It’s ‘Equal Pay Day:’ Celebrating An Economic Myth
Religion & Liberty Online

It’s ‘Equal Pay Day:’ Celebrating An Economic Myth

By Presidential Proclamation, today is “Equal Pay Day,” a day meant to draw attention to the “fact” that women still aren’t getting paid the same as men. No matter how hard we try, we just can’t seem to catch up. 77 cents on the dollar – that’s where we ladies are sitting and stagnating.

Except it’s a myth. In today’s Wall Street Journal, Mark J. Perry and Andrew G. Biggs tear this disparity issue apart. It’s not simply a matter of who is getting paid how much for which job; there are a number of factors that must be examined. And once they are, Perry and Briggs say that equal pay for equal work is a myth.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics seems to uphold the idea that women still aren’t getting paid enough.

In its annual report, “Highlights of Women’s Earnings in 2012,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that “In 2012, women who were full-time wage and salary workers had median usual weekly earnings of $691. On average in 2012, women made about 81% of the median earnings of male full-time wage and salary workers ($854).”

The problem is, we aren’t comparing apples to apples here. First of all, men tend to work more hours in a week than women. Second, women are far more likely to leave the job market, at least temporarily, to care for children. Women also value jobs with flexible hours more than men do, again because it allows for more freedom in taking care of family needs. This flexibility does come with a price: those jobs pay less.

Women tend to choose fields of study and work that pay less, for whatever reason, and they choose jobs with less physical risk.

Even within groups with the same educational attainment, women often choose fields of study, such as sociology, liberal arts or psychology, that pay less in the labor market. Men are more likely to major in finance, accounting or engineering. And as the American Association of University Women reports, men are four times more likely to bargain over salaries once they enter the job market.

Risk is another factor. Nearly all the most dangerous occupations, such as loggers or iron workers, are majority male and 92% of work-related deaths in 2012 were to men. Dangerous jobs tend to pay higher salaries to attract workers. Also: Males are more likely to pursue occupations where compensation is risky from year to year, such as law and finance. Research shows that average pay in such jobs is higher to compensate for that risk.

The authors state that the “77 cents on the dollar” claim is clearly illogical. After all, if this were true, why aren’t companies simply working to hire more women? They would pay employees less and increase profits. But that isn’t the case. While it may be true that most women make less money than most men, it’s due largely to the choices that women freely make: the course of study they choose, the field in which they choose to work, the choice to leave the job market for a period of time to raise children, and the choice to seek out job flexibility over pay.

It is interesting to note that the White House, despite its cheering the “brave women [who] have torn down barriers so their daughters might one day enjoy the same rights, same chances, and same freedoms as their sons,’ isn’t on board with the whole equal pay thing. According to The New York Times,

Even as Mr. Obama seeks to make an issue of the gender gap in compensation across the country, however, his own hiring is facing some scrutiny. The recent study, by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, showed that the median annual salary for women in the White House last year was $65,000, while the median annual salary for men was $73,729. The study was based on White House salary data.

Women in the United States are blessed with many choices. We are also quite capable of weighing the pros and cons of our educational, career and personal choices. Let’s stop the myth of “equal pay.” It’s paternalistic and pandering. Women don’t need a Presidential Proclamation to save us; we don’t need men creating bills and laws to help us “catch up.” We women know what we’re doing, and we’re doing just fine.

Read “The ’77 Cents on the Dollar’ Myth About Women’s Pay” at The Wall Street Journal.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.