The Gender Wage Gap and the problem for Feminism

Recently, President Obama referenced the so-called “Wage Gap” during his State of the Union speech. And whether or not you like it, there’s good reason. It’s a popular topic for those pursuing total fairness in America (and globally).

The challenge the White House currently faces with this issue is that it’s incredibly difficult to pin down exactly why it appears that women consistently make less money than men. Despite continuing to play a larger role as a percentage of the workforce and leading men in attending college, graduating with an associates or bachelors degree, MA, Professional or Doctorate degrees, the belief within the Obama Administration is that women continue to make considerably less money than men.

Here is what President Obama said during his 2014 State of the Union address:

Today, women make up about half of our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work.

This statement begs some analysis. We have to ask questions about how the data are being interpreted, what is going into the data, and what they’re leaving out (whether purposefully or not).

First off, the links provided above show that women make up 47% of the labor force, give or take a few tenths-of-percentage points. That ~6% difference can make up a lot of ground for men. It’s possible that could be why women are perceived to earn less than men. It’s not. Thankfully for you, I didn’t do any analysis on this. But a few other people did.

The Daily Beast published a simple, yet clinical, response to President Obama’s statement calling it a “bogus statistic” that had been “massively discredited.” Here is the general premise of the article:

The 23-cent gender pay gap is simply the difference between the average earnings of all men and women working full-time. It does not account for differences in occupations, positions, education, job tenure, or hours worked per week. When all these relevant factors are taken into consideration, the wage gap narrows to about five cents.

That alone accounts for nearly ~80% of the President’s claim. The remaining ~20% of the problem becomes difficult to pin down, as noted in both the Daily Beast article and also The Washington Post’s “fact-checking” recap of the President’s speech. The “77 cents less than men” claim is based more on “fuzzy math” than reality.

The crux is this: the top ten “most remunerative” (financially rewarding) majors are overwhelmingly dominated by men. In nine of the top ten most financially rewarding majors, men account for 67% or more of all workers. The only one that is close is Pharmaceutical Science & Admin, split 48-52 between women and men. Of the bottom ten financially rewarding, women dominate 8 of the ten, with Religion/Theology being male-dominated (66-34) and Health & Med Prep programs being nearly spilt 55-45 women to men.

Assuming that these figures are true, the wage gap doesn’t seem to be such a mystery after all. Basic analysis suggests that men are drawn in larger proportion to higher wage professions than are women. The economics of the “wage gap” should begin to make more sense.

A couple of qualifiers….

  1. It is entirely possible that there are careers where men earn more than women for no reason. That same logic applies in the opposite direction.
  2. It is entirely possible that this Administration believes that all people should  make the same amount of money, regardless of degree, hours worked, experience, etc. I don’t believe that is the case here. It seems less likely, but where Joe Biden is involved it’s tough to say how unlikely it really is.

Now for the mansplaining.

Here is what may be the central issue for women, one which the Daily Beast article lightly touches on. The college major chosen by a man or a woman is a decision that should be made by individuals. Most people I know chose a degree to pursue on their own, though this may have come with some influence from family, friends, or other influencers. For the most part, my friends and family made a personal choice about what type of career they would pursue.

So, for women and men who believe there is a wage gap, there seems to be a simple solution: encourage more women (or fewer men) to pursue degrees that produce greater financial reward.

But this goes against everything a truly feminist movement would represent. Shouldn’t women be able to choose whichever career they want? Why should women attempt to influence other women to take on majors they didn’t choose in the first place? Should women be expected to disregard their personal dreams to close the five-cent gap?

The minor issue here is the continued usage of bad math in Washington DC, but I don’t see that going away anytime soon. The major issue is that in order to close out the remaining ~5-cent-gap, feminism would be taking a step back. I don’t want the women in my life feeling pressured to pursue any career other than the one they choose for themselves. Anything else is the opposite of progress.

One final note from the end of the Daily Beast article:

The White House should stop using women’s choices to construct a false claim about social inequality that is poisoning our gender debates. And if the President is truly persuaded that statistical pay disparities indicate invidious discrimination, then he should address the wage gap in his own backyard. Female staff at the White House earn 88 cents on the dollar compared to men. Is there a White House war on women?


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