Working for Women’s Equality

Take the wages of every male employed in the U.S. and divide by the number of men employed. Now do the same for females in the U.S. Perform these calculations, and what you will find is that the average female wage in the United States is about 78% of the average male wage. This doesn’t mean, of course, that a woman will get paid seventy eight cent for every dollar paid to a man for the same job, though it’s often phrased that way in popular discourse. If it were really true that an employer could get a woman to do the same job at the same level for 78% of the wages, some entrepreneur would long ago have started hiring only women and cleaned his competitors’ clocks. Rather, the difference is largely due to different career choices made by men as opposed to women. Men, for example, tend to work more in risky professions, and tend to work longer hours, whereas women are more likely to cease being employed for extended periods of time in order to raise or have kids (for details, see Warren Farrell’s book Why Men Earn More).

For decades liberal denial of this fact has led to some remarkably silly policy proposals, such as that the government should determine how much every job is *really* worth and force employers to pay accordingly.  An article by David Leonhardt this week in the New York Times, however, indicates that progressives may be ever so slowly to accept reality on the point. Writes Leonhardt:

A recent study of business school graduates from the University of Chicago found that in the early years after graduating, men and women had “nearly identical labor incomes and weekly hours worked.” Men and women also paid a similar career price for taking off or working part time. Women, however, were vastly more likely to do so.

As a result, 15 years after graduation, the men were making about 75 percent more than the women. The study — done by Marianne Bertrand, Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz — did find one subgroup of women whose careers resembled those of men: women who had no children and never took time off.

Of course, being a good liberal, Leonhardt still sees the pay gap as objectionable (even if the result of women’s choices) and still gestures towards government interventions to correct the problem:

Universal preschool programs — like the statewide one in Oklahoma — would make life easier for many working parents. Paid parental leave policies, like California’s modest version, would make a difference, too. With Australia’s recent passage of paid leave, the United States has become the only rich country without such a policy.

It’s not clear to me how paid parental leave is supposed to help with the pay gap. Presumably the result of allowing/encouraging women to take more time off work when they have kids will be that women will take more time off work when they have kids, which is one of the primary causes of the pay gap in the first place. In any case, Leonhardt is ultimately forced to concede that a more generous welfare state is probably not going to solve the problem, noting that “[i]n the European countries with much more generous parental leave laws, women remain far behind men on career ladders.” Instead, he suggests that

The best hope for making progress against today’s gender inequality probably involves some combination of legal and cultural changes, which happens to be the same combination that beat back the old sexism. We’ll have to get beyond the Mommy Wars and instead create rewarding career paths even for parents — fathers, too — who take months or years off. We’ll have to get more creative about part-time and flexible work, too.

So all we really need to do is create a society where the boss doesn’t care if his employee doesn’t show up to work for six months. Shouldn’t be too difficult.

Motherhood is a biological reality. The fact that employers gain no benefit from an employee when they are not working is an economic reality. Attempting to alter these realities through “legal and cultural changes” is not apt to be successful. That may not be a pleasant fact, but reality is not always a pleasant thing.

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10 Responses to Working for Women’s Equality

  1. What he didn’t settle on the obvious solution: ban reproduction and order women not to take time off lest they be sent to the gulag for insufficiently motivated workers!

  2. Mike Petrik says:

    Government child care for everyone! That’s the ticket.

  3. Gail F says:

    I once knew a man who worked for a multi-national company. He told me that in Germany they had to offer paid time off for working women when they had children to entice them to come back to work at all, and that the women who left to have children preferred to come back to part-time work (and remember, European countries have much more vacation time, so a part-time job includes very generous paid “no work at all” time). He told me the woman all said they were happier working part time, and that American companies should consider making more jobs part-time if they wanted to employ more women. Makes sense to me! This was about 15 years ago, though. I don’t know what things are like now.

  4. From the linked website that wants to calculate the “true value” of jobs based on economic value:

    Sometimes salary inequities are so blatant that advocates can simply offer them as evidence without providing job evaluation measures. For instance, a substantial proportion of school districts in the U.S. pay secretaries and teaching assistants considerably less than the cleaners. In Denver, nurses were found to make less than gardeners. In New York State, school nurses in the West Islip school district start at $27,000, groundsmen at $29,000.

    Hmmmm. Let’s see. School nurses have a lot of downtime, and they spend their time indoors. Groundskeepers have to spend their time outside and are much less likely to have downtime to catch up on their reading, etc. They will have to work outside a good portion of the day in all weather.

    And it’s shocking that you’d need to pay more to get groundskeepers?

    What are these people thinking?

    Perhaps these are the same kind of folks who are totally mystified when they discover that Barnes & Noble pays its associates minimum wage in many areas, while McDonalds almost always has to pay a couple dollars more than minimum.

  5. Blackadder says:

    I suspect in the background here is the assumption that wages are determined by status rather than supply and demand. Hence, nurse seems like a higher status job than gardener, so if it’s paid less it must be because jobs are being downgraded in status if they are done mostly by women.

    It’s a bad picture of the way the economy works, but I bet it’s a fairly common one.

  6. restrainedradical says:

    I agree with all that but I do believe gender discrimination still exists in employment. There is a tendency to gravitate towards picking members of the same gender to mentor. I know I’ve been the beneficiary of this. This desire to create strong social bonds reminiscent of apprenticeship is a social good but with more men in positions of power, it means men will benefit disproportionately.

  7. Jim says:

    “They get up every morning and know that government is the answer – they just don’t know what the question is yet” – Newt Gingrich on Democrats

  8. Tony says:

    here is a tendency to gravitate towards picking members of the same gender to mentor.

    Restrained, you are quite right. I have seen this in government bureaucracy big time: women have been elevated to senior and executive levels for “affirmative action” reasons (not all bad), and many of those women show a decided preference for choosing women to bring up the chain with them, as mentor-mentee. So much so, at times, that it is clear that they are discriminating against significantly more qualified men, instead of preferentially choosing women over equally qualified men.

    I have heard an educator/philosopher talk about a psychological difference between women and men that would be interesting in senior management levels. The claim/observation was that women are extremely good at deliberating, whereas men are good and deciding/choosing. The obvious suggestion is that it is a good idea for an organization to have women in high levels to facilitate good policy development / planning / exploration, but it is also good to have men be in charge of saying when the deliberations have gone on long enough, the final decision is X, and that’s all the time and effort we are going to use up on the process. I have seen deliberative processes take up far, far too long because nobody wants to be the bad guy to say “that’s enough.”

  9. gtrb says:

    Newsflash: Gender discrimination still exists.
    Many studies to show that male nurses are promoted twice as fast as female nurses.

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