family, and women tend to choose occupations and specialties that do not pay as much.  Mary Katherine Ham and Guy Benson state in End of Discussion that “They [women] take less dangerous jobs with more flexible hours.”  Summers notes that women are more likely than men to work part time, and even women who do work full time work seven percent fewer hours than men on average.  Finally, as Stevenson pointed out on an episode of Freakonomics Radio, “[Women are] underpaid because they simply don’t ask.  They don’t ask for the raise they should get.  And there’s really compelling research on this, that women tend to not negotiate as hard, tend to be less likely to ask for a raise…So you should go out there and ask for that raise.”

However, “A Dollar Is Not a Dollar for Everyone” makes a second key point which must be addressed.  The Editor argues the differences in work tendencies I described above are not actually the result of free choice, but of cultural bias.  Now, I would be a fool if I claimed gender discrimination is entirely non-existent, but the narrative described by the Editor (in paragraph four) assumes women have no agency, no choice, and no self-determination, which, as Summers says, is “more than a little patronizing.”  Therefore, I will go claim-by-claim through this paragraph to assess its truthfulness.

To begin, the (uncited) statistic which opens the paragraph states, “30% of Americans still think that it’s the woman’s job to stay at home full time taking care for the children.”  I searched around for this finding, and the closest result I could find was a 2012 question from Pew, which found when “asked what the ideal situation is for young children, the share of Americans who say having a mother who does not work outside the home is ideal…[is] 33%.”  While it may be argued whether or not the substance of this question is the same as what the Editor purported, the wording is clearly different, and wording has a tremendous effect on survey responses, especially when asking about social issues.  Therefore, if Pew conducted a survey today with the wording “Do you believe it’s the woman’s job to stay at home full time taking care for the children?” there is much reason to think the proportion of respondents answering in the affirmative would be far below 30%.

The Editor also states mothers face decreased incomes because employers are biased against them.  There are no doubt cases in which this is true; however, claiming it is universally true ignores the fact that, to be successful, businesses must have only one bias; a bias toward more profit.  If businesses really could hire women to do the same work as men for a reduced cost, why wouldn’t they fire all their male employees?  For a historical example, during the first Industrial Revolution, women could be paid far less than men, and as a result, factories almost exclusively employed women, because doing so made financial sense.  Today, this is not the case.  Sexist businesses who pay mothers an unfair rate will lose qualified employees to businesses which are not sexist, compete at a disadvantage, and eventually go out of business, thanks to the free market.

The infeasibility of childcare options available to women is also mentioned by the Editor.  To clarify my position, I do support mandatory maternity leave, but it is somewhat misleading to claim unsatisfactory childcare as a major cause of the wage gap, because doing so assumes all women would rather stay in the workforce after childbirth and only leave because they are forced to care for their children.  In fact, a 2013 New York Times/CBS News poll reported, “Among all mothers with children under 18, just a quarter say they would choose full-time work if money were no object and they were free to do whatever they wanted.”

The Editor goes on to claim that “We live in a society where working moms are shamed for prioritizing work over their children.”  However, women today may actually be facing the opposite problem.  Actress Zosia Mamet said as much in a 2014 edition of Glamour; “I hate that we look at women who choose not to run the country as having given up.  I get angry that when a woman decides to hold off on gunning for a promotion because she wants to have a baby, other women whisper that she’s throwing away her potential.”  Ham and Benson report the presence of “a societal pressure that prevents many [women] from voicing their real preferences about work-life balance and ideas of success for fear of being shunned as traitors to our [the female] sex.”  This pressure, according to Ham and Benson, “demands you [women] create only one kind of success, defined ironically by the dated patriarch-inspired goals feminism once wished to slough off,” and “ignore[s] the actual goals of working women.”

Finally, the Editor accuses the media of “continu[ing] to not only objectify but actually portray the acme of female success as being ‘the supporting wife.’”  A quick search of primetime programming yields The Voice, Shades of Blue, Timeless, and Blindspot on NBC; Extant, Madam Secretary, Supergirl, and Scorpion on CBS; and Quantico and Shark Tank on ABC.  These shows, and others, feature many more female leads and supporting characters (or in some cases, female judges and contestants) than would be expected if the media were actually pushing a sexist narrative (not to mention the quantity of female anchors on these networks).

No one is trying to “pin the blame on women for the wage gap” as the Editor implies.  Rather, the Editor seems not to understand that the goals of men and women are not always identical.  Acknowledging that women make different career decisions than men based on different objectives “is not ‘blaming the victim,’” as Ham and Benson write, because “For many women, these choices are made with open eyes.”  Summers notes, “Perhaps in the pursuit of happiness, men and women take somewhat different paths,” and Mamet observed, “We [women] are so obsessed with ‘making it’ these days we’ve lost sight of what it means to be successful on our own terms.”  Levitt and Dubner present the possibility that the wage gap is “a sign that a higher wage isn’t as meaningful an incentive for women as it is for men,” and ask, “Could it be that men have a weakness for money just as women have a weakness for children?”  Levitt and Dubner go on to cite a study in which two groups of young men and women were recruited to take a 20-question SAT-style test.  The first group was offered a flat rate of $20 for taking the test, while the second group was offered $5 for taking the test and an additional $2 for every correct answer.  Females showed a negligible difference in performance across the two groups, while males in the second group correctly answered an average of two questions more than males in the first group, suggesting that males are more incentivized by money than females.  Differences in decisions made by males and females leads to a lower wage on average for females, but this should not automatically lead to the assumption that sexism prevents women from being as successful as men, as Ham and Benson argue that “it’s limiting to assume that ‘success’ for women looks exactly like success for men.”

It is important to note that women who choose to enter traditionally male fields still face challenges, and so encouraging young women to enter these fields, attain leadership positions, and demand equal treatment is very important.  However, it is simply incorrect to blame sexism when a woman decides not to aspire to mogulhood.  As Summers says, “Women who are plagued by workplace injustice…will be best helped by truth and solid research, not by hysteria and hype.”  In order to fix the remaining problems caused by sexism, we need a clear, not over-inflated, picture of what these problems actually are.