Gender Pay Gap Claims Do Not Make ‘Cents’

The famous ‘Equal Pay Day’ was celebrated (for lack of a better term) on April 2 in the United States. The movement took over news cycles and social media for an entire day and was based on the discussion of women receiving unequal pay in comparison to their male counterparts. The significance of the date exhibits how far into the year women must work in order to earn what men made in the previous year; a statistic that is often thrown around is “for every dollar men earn, women will only make $0.80“.

On the surface level, this is shocking statistic that supports the gender inequality narrative. However, does this movement – that has resulted in a hashtag – uphold any factual basis?

Let’s dig a bit deeper.

Various studies that explore the income differences between men and women, demonstrate that women make roughly $0.80 for every one dollar a man earns. This conclusion is reached by dividing the median earnings of all women working full time by the median earnings of all men working full time.

Based on the mere statistic alone, this does not offer enough evidence to conclude that gender inequality is running ramped and The Equal Pay Act of 1963 , and The Civil Rights Act of 1964  has been thrown out the window. Each piece of legislation offers protection against baseless gender discrimination and makes unequal pay illegal.

An assortment of variables regarding an explanation for women’s income are conveniently ignored. Men are more likely to go into ‘high risk’ occupations, spend more hours at work/take less time off, willing to relocate for better opportunities, and negotiate for a better wage.

An example of time spent at the work place and receiving better pay is shown by Harvard Economist Claudia Goldin’s findings. Goldin’s research proved that if a law firm hires two lawyers – each with identical educational backgrounds and position placements – the lawyer that was willing to work ‘on call’ earned a higher salary versus the lawyer that wanted a regular nine-to-five schedule. The firm had an incentive to give a pay raise to the lawyer that was willing to work longer/atypical works.

While more women choose to go into higher education than men, there are gender differences when choosing their field of study. According to Georgetown University’s Best Paying Major list:

  • Petroleum Engineering is 87 percent male.
  • Pharmaceutical Sciences is 48 percent male.
  • Mathematics and Computer Science is 67 percent male.
  • Aerospace Engineering is 88 percent male.
  • Chem Engineering is 72 percent male.

In contrast, Georgetown University’s Worst Paying Majors:

  • Counseling and Psychology is 74 percent female.
  • Early childhood education is 97 percent female.
  • Theology and Religious Vocations is 66 percent male.
  • Human Services and Community Organization is 81 percent female.
  • Social Work is 88 percent female.

Although there is nothing wrong with entering these majors, it needs to be understood that certain fields vary in wages and that women have a choice in which field they would like to study.

Some may argue there is a social construct that limits women from to going into the STEM fields.  Yet, our society has created affirmative action programs and organizations to encourage women to have interest in STEM. For example, at West Virginia University there are various organizations, events, and communities that promote women in STEM.

Additionally, the US Department of Labor found that after looking over 50 peer-reviewed studies, that often citied a wage gap of 77 cents on the dollar statistic, were practically based on women’s career choices.

Equal Pay Day perpetuates a narrative that women earn less simply due to their gender, which does not have enough significant research to back up its claim. This narrative most certainly does not benefit or empower women.  Rather than taking into account all of the variables that go into wages, it is easier to have a ‘society is against women’ mindset as opposed to the fact that women (in the US) have personal autonomy and individual responsibly to decide their own career choices.

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