Solution in search of a problem


Is America fundamentally hostile to women? It’s a notion that seems difficult to reconcile with the reality we see around us. In the March jobs report, for instance, women and men had exactly the same unemployment rates. Women substantially outnumber men on American college campuses. And, with 63.7 percent of women voting in the 2012 presidential election (as opposed to 59.7 percent of men), it’s not as if they’re being shut out of the political process.

How, then, should we understand the complaint — formalized in this week’s “Equal Pay Day” — that women make 77 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts?

The supposition of the political Left is that the disparity owes to pervasive, institutionalized discrimination. We have to marvel that such a contention — intellectually indistinguishable from a conspiracy theory — receives serious attention from much of the press and the political class.

In order to accept the progressive understanding of the issue, one has to assume that employers throughout the nation are colluding in order to suppress women’s wages — and that there are no dissenting employers out there willing to pay higher wages to attract female talent. In short, one has to be economically illiterate.

The real story is far more prosaic. The difference between the genders owes not to discrimination but to differences in the way that men and women behave in the workforce. Men tend to work longer hours, choose more dangerous professions (which often pay a premium), and opt for jobs in more lucrative industries.

In addition, women who take time off to have children (especially if their absence from the workforce is prolonged), sacrifice experience, a factor that affects their level of compensation when they return to the job market.

In other words, the discrepancy owes overwhelmingly to people making different choices, not to pervasive discrimination.

Misconceptions about the pay gap are bad enough in the abstract, and worse when they give rise to misguided pieces of legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act, which the Senate blocked on Wednesday.

The proposed law wouldn’t change anyone’s paycheck, but would, instead, make it easier to allege wage discrimination and bring class-action lawsuits. In practical terms, that means employers would face greater potential liabilities when hiring female employees — hardly a recipe for gender equity in the workplace.

America ought to be proud of the tremendous progress made by women over the past half-century — and we ought not to belittle it by finding discrimination when there is none. The major economic issues facing the country — of which widespread unemployment is surely paramount — threaten all Americans. If lawmakers want to help women, they should turn their attention to precisely those kinds of pressing concerns.

— From the Orange County Register

 

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