The Equal Pay Act, passed in 1963, made it illegal to pay woman less than men based strictly on sex. So why, almost 50 years later, is there still a wage gap? It’s a fact that on average, men earn more than women, but no amount of legislating will change the lifestyle choices that create that discrepancy. It’s commonly stated that today women earn 80 cents for every dollar a man earns. But according to a study by economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, when you factor in education, experience, industry, and whether they belong to a union, the gap narrows to 91 cents per dollar.
To really close the wage gap, you also have to factor in lifestyle choices. Women are more likely to take time off work, either taking a few years off to raise children, or just working part-time. When women take time off work to care for family, or seek jobs with more flexibility, their wages take a hit. A study by the National Longitudinal Survey revealed that women between the ages of 18 and 34 have been out of the labor force 27 percent of the time, in contrast to 11 percent for men.
When a woman takes years off to raise young children and then reenters the workforce, she is paid lower than someone who never took time off. It’s not sex discrimination. It’s paying fair wages based on career experience. It would be unfair to pay the worker who stayed the whole time the same as the worker who left and reentered the work force. According to June O’Neill, Congressional Budget Office former director, when you look at people ages 27 to 33 who have never had a child, women’s earnings approach 98 percent of men’s.
In fact, having a child is the biggest determinant as to whether women are paid less than their male peers. As much as feminists can try to make men and women equal, they can’t change the fact that women are biologically different from men. Women are going to take time off work to have children. In countries that have socialized childcare, like Sweden and Belgium, the wage gap is smaller than in the United States. The less time women spend taking care of their children, the more time they spend at work. Whether you prefer to drop the kids in childcare and work or stay at home with them is a personal choice, but as long as some women choose to stay at home, the wage gap will persist.
This isn’t just about the choices women make. Men are more likely to regularly work overtime and more likely to ask for a raise, reaping the financial benefits. Also, many male-dominated occupations pay more because of the “danger” factor. Firefighters, prison guards, and soldiers receive strong medical and retirement benefits, but for good reason: those jobs are more dangerous than most, and many people just aren’t willing to take the risk.
If anyone wants to complain about unfair wages, let’s not compare men and women, but the occupations that are still socially designated as female and male. Almost 80 percent of elementary and middle school teachers are female, and I think most can agree that anyone who takes charge of dozens of other people’s kids for eight hours a day deserves to be paid more. It would be great if they were paid the same and male-dominated fields, or if people stopped buying into occupations having a gender. But since we live in a capitalist society, wages will reflect society’s priorities and demands, which aren’t always equal or fair.
So what’s with all the hullabaloo over a wage gap? Rather than look at the differences in occupation choice or the time women take off from work, activists only cite the 20 cent discrepancy and cry sexism. They want equal pay. But does equal pay mean fair pay? Men and women approach work differently, and the wages fairly reflect that.
That’s not to say workplace discrimination never exists. Of course it does, but not on the wide-scale level feminist activists would have you believe.
The wage gap is not a result of discrimination against women but rather women choosing flexibility in their careers. It is a personal choice. For the woman who wants to “have it all,” she’ll have to expect lower pay than her strictly career-oriented male peer. That’s my two cents, whatever it’s actually worth.