Some lawmakers, politicians and interest groups, particularly those that like to perpetuate self-serving narratives about systemic sexism, say April 12 was a special day: Equal Pay Day.
It symbolizes how far a woman must work into the next year to earn the same annual salary as a man.
Bluntly, it’s the day Americans are supposed to acknowledge the so-called wage gap by repeating misleading talking points ad nauseam until fearful women are convinced they are victims of massive wage discrimination.
Foundational to Equal Pay Day is the Labor Department statistic that women make only 79 cents for every $1 earned by men.
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Unfortunately for true believers, that data point has been largely debunked. Even The Washington Post’s fact checker has given the number two Pinocchios on more than one occasion.
That’s because the statistic is calculated by simply looking at the median salaries for men and women without accounting for any of the numerous factors that could result in such a disparity. And as the Post’s Glenn Kessler points out, the 21-cent gap substantially closes when one looks at weekly or hourly wages.
The scurrilous statistic further implodes when other important facts are considered, like the average woman has less work experience than the average man, often because women take time away from the workforce to give birth to and raise children.
Women also tend to seek jobs with more flexible hours to accommodate family life and tend to work more weeks of part-time hours than full-time hours.
According to Kessler, government labor data show that women who forgo marriage and children have virtually no wage gap; they earn 95 cents for every dollar a man makes.
There are other inconvenient realities like the fact that women tend to choose professions that pay less.
Teaching, for example, social work and counseling psychology are fields dominated by women.
All are far less lucrative than the professions dominated by men, which include petroleum engineering, chemical engineering, and mathematics and computer science.
In many cases, jobs performed by males also tend to be more labor-intensive and dangerous.
Women may self-select professions that require less physical strain or risk, but that risk carries a price tag. Men, usually by choice, reap the benefits.
All of this results in what the Washington Examiner’s Ashe Schow refers to as not a wage gap but an earnings gap.
Indeed, for the reasons explained above, over the course of the average woman’s lifetime she will earn less income than her male counterpart. And most of that gap can be explained by her individual choices, not some insidious patriarchical scheme to cheat women out of their due.
Some feminists argue that women’s choices aren’t really their own – that staying home to have and raise children is forced upon them by society and that America’s insufficient paid maternity leave and child-care programs drive women out of the workforce against their will.
But even that appeal to victimhood loses steam when comparing America with nations that have generous leave policies.
American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers reviewed a study by two Cornell economists who found that in Sweden, where parents can take up to 16 months off work for the birth of a child and may then work part time (at a reduced salary) until that child is 8 years old, women – not men – are more likely to take advantage of this law.
Further, women “never find their way back to full-time or high-level employment.”
And such generous family-friendly policies ultimately make all women less attractive to competitive and high-paying employers.
Unfortunately, the one element of this issue that never seems to enter the conversation is the fact that the “work” of having and raising children is not without value. In fact, it’s so valuable that its worth cannot be quantified.
Perhaps it would benefit women to steer the conversation to ways in which society can better recognize the remarkable role they play in family life, rather than peddling irresponsible statistics about their perpetual victimhood.
Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.