The Myth of the Gender Wage Gap

“You see, out there it’s the 1990s, but in this house it’s 1954.” – Tony Soprano

April 11, 2014

by James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

Listening to the Democrats this week, you would think that every workplace is stuck in the 1950s, or at best the Mad Men era. It was “Equal Pay Day” on April 8th, and the liberals have turned back the clock on women’s progress.

Unfortunately, “Equal Pay Day” is not a day when private sector workers earn as much as their public employee union counterparts. Now that would be a day worth celebrating. It’s not even a day to promote the flat federal income tax.

It’s the day when various leftwing special interest groups figure a woman has to work until for her pay from last year to equal a man’s pay from last year. According to the urban myth, women working full time earn 77% of what men make. So women have to work 23% of the following year in order to make as much as men earned the previous year.

Every Democrat and leftwing special interest group has a plan to eliminate the obvious wage discrimination, even though there is a federal law that was passed in 1963 that prohibits wage discrimination. In addition, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the very first new law of his administration, to deal with wage discrimination.

But of course, the 23% wage gap isn’t true. The ratio is figured by taking the median pay for all female full-time employees and dividing it by the median pay for all male full-time employees. But not all full-time employees are equal. Men are more likely to work more than 40 hours, while women are more likely to work less. When that’s taken into account, women earn 88% of what men make.

Then let’s throw in other factors. Did the woman get married and have children? Women who have never been married earned 96% of what men earned in 2012. The National Center for Policy Analysis even found a wage gap the other way, “single childless women to single childless men, ages 35-43, the wage gap not only disappears, but instead becomes a wage premium.”

Which field did she choose? As the Daily Beast reported earlier this year, the top ten fields for wages were dominated by men, while nine out of the bottom ten were fields that attracted mostly women. According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, when this is taken into account the wage gap was only 96.7 cents to the dollar earned by men.

Which women are we talking about, women who have long been in the workforce or women entering the job market now? According to Pew Research, women entering the job market in 1980 earned 67 cents to every dollar earned by men. By 2012, that gap has dropped to 93 cents to every dollar earned by men.

Pew Research estimates the gap overall is 12%, not the 23% claimed by liberal advocacy groups and the White House. A report by the American Association of University Women puts the gap at 7%.

Perhaps the White House is confused because, using their methodology, women only get 88% of what men make in the White House (obviously not counting the First Lady’s travel budget). I’m looking forward to the Obama Administration getting sued for their discriminatory practices.
The White House’s claim has been debunked by Politifact and FactCheck.Org, and has been award multiple Pinocchios by the Washington Post.

That didn’t stop them from trotting out the same line again this year for “Equal Pay Day” because, as the Washington Post notes,
From a political perspective, the Census Bureau’s 77-cent figure is golden. Unless women stop getting married and having children, and start abandoning careers in childhood education for naval architecture, this huge gap in wages will almost certainly persist. Democrats thus can keep bringing it up every two years.

Despite the fact-checking and the debunking, liberal activist groups and Democratic candidates in Wisconsin could not let the day pass without trying to exploit the myth.

Even using the White House’s bad math, Wisconsin is smack dab in the middle of the states at 25 for the supposed wage gap. Instead of being glad we’re not one of the worst states, Emily’s List called Governor Scott Walker “vulnerable” and threatened, “Ending gender discrimination in pay is the number one workplace issue for American women.”

Their standard bearer in the gubernatorial race Mary Burke couldn’t help herself this week, either. Risking yet another Pants on Fire rating from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “In Wisconsin, a woman only earns $0.80 for every dollar a man earns – and pay discrimination doesn’t just hurt our families – it hurts our economies too.” If Burke keeps this up, the Democratic Party is going to have to buy her a whole new wardrobe – again.
Burke’s solution to combat this made-up problem is to reinstate a Doyle-era anti-discrimination in the workplace law that would be a burden on Wisconsin’s employers and an all-you-can-eat buffet for the trial lawyers.

What Wisconsin women deserve instead of demagoguery on a wage gap theory supported by bad math is economic opportunity, economic growth and lower taxes. The calendar date at which workers stop working to pay for the government, Wisconsin’s tax freedom day, is April 22nd.

Let’s work to move that back to earlier in the year so all of Wisconsin’s workers, men and women, can benefit.