News Flash on the Equal Pay Front:
Women Think for Themselves
By Tina Korbe Dzurisin
Two years ago this summer, I resigned my position as a director of communications to become a so-called “stay-at-home mom.” At eight months pregnant with my first baby, I knew I wanted to devote myself full-time to civilizing my children and to ordering my household.
Needless to say, my new position did not come with a comparable salary.
It was not the first time I voluntarily sacrificed monetary reward for the sake of my family. Earlier in my career, I gladly accepted a pay cut to work saner hours.
Meanwhile, my husband, a drilling engineer, has worked steadily on a single career track. As he has acquired experience and expertise, his compensation has increased accordingly.
The pay gap between my husband and me has drastically widened since we first met—and no employer discrimination has ever been at play.
Yet, in any discussion of the generalized pay gap between men and women, politicians are all too happy to imply unjust discrimination is always to blame.
It’s easy to see why. Posed problematically, the gender pay gap justifies any number of politically popular proposals that enable politicians to amass more power and regulatory authority for themselves.
In the last legislative session, for example, a handful of Oklahoma legislators used the gender pay gap as an excuse to push a redundant bill to promote equal pay for equal work—as though women do not already receive it.
At the White House United State of Women conference this spring, President Barack Obama exploited the gap to purport to explain women’s declining labor force participation, which is the lowest it’s been since 1988.
The gender pay gap and the decline in women’s participation in the labor force are related—but the causal arrow appears to run the other way.
Like me, women in general are more likely to take time out of the workforce to care for children or elderly relatives. Like my husband, men are more likely to continuously participate in the labor force.
As former Wall Street Journal research analyst Liz Peek points out in The Fiscal Times, economists and feminists like to emphasize the case of the young mother who stays at home because she is not highly educated and is consequently unable to pay for daycare.
Yet, as Peek also notes, many highly educated mothers opt out when they have children, too, “even though they have the skills and income necessary to hire childcare.”
Between 1993 and 2006, the number of college-educated women in the labor pool declined by 0.1 percent per year after growing at 2.4 percent per year from 1976 to 1992—a loss of 1.6 million skilled workers, according to Peek.
“For feminists, the drop-out trend undermines their argument that women—even our most accomplished and best educated—are victims of discrimination,” Peek summarizes.
As American Enterprise Institute scholar Mark Perry frequently highlights, women are also more likely to work in lower-risk, but lower-paid industries like office support (72.9 percent female), education (74.1 percent female), and health care (74.2 percent female), while men are more likely to work in higher-risk, but higher-paid industries like coal mining (almost 100 percent male), firefighting (94.3 percent male), and construction (97.4 percent male).
Accounting for education, choice of industry and occupation, hours worked, experience, and career interruptions reduces the difference between average male and female wages to just 5 cents on the dollar, according to Heritage Foundation researchers Rachel Greszler and James Sherk. Other factors, like the cost of fringe benefits, may account for the remaining gap, they write.
As a 2009 Department of Labor study put it, “The differences in raw wages may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers.”
In other words, it’s not that women are not paid equally for equal work; more or less, we are. It’s that many women—at all levels of the socioeconomic spectrum and despite the overwhelming political pressure to think of ourselves as victims—still manage to think and act for ourselves.
Instinctively, we understand ourselves as more than our material compensation; especially, we understand ourselves as women with the unique capacity to bear and birth children, with all the responsibility that that entails.
In light of that capacity and responsibility, we don’t always do what materialist economics tell us we should.
Then again, maybe we just have a higher understanding of those economics, one that accounts for the importance of inculcating the habits of order and industry in the next generation of workers.
Far from an indication that something is wrong, the gender pay gap is an indication that something is right—that, perhaps, we still live in a free economy, after all.
Formerly a staff writer at The Heritage Foundation, Tina Korbe Dzurisin is an OCPA research associate and a mother of two young children.