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Earning Power!: Is the Wage Gap Women's Choice?

Friday, May 27, 2005

Is the Wage Gap Women's Choice?

We hear about the wage gap and the most recent studies in which women only make seventy five cents to each dollar a man earns. Even more shocking is to learn that in 2002 it was seventy seven cents! Are things really getting worse?

It’s been argued lately that if anyone could be paid 25% less for the same job, wouldn’t companies in a capitalist economy hire all women?

On this premise, the wage gap is being called a hoax. If it is a hoax, it’s a waste of time to put in place programs that help women. Some suggest women get a Bachelor's degree to earn up to 75% more than women with just a high-school diploma. Others have said that women are victims of their own poor choices, and if they would choose better careers, they would close the wage gap. Some authors have even suggested that women have an unfair advantage because they get hired into all of the low paying jobs leaving no room for men!

Two Different Subjects: Wage Gap and Career Choice

The first issue is an issue of wage gap discrimination for total annual pay for work done in similar positions. The second is earning less pay overall because men choose higher paying careers. Lately people seem to be confusing the two issues by saying that women choose to be paid less by picking low paying careers. No woman I know would choose to be paid less for the same work.

Wage Gap Issue

Wage gap statistics track career choices, and how much is made in each position. The figures are not incorrect. Women are paid less for exactly the same positions. This is even compensating for seniority and flex time. Saying that the average full time male works more than the average full time female cannot be substantiated. Even if it could be, more time at work has nothing to do with an employee's performance, effectiveness or contribution of deliverables.

Career Choice Issue

However, it’s possible you can blame women for choosing careers that pay less overall. For example, nursing (health care) and elementary teacher positions (education) pay less than x-ray technician and professorship positions. The first two categories are over 90% women while the second positions are over 90% men. All of these positions are hard work and still offer flexibility. The positions dominated by men pay more.

The interesting fact is that even in these two traditionally female positions, nurse and elementary teacher, the few men who choose them earn more. The US Census Bureau shows that women only earn about 82% of what men earned in these same positions, even with diplomas and certifications.

Women Actually Paid More?

An assertion that keeps coming up is that there are many careers where women are paid more, and this is unfair to men. One of the examples given is technical sales, another is modeling. Well, technical sales are paid by performance, so that isn’t surprising. Even with lower base pay women can often bridge the gap with commissions. As for modeling, not to put out male models, but they don’t attract the same volume of attention and sales as females do, so the females are compensated for bringing in higher sales.

Another rumor is that part time women earn more per hour than full time men. This may be the case, but is anyone taking a look at the cost of perks and benefits that full time employees get that part-timers and contract hires miss out on entirely?

The Truth About Equality

It would be really easy to fuel the women who contine to accuse men of sexism, or to fuel backlash of the men who are tired of being blamed. The truth is they have both been wrong.

A closer look at the statistics reveals that the wage gap occurs when women have children. Single, childless men and women earn about the same amount in any career choice. What the census shows is that there is a correlation to pay increase for men and decrease for women each child that they have.

We know today that women are different than men. Feminism may have provided choices about birth control, but it never provided answers for the biology that only women can have children.

First, men in our society have become so alienated and defensive that they never picked up their share of child and elder care. And second, even though women are increasingly the primary household earners, the misperception of the man as breadwinner still persists. Men are compensated by increased salaries and women earn less. Thus the gap.

The wage gap is a parenting issue. It is only when we look closer at alternatives around the needs of the business in the context of the needs of our families that we can close the gap and solve the problem. Women and men should stop blaming each other and begin to work toward joint solutions for the sake of our children.


At 12:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What, if anything, do you have to say about the argument that women are the primary consumers in the United States, "American women account for 80+% of consumer discretionary spending, which points to the existence of a massive transfer of wealth from men to women."

At 2:16 PM, Blogger Earning Power said...

The answer is that women have been the major consumers even since the 1960's as evidenced by comments in "The Femanine Mystique". See my book The Wealth Gap pg. 62.

At 3:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having children is a choice, not a biological imperative. Those making the choice to raise children should understand that it will have considerable impact on other aspects of their lives. Some might say that it is unfair to those who choose to have children to allow society to 'penalize' them by not offering such people a career path that runs parallel to those who chose not to raise children. These same people making this claim often seem quite unconcerned with how unfair it would be to the childless to simply grant position, pay and status to parents by proclamation, when the childless have had to work hard to earn those same rewards.

It's hard to raise a family and have a career. If one wants to do both they should be prepared to work twice as hard as someone who chooses to only pursue one of the preceding vocations. That may seem harsh, but it is fair. People don't deserve to 'have it all' simply because they want it. They have to be prepared to work very hard to get there. If someone isn't prepared to work that hard, they should not expect society to pick up their slack.


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