A Few Thoughts On Why It Is Not Sexist For Women to Earn Less Than Men

This piece is written in response to a recent article in the Boston Globe called “Wage gap exacts a heavy toll on women” which was about a new book called “Getting Even: Why Women Don’t get Paid Like Men: and What to Do about It.” The new book by former Massachusetts lieutenant governor Evelyn Murphy, is described as an “eye-opening and sometimes shocking” analysis of female wage discrimination. To prove her point, the author employs indisputable statistics highlighting the fact that women earn seventy-seven cents for every dollar earned by men. She explains to readers that because of wage discrimination that is based on sexism, female high school graduates will “lose” 700,000 dollars over a lifetime, and a woman with a graduate degree can expect to “lose” as much as two million dollars by the end of her career. The author even goes as far as to expand upon her analysis to suggest a ten-year plan of discrimination-fighting that would help eliminate the male/female wage gap once and for all. The simple problem with such grand schemes is that the wage gap is not discriminatory. Women earn less than men, but it is not because of sexism- it’s just the realities of life and basic economics. In fact, if the wage gap were based on discrimination, women would stand to benefit the most of all. If employers were really a crusty old bunch of bigoted curmudgeons, who actively and sexistly colluded to pay women an unfairly low wage, the realities of market competition would force the same bigots to hire as many women as possible in order to try to cut costs and beat out the competition. If the wage gap were based on discrimination, the income disparity would allow non-discriminators to drive staunch sexists out of business by hiring minions of female workers and benefiting from the artificially low wages. In this situation, not only would discriminators lose, and non-discriminators gain, but the wage-gap itself would be eliminated as increased demand for female workers would push wages up until they achieved parity with the wages of male workers. Honestly, I think it is too bad that the wage gap is not based on simple discrimination, because the reality is far more complex and much harder to eliminate. The fact that women bear primary responsibility for raising children from conception, birth, and onward has a distinct economic impact on the options that women choose for themselves. If women believe it is highly possible for them to have children and leave the workforce, they will chose to enter professions in which the cost of exiting and re-entering the workforce is not restrictively high. Women who choose to enter fast-moving, high-paying, constantly changing fields might find themselves left out to dry if they try to take a few years off from the job. In just a few years, technologies, processes, and entire ways of doing business can change dramatically and the effects of skills atrophy can be immense. Because of this, many women might choose more stable jobs for which the cost of exiting and re-entering the workforce is lower. If a lot of women choose to enter more stable, less dynamic professions, the crowding effect caused by the increased supply of female workers in the job market would drive down wages for those professions. It is simply supply and demand economics. Wages depend on the demand of companies and the supply of workers. You would not call it discrimination if women self-select themselves into lower-paying jobs, would you? A key factor here is socialization and the roles of men and women in society. The wage gap is the result of choices and is not based on discrimination. Another key aspect to this theory is what economists in their rational realm of thinking call “non-pecuniary aspects of remuneration.” This means that women will accept lower salaries if there are distinct and beneficial non-wage-based positive aspects to the job. For example a woman might accept lower wages for a job that will give her flexibility. A high wage job is not worth it if it will not give a female worker the flexibility she needs when family concerns interfere with her career. A job that allows her to take time off when she needs it and gives her the freedom to meet the needs of her family is worth more in the long run than a high-paying job won’t give her the freedom to handle her responsibilities as a mother. If women are paid less than men, it is because of the choices that women and families make for themselves. Women are socialized to derive benefit from the well-being of others and this might have something to do with their decision to pick majors and even careers which might end up leading to lower wages. Attempting to blindly fight some foolish conception of a tangible and real discrimination is the wrong way of looking at the wage gap problem. Wage discrimination was already made illegal by the hard-fought battles of the Civil Rights era. The current problem is much harder to grasp and much harder to eliminate than a sexism-based analysis would suggest. There is no doubt that sexism in some forms exists in our society, but it is not such a persisistent, pernicious, and pervasive problem that it can explain the entire wage gap. Wage discrimination is a deceptive misnomer that paints a false picture and misrepresents the current situation. I would suest instead of “Getting Even” we should focus on Getting Evelyn to re-evaluate her misleading theories.