What pay gap?

April 08, 1999|By Linda Chavez

ATTENTION working women: 1999 offically begins for you today. That's the day feminists have decreed Equal Pay Day -- the number of days into the new calendar year the typical woman will have to work to catch up with the average man's earnings of the previous year.

Confused? Don't worry. So are the feminists who thought up the cockamamie observance. They claim that women earn, on average, 74 cents for every dollar men earn and consequently must work more than 15 months to earn what the average man makes in 12.

What they don't bother to mention is that women, on average, work fewer hours per week, have less work experience and work at different -- often less demanding and less dangerous -- jobs than men. These differences alone account for a substantial portion of the "pay gap" between men and women.

Misusing statistics

For years, left-wing feminists have been misusing statistics to demonstrate broad-scale economic discrimination against women, and the press and a great many politicians have been happily regurgitating their propaganda. Rarely, outside of academic economics journals, have the feminists' data engendered much skepticism.

Now comes "Women's Figures: An Illustrated Guide to the Economic Progress of Women in America," published by the establishment American Enterprise Press and the feisty Independent Women's Forum, to debunk much of the feminists' voodoo economics. Written by Diana Furchtgott-Roth and Christine Stolba, the short monograph details the rapid upward mobility of American women in a series of easy-to-read charts and graphs.

Among the most enlightening figures they present: Young, childless women between the ages of 27 and 33 earn 98 percent of the average earnings of childless men their age. The pay gap simply doesn't exist for this group of women. Why? A number of factors come into play.

First, younger men and women are more likely to have similar educational experience than older cohorts. Women now earn more than half of all undergraduate and master's degrees, as well as about 40 percent of professional degrees. But this is a fairly recent phenomenon.

Before 1980, women earned fewer than half of all four-year and master's degrees, and only one quarter of professional degrees. Older female workers' pay thus reflects their lower educational attainment, while younger women earn higher salaries commensurate with their greater education.

Motherhood is even more important in explaining pay differences between men and women. Although most mothers now work outside the home, they are still more likely than fathers to take extended time off when their children are born. These interruptions, which can amount from a few weeks to several years, have consequences, which are reflected in the lower average earnings of women .

But the decision to have children doesn't just reduce the number of consecutive years of work experience for most working mothers, it also influences the types of jobs women choose in the first place. Most mothers reject jobs that require very long or unpredictable hours or extensive travel, even though they may be higher paying.

One study cited in "Women's Figures" notes that among the highest-earning women, about half are childless. Another study shows that the most common reason female associates give for leaving their law firms before attaining partnership is the difficulty they encounter in meeting the demands of their job after they have children.

Choice, discrimination

Feminists have traditionally blamed discrimination for the high concentration of women in certain jobs -- which they've dubbed the "pink collar ghetto." But is it really discrimination that drives more women to become secretaries, elementary school teachers and retail clerks than, say, pest controllers, truck drivers or loggers?

The authors of "Women's Figures" don't think so. They note, for example, that men are more likely to be employed in the worst -- and most dangerous -- jobs. Twenty-three of the 25 worst jobs, from "The Jobs Rated Almanac," are more than 90 percent male, and men account for 92 percent of all job-related deaths even though they are only 54 percent of the work force.

It's about time feminists started giving ordinary working women credit for making choices that suit that needs and interests. The organizers of Equal Pay Day would do better to spend the dayreading "Women's Figures" instead of handing out buttons complaining about the 26-cent gap between men and women's earnings.

Linda Chavez writes a syndicated column.

Pub Date: 4/08/99

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