February 19 2013
The Battle of the Wage Gap
While I’m generally not one to pick a fight, IWF’s recent statement following the President’s SOTU last week has created an impromptu “battle over the wage gap.” I already responded to a young journalist at PolicyMic, and now I’d like to respond to a critic over at Forbes, where I’m also a contributor.
Meghan Casserly misrepresents me. Describing me as a “naysayer,” she argues that I “continue to deny the existence of the gender pay gap or any shred of discrimination in the workforce.”
Well this is just not true. And frankly, it’s a little sloppy for Forbes to print a statement like this. I know from experimental research IWF conducted last spring that the overwhelming majority of women (74 percent) agree at least somewhat that workplace discrimination is a serious problem.
As I’ve written many times before (see here, here, and here, as well as in our book Liberty is No War on Women, p. 18 ff, 36ff) my gripe with the so-called wage gap is, in part, that it makes the workplace and society out to be antagonistic toward women, which is not a very productive outlook. But more importantly, the number itself isn’t accurate. It compares a full-time employed woman with a full-time employed man, without consideration for other factors that may determine one’s salary.
The problem is Casserly really hasn’t given this as much thought as she ought to. She writes:
How could you possibly control for choices of college education, career paths, etc. given such an enormous pool of job types and salaries?
Well, economists and statisticians do these kind of regression analyses every day. Casserly should take a look at Diana Furchgott-Roth’s newest edition of Women’s Figures, which identifies numerous studies that show how the wage gap shrinks when controlling for different choices – from regional labor markets to job responsibilities. Most of these studies don’t dismiss the wage gap altogether, they simply reveal that the pay gap shrinks tremendously – usually to 6-points or less – and societal constraints such as bias and discrimination likely explain a part of this remaining gap.
The fact is there are other reasons that this small pay gap may persist, including biology, social pressures, and cultural norms. As much as the left may want men and women to be the same, we know they are different and genetic makeup, brain structure, and innate proclivities and motivations may factor into women’s choices and wages.
What’s more, Casserly assumes that men and women in the same job “surely, achieved the same level of education, chose the same career path and dedicate similar full-time hours to their fields…”
But this is absolutely not the case. I worked as a Senator’s speechwriter, where I know I was making significantly less than my male predecessor. Was it discrimination? Perhaps. But I’m also fairly confident that this man and I did not reach the position in the same manner. Did we both have the same work experience? Did we both spend time on Capitol Hill? Had we both spent the same time at each of our prior positions? The reality is we almost certainly arrived at the job from different paths.
Unfortunately, my mere suggestion that there are other factors at play – beyond discrimination – lands me with the charge of “victim-blaming.” But suggesting that discrimination is not entirely to blame isn’t “victim-blaming,” it’s giving women more agency. It’s telling women that if you want to go into finance, you might be better off majoring in economics than in sociology. It’s helping women understand that they’re at a disadvantage because they don’t negotiate salaries as often as men do. It offers us an opportunity to give women the tools to help them become better advocates for themselves.
One final thought: While the majority of women in the research I cited earlier recognized discrimination as a problem, this did not translate into support for government action. And this is the point I hope Casserly and her readers will consider.