“When more women are bringing home the bacon, but bringing home less of it than men who are doing the same work, that weakens families, it weakens communities, it’s tough on our kids, it weakens our entire economy.” Thus said President Obama at a recent “women and the economy” event at the White House, where he portrayed American women as victims of pervasive wage discrimination in the workplace.
This theme was nothing new for our president. Indeed it was but an echo of what he had said during his 2010 State of the Union speech—that it was imperative “to crack down” on the purportedly widespread “violations of equal-pay laws so that women get equal pay for an equal day’s work.” That, in turn, was but an echo of what Obama had said just nine days after his inauguration, when he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a law making it easier for women to sue employers for pay discrimination: “It is a story of women across this country still earning just 78 cents for every $1 [that] men earn, women of color even less.” And that, in turn, was itself an echo of Obama’s 2008 campaign pledge to eliminate the gender “pay gap” by taking concrete “steps to better enforce the Equal Pay Act, fight job discrimination, and … give women equal footing in the workplace.”
In the last presidential election, this type of rhetoric earned Obama the devotion of left-wing feminists from coast to coast. Vicky Lovell, a director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, lauded Obama for projecting “empathy for women’s financial struggles,” and for understanding that “women are more economically vulnerable than men.” Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, likewise praised Obama for articulating a plan to pass “essential legislation that provides basic fairness in the workplace.”
To be sure, such sentiments would have considerable merit if not for a single, stubbornly inconvenient detail: The contention that women are underpaid by American employers in comparison to men is demonstrably untrue. A complete fiction. A gargantuan lie, actually. As longtime employment lawyer Warren Farrell, who served as a board member of the National Organization for Women from 1970 to 1973, explains in his book Why Men Earn More, the 22-cent “pay gap” is neither a result of gender bias nor workplace discrimination. It can be explained entirely by the fact that women as a group tend to make certain very logical and legitimate employment-related choices which, while affording them a number of benefits that they value highly, tend to suppress incomes—for reasons that are also logical and legitimate.
Consider some pertinent facts. Far more often than men, women tend to seek employment in fields that are non-technical or which involve the social—as opposed to the physical—sciences. Moreover, they seek employment in fields that: offer a high level of physical safety; involve work that is performed indoors as opposed to outdoors (where bad weather can make working conditions poor); feature a pleasant and socially dynamic working environment; are characterized by lower levels of emotional turbulence; offer desirable shifts or flexible working hours; and require fewer working hours per week or fewer working days per year. As well, women tend to gravitate toward fields that do not require long commutes; men on average commute 36% farther to get to work, a fact that translates into about $1,500 in extra annual pay. Similarly, women are more inclined to pursue jobs that do not require geographic relocation—the result being that females make up only 18% of all workers who are transferred abroad by their employers.
Such advantages come at a cost; they make certain fields more attractive and thus expand the pool of applicants to a point that, in some cases, exceeds the demand for services. This, in turn, exerts a downward pressure on salaries. Yet this tradeoff is quite acceptable to many working women: Only 29% of women, versus 76% of men, report that their primary motivation for working is to “build wealth.” Research has shown repeatedly that women are more likely to pursue jobs that they perceive to be socially useful, while men, for various reasons, tend to give greater emphasis to money.
An even more significant cause of the gender pay gap is that women tend to compile fewer years of uninterrupted service in their jobs than men. Indeed, women are far more likely to leave the workforce for extended periods in order to attend to family-related matters such as raising children. This is simply a life choice to forego some degree of financial reward in exchange for the emotional reward of being an at-home parent, whether full-time or part-time. During the course of their overall work lives, men accumulate an extra 5 to 9 years on the job as compared to their female counterparts, and each of those additional years translates to approximately 3 or 4 percent more in annual pay.
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