Tuesday was Equal Pay Day. The day is intended to symbolize how far into the year a woman must work to earn what a man earned in the previous year. The day aims to raise awareness that women allegedly earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes for the same work.
The problem with Equal Pay Day is it’s based on inflated, inaccurate figures. The wage gap, as it’s commonly referred to, is determined by comparing the average wages of all women working full-time to the average wages of all men working full-time. This overly simplified comparison does not take into account a multitude of factors that impact how much money an individual makes, which include education, job tenure, hours worked per week, time taken off work and the degree of hazard of a particular job. Once these factors are considered, the differences between men’s and women’s wages shrink to a few cents on the dollar — or disappear altogether.
Mountains of research have discredited the idea of a colossal wage gap, yet the myth is pervasive. If women really did earn so little compared to men, businesses could easily cut their labor costs by more than 20 percent simply by hiring only women. Yet, that’s not happening. Clearly, there’s more going on here.
For example, women earn a majority of bachelor’s degrees in this country. However, men earn the majority of the degrees in nine of the 10 highest paying majors, most of which are in the engineering fields. The reverse is true for degrees that pay the least, such as counseling psychology, of which 74 percent of graduates are female.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, men working full-time were 2.3 times more likely than women to work more than 60 hours per week, whereas women were 2.5 times more likely than men to work 35 to 39 hours per week.
In 2014, 92.3 percent of all workplace fatalities were men, and no controversy over the workplace fatality gap arose. Dangerous jobs pay more, and men are more likely to pursue jobs in these industries — and die on the job.
Those who crusade for equal pay often argue women are discriminated against and therefore “pigeonholed” and “steered” into these lower-paying careers. It’s incredibly demeaning to argue that women today are making less because they’re helplessly manipulated into their career choices.
There are women who buck the trend and consciously choose to enter careers with higher salaries, even if they are high stress, demand long hours and offer little time off. They deserve their higher incomes, and anyone who argues women who make these choices are less capable than men are complete fools. But the truth is, women are more likely than men to seek jobs for personal fulfillment than for pay. That’s not a problem. It’s a choice.
Still, while things are not as grim as some Equal Pay Day proponents say, there remains room for improvement. A 2018 study by the Wyoming Department of Workforce Service was able to account for 15 cents of the state’s 28-cent wage gap, but the other 13 cents “were unaccounted for due to factors that were unknown, which could include discrimination.”
The report underscored the near-impossibility of narrowing differences in wages between men and women down to a single cause — discrimination — that can be addressed with legislation.
U.S. House Democrats this year introduced a bill to strengthen the Obama-era Paycheck Fairness Act, which was aimed at addressing the wage gap. The irony? Female staff at the Obama White House made 88 cents on the dollar compared to men.