'Wage Gap' Debunked, So Why Are Men and Women's Earnings Different?


A new mother is more likely than a father to take extended breaks from the workforce to rear her children. As a result, she will have less work experience than similarly aged men when she does return to work full-time. Or she may not. When women do return to work, it's not usually on-site, full-time. Women may seek out flexible or remote work, and those kinds of jobs may not pay as well as others.

This is not a judgment about women's decisions to take time off. It's just a fact, and when it's looked at, it becomes clear why the “wage gap” is an apples-to-oranges comparison.

Yet the wage gap myth has circulated for years. That's the one where women earn only 77 cents for every $1.00 a man earns in the exact same kind of job. It is a debunked myth, yet one that gets recirculated every spring around tax time.

Admittedly, there is a difference in what women make than what men make overall. The 23 cents is right in context. But the disparity doesn't occur in a vacuum, nor is it just about child-bearing. It often involves men being almost twice as likely to work full-time as women; women tending to choose professional fields that pay less than professions men choose; and women tending to take less risky jobs than men.

So maybe there's a better way to explain the gap. Economics professor Mark Perry calls it a "gender earnings gap."

What's the difference? He explains.

What certainly does exist is a well-documented gender earnings gap when the unadjusted median earnings of men and women are compared without correcting for any of the dozens of relevant factors that explain the natural differences in earnings by gender. For example, it’s been a verifiable statistical fact that a gender earnings gap has existed at the White House for as long as those salary records have been available (since 1995). Although men and women at the White House get paid the same for the same job, there are always more men than women in the highest-paid positions and more women than men in the lowest-paid, and that’s the case for both Democratic and Republican presidents. So while there’s likely no gender discrimination and no gender wage gap at the White House, there IS a gender earnings gap that persists year after year, regardless of the president or party. And the gender earnings gap at the White House, like the gender earnings gap that exists for most organizations and throughout the entire US economy, reflects the fact that men and women “do slightly different jobs” as [Tim ]Worstall says. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that men and women mostly do much different jobs, and labor market data show huge gender differences by occupation.

One cannot fix an earnings gap by mandating “equal pay for equal work,” because the two genders simply are not doing the same work much of the time.

Many women don’t want to work in jobs that require longer hours, longer commutes, larger levels of commitment, higher risks, more dirt, and more investment in one’s skills over a long period of time. That’s perfectly fine. But that's often where the money is made.

At the end of the day, it boils down to a question of choice. And women are making choices that often add to the quality of their lives without adding to the bottom line. That's not discrimination. That's individual preference. And it may be worthy of commendation, not irritation.