Is There A Gender Wage Gap, Or Do Men And Women Just Make Different Choices?


During his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama promised action on the gender wage gap.

“Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns,” he said. “That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work.”

The problem is, are men and women really doing equal work in the aggregate? There is no doubt that women are as capable as men, but women tend to approach their careers differently, which is a point Christina Sommers makes for The Daily Beast:

President Obama repeated the spurious gender wage gap statistic in his State of the Union address. “Today,” he said, “women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment.”

What is wrong and embarrassing is the President of the United States reciting a massively discredited factoid. The 23-cent gender pay gap is simply the difference between the average earnings of all men and women working full-time. It does not account for differences in occupations, positions, education, job tenure, or hours worked per week. When all these relevant factors are taken into consideration, the wage gap narrows to about five cents. And no one knows if the five cents is a result of discrimination or some other subtle, hard-to-measure difference between male and female workers. In its fact-checking column on the State of the Union, the Washington Post included the president’s mention of the wage gap in its list of dubious claims. “There is clearly a wage gap, but differences in the life choices of men and women… make it difficult to make simple comparisons.”

The White House should stop using women’s choices to construct a false claim about social inequality that is poisoning our gender debates. And if the President is truly persuaded that statistical pay disparities indicate invidious discrimination, then he should address the wage gap in his own backyard. Female staff at the White House earn 88 cents on the dollar compared to men. Is there a White House war on women?

Here’s a fun fact about who does the hiring in America: Approximately 77% of human resources position in the country are held by women according to multiple studies.

It’s hard to believe that HR departments across the nation that are employing just 23% men (talk about a gender gap) are making anti-women decisions on wages. If the wage gap is truly the result of sexism, it’s mostly women doing the discrimination.

But it seems pretty clear, once we move past the political talking points to the real world, that the gender wage gap is about decisions individual men and women make, not a “glass ceiling” put in place by some imagined patriarchy.

In 2012, “Ninety-two percent, or 4,045 of all on-the-job fatalities were among men,” according to Jacquelyn Smith writing for Forbes. That speaks to men picking jobs that are more dangerous in far greater numbers than women, and thus command higher wages.

Women also tend to choose careers that offer things like schedule flexibility and more generous fringe benefits rather than specifically higher levels of compensation. There’s nothing wrong with that, money is just one sort of compensation for a career, but it does produce unequal outcomes when the only metric you’re using to measure equality is income.

But I suspect the left’s promotion of this issue has less to do with a desire for gender wage parity than putting in place new laws that open up broad new opportunities for discrimination litigation. A lucrative proposition for trial lawyers, who are an important part of the Democrat power base.