Does the Wage Gap Matter Anymore?

This editorial posted recently in the Wall Street Journal made me wonder, along with many other bloggers.

Feminist hand-wringing about the wage gap relies on the assumption that the differences in average earnings stem from discrimination. Thus the mantra that women make only 77% of what men earn for equal work. But even a cursory review of the data proves this assumption false.

Upon reading this I didn’t know how to feel. Part of me was hopeful that this really was true because that would mean one less battle left for the feminist movement.

That hope was quickly dashed, however, as I remembered the chart that I had helped to make for the last Pay for your Privilege Bake Sale I had helped to run at my college: the wage gap doesn’t just exist across gender lines, its also firmly in place across lines of race, sexuality, and gender expression. Even if Carrie Lukas was right, and there was no longer a gap between men and women’s earnings, what were the chances that the wage-gap in regards to race/sexuality/gender expression had also gone away? (Not very high apparently.)

So there is still a problem but maybe, just maybe, there really isn’t a male/female wage gap anymore and that fight can at least be dropped. I was hopeful, yes, but another, bigger, part of me was doubtful… so I did what any good critical thinker would do: I went looking for that data myself.

Lukas’s first claim is as follows…

The Department of Labor’s Time Use survey shows that full-time working women spend an average of 8.01 hours per day on the job, compared to 8.75 hours for full-time working men. One would expect that someone who works 9% more would also earn more. This one fact alone accounts for more than a third of the wage gap.

I trust this analysis more than Lukas’ because this one actually includes a chart so that I can see the data, instead of making claims. The New York Times piece reveals that time actually does play into the wage gap, but not in the way Carrie Lukas claims…

As you can see, among workers who work at least 40 hours a week, men still significantly out-earn women.

But as soon as you drop below that 40-hour-a-week mark, the reverse happens: Most women make more than men who work equivalent hours, with the exception of workers who put in fewer than five hours a week.

Now this data is also flawed, as it does not control for the type of job worked nor does it have an even number of data points per category, only the number of hours, but it still casts some doubt onto the WSJ article in my mind. The NYT author hypothesizes that, since men are more likely to work full-time jobs it would make sense that they would be more likely to out-earn women when the hours were longer.

Lukas’ second claim is as follows:

Choice of occupation also plays an important role in earnings. While feminists suggest that women are coerced into lower-paying job sectors, most women know that something else is often at work. Women gravitate toward jobs with fewer risks, more comfortable conditions, regular hours, more personal fulfillment and greater flexibility. Simply put, many women—not all, but enough to have a big impact on the statistics—are willing to trade higher pay for other desirable job characteristics.

Now this I found suspect, for a few reasons. First of all: to claim that women” gravitate” towards jobs that are more comfortable/less risky/etc. is at least a little bit disingenuous. Sure, plenty of women purposefully choose jobs that have these qualities, but there are also plenty of women who want to be lawyers, or doctors, or contractors, or other less convenient more stereotypically “masculine” jobs who face an incredibly tough road simply based off of their sex. If you’re constantly facing the assumption that you are less fit for your job, based solely off of the reproductive organs you posses, it stands to reason that you’d be more likely to give up and choose a career path with less struggle involved. Simply put: women (and men) don’t make decisions in a vacuum – since gendered expectations are a part of our every day lives, it stands to reason that this particular piece of social conditioning would play some role in the options that we perceive available to us and, thus, pursue.

Beyond that though, I have no idea where she is getting these numbers because she didn’t cite a single source.

Here are two charts that track the wage-gap within various industries (in other words, comparing people to their peers) and (surprise surprise) there is still a pretty huge discrepancy in most industries:

This chart, published on a New York Times blog in February of this year, uses information from the US Labor Bureau to illustrate the current wage-gap in the United States. According to the blog:

Over all, women who worked full-time in wage and salary jobs had median weekly earnings of $657 in 2009. That’s 80 percent of what their male counterparts earned. But as you can see from the chart above, there’s a lot of variation depending on the industry.

This interactive chart, published by the New York Times in May 2010, breaks the gap down even further by industry. Its only a year old, so I suspect the overall patterns still hold true, more or less, despite the fact that some numbers may have shifted slightly in the last year.

Lukas’ final major point:

In a 2010 study of single, childless urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30, the research firm Reach Advisors found that women earned an average of 8% more than their male counterparts. Given that women are outpacing men in educational attainment, and that our economy is increasingly geared toward knowledge-based jobs, it makes sense that women’s earnings are going up compared to men’s.

This study showed that among young, single people without dependents living in urban areas (i.e. most likely fairly privileged college-educated people) women actually tended to out-earn men. This does not surprise me, for the reasons that Lucas mentioned: these numbers look at a very specific portion of the population that is very well-poised to succeed.

Here’s what the president of the company that did the research Lucas sites has to say:

It’s pretty simple: more women are graduating from college than men, so more young women are qualified for higher-paying entry-level jobs. Thus, in aggregate, millennial women are earning more than millennial men as they start their careers.

Millennial Hispanic and black women make even more  — as much as twice – as Hispanic and black men of the same age. That’s because the education gap is even wider between Hispanic and black young women and men than it is for whites. This doesn’t mean that women in particular professions, industries or job categories are making more than their male peers. It also doesn’t have anything to do with what individual women make compared to their male colleagues. And most of all, this doesn’t relate to married young women or the biggest earnings barrier of all: children.

I feel like Carrie Lukas thinks feminists are all “handwringing” over some mysterious coalition of villainous men, pulling the puppet-strings and screwing women over at every turn. If she understood the truth, that the feminists fighting the wage-gap see this as a sociocultural issue effected by many factors including gender-roles that push women into lower paying jobs and men into dangerous jobs (also part of the reason why men tend to die younger); mentoring opportunities being less frequent for women in many industries; the fact that women (for whatever reason) are not as well taught in the art of negotiating as a whole and, thus, tend to start with lower salaries; the history of racism in this country that leaves people of color, in general, with far fewer opportunities than white people; the lack of affordable childcare and/or workplaces with childcare in this country that set up barriers to many women who want to work; and so on.

This is why, in my mind at least, you don’t really fight wage inequality. You raise awareness about it, yes, because it is a symptom of a larger social illness that needs constant fighting. A world with no wage gap would be a world where people aren’t put into boxes based off of their sex, or their race, or their gender identity, or their sexuality… a world where people were all given an even playing field to discover their own abilities. The closer we come to that world, the more this gap will close but, desipte what Carrie Lukas might say, we don’t live in that world just yet.

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