May 27 2014
Carrie L. Lukas
Perhaps because the infamous “wage gap” statistic is increasingly recognized as misleading, we are now being offered a new twist on this old tune. This time we are told there is a GPA gap: Women have to make perfect grades in high school to earn as much as a man who got a 2.0.
The study by the University of Miami focuses on this pretty mundane finding—a higher GPA in high school is associated with higher future earnings:
The findings, published recently in the Eastern Economic Journal, show that a one-point increase in high school GPA raises annual earnings in adulthood by around 12 percent for men and 14 percent for women...
The data indicate that overall high school GPA is significantly higher among women, but men have significantly higher annual earnings. For this reason, the researchers analyzed men and women separately. Even so, the study finds that a one-point increase in GPA doubles the probability of completing college—from 21 percent to 42 percent—for both genders.
Yet what's making headlines is that there is a wage gap between men and women across the board, and men with lower GPAs often out-earn women. ThinkProgress boils it down to this, inflammatory headline: “A Woman With Perfect Grades Is Worth The Same As A Man With A 2.0 Average.”
The ThinkProgress article makes an interesting, and likely purposeful, conflation that how much one earns is a marker for how much one is “worth.” We are supposed to read this as evidence that society just doesn't value women—even super-smart women—as much as it does men. Sexism is the reason why that women aren't earning as much as men, we are supposed to conclude.
Of course, in reality, this GPA comparison tells us nothing about why different groups of men and women end up earning what they do. As studies have shown time and time again, men and women tend to make different choices when it comes to work, with women working fewer hours, gravitating to different industries and specialties, taking more time out of the workforce, all of which result in women earning less on average than men do. Yes, not all of the wage gap is explained by these factors, and discrimination may play a role in the wage gap. But it seems the intention of many supposed feminists—and outlets like “ThinkProgress”—to convince women that discrimination is so overwhelming and pervasive that women are all doomed to earn less than we deserve, and that Western Civilization is simply irredeemably sexist.
Take this misleading conclusion offered by “Think Progress”: “The finding that even the highest achieving female students can’t close the gender wage gap is true for higher education as well.”
Notice the word “can't”. We are supposed to believe that, try as they might, the women who went to the highly selective colleges and universities just “can't” find a way to earn more money than the guys who got Cs in their high schools. The sexism is just too overwhelming. Poor Harvard and Yale coeds can't catch a break.
Is this really what is going on? Don't people understand that women actually play a greater role in determining their life's course?
In fact, there is good reason why women with 4.0s may be earning less than the men with 2.0s: Because they have that luxury. In fact, a study for the Review of Economics of the Household found that women who went to more selective graduate programs were less likely to be working later in life:
Married mothers who hold an MBA from a top business school are 30 percent less likely to be employed full-time than graduates of less selective programs, according to the research. Also, only 35 percent of females with children who also hold an MBA from the most selective schools were employed full-time, compared with 85 percent of those without children from the same group of institutions.
Why would this be? It's likely because highly-educated women tend to marry highly-educated men. Those men are typically making good money, so that their wives—especially once they have children—have the ability to say no to high-earning jobs, to take time out of the workforce while their children are young, or to leave the work-world entirely.
The men who earned 2.0s in high school are far less likely to have such options. In fact, they have likely had to work pretty hard and make some sacrifices to try to pull together sufficient earnings to support their families and to make themselves attractive life partners. This is why men tend to take on many of the jobs that seem rather unpleasant and grueling—such as construction worker, prison guards, sewage workers, truck drivers—all of which have some downsides (like a far greater risk of injury and death than female-dominated industries). They take on those less-than-pleasant jobs because those positions have to pay pretty well to attract enough workers.
Women and men often make different choices about how to allocate their time and talents. You don't have to look at the statistics to know this. Just look at the world around you. Consider the decisions that you have made and then the decisions that have been made by your peers and the people you grew up with.
I happen to be one of those women who got top grades in high school, and went on to top-tier universities. And I just bet that I fit neatly into the picture presented by the ThinkProgress graph and my earnings are no greater than my high school class average. Moreover, I know enough from Facebook to know that some of the other women who were in the top of my class have also prioritized things other than money. Are we to be objects of pity? Are we all victims of rampant sexism?
The clear answer is no. So the question is, why does so much of the political class seem determined to mislead us into thinking otherwise?