Economy & Jobs

The Myth of Women as Economic Victims

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By Diana Furchtgott-Roth

Back in 1997, Barbara Ladeen, who was then head of the Independent Women’s Forum, said that we needed a book showing the truth about the “gender wage gap” and the “glass ceiling” in order to combat all the myths that there are about women making only 75 cents of a man’s dollar. At the time I said, Barbara, no one believes in the wage gap. There’s no point in putting any of this together. No one believes in the glass ceiling. She replied, yes, Diana, there are really people who believe it.

Now years later in 2012, people are still talking about women making 75 cents on the dollar, or 77 cents, or sometimes 78. President Obama has said that women make 78 cents on the dollar, and he uses that as a rationale for affirmative action for women—that is, promotion of policies that would benefit women and hurt men.

WOMEN’S PROGRESS


What is interesting about this argument is that if a Martian were to come down and see there were two groups of people—men and women—and one of the groups earned 58% of all Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, more than half of all PhD degrees, an equal number of medical degrees and legal degrees, had a longer life expectancy by about 5 years, had a lower unemployment rate, and fewer of this group were in jail and fewer were on drugs, they would say, oh, this must be the favored group of people.

And if that Martian then was told it is the favored group that is “discriminated against” and it is the favored group that the President wants to give affirmative action to, the Martian would just be shocked because by many, many metrics women are doing better than men.

Yet President Obama continues to push for the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA), which would require employers to submit lists of their employees’ salaries, race and gender to the government to demonstrate that differences in pay were not based on gender discrimination. Fortunately, the PFA did not pass even a Democratic-controlled Congress.

‘WAGE GAP’ AFFECTED BY CHOICES


The whole crux of this comes down to the measurement of something called the “wage gap.” It’s true that if you simply average wages of full-time men and full-time women and compare that number, women do make about 77 cents on the dollar. But that’s averaging ALL women with ALL men, without regard for the many different individual choices women make that affect this average.

Career Paths

In school, for example, more women major in English, gender and comparative studies, while more men major in chemistry, physics and math and computer science. This means that women and men are on different career paths in fields with different earning potential. No one can say that women’s choices are wrong; they are simply their preferences as to what they want to do.

Work Hours

Once in the workforce, full-time women work about 10 percent fewer hours than men. Full-time, you see, is anything over 35 hours a week. The Labor Department doesn’t make any distinction between those working 35 hours per week and those working 50-60 hours per week. Both are considered ‘full-time’. Yet comparisons of women’s full-time and men’s full-time find that women work fewer hours, which is one reason that, on average, women earn less.

Flexible vs. Inflexible Schedules

Women also tend to choose jobs with more flexible schedules, while men choose ones with inflexible schedules. One example can be found at the Yale Law Women website. Those who get into Yale Law are some of the smartest, most ambitious women in the country. What do you think are the characteristics of the top firms that female Yale Law graduates choose? According to a Yale Law Women annual survey, they choose the firms with the flexible schedules, not the ones that demand 60 to 80 hour weeks. Yale Law female graduates want to work for firms that have flexible schedules where they can combine their family life with their work life. Unfortunately, jobs with flexible schedules often pay less than jobs with inflexible schedules.

Dangerous vs. Safe Jobs

Men’s higher wages can also be a compensation for risk-taking. Those who work in dangerous jobs—mining, logging, and construction—are generally paid more than someone working in the relative safety of an office. I’m just not built for working 50 feet up on scaffolding in bad weather, and many women make that same choice.

ECONOMETRIC STUDIES

So the wage gap is mythical when you account for women in comparable situations to men. It’s only when you compare women in flexible jobs to men in inflexible jobs, men in dangerous jobs with women in safer jobs that different kinds of wage gaps emerge.

Numerous econometric studies by economists have shown that when everything is constant, the wage gap disappears. If you look at a male and female legal associate, or a first year lawyer in the same firm, for example, they earn the same. Likewise, a first year supermarket cashier—male or female—make about the same. June E. O’Neill’s recent study for the National Council for Public Policy is the latest study to bear this out.

Interestingly, the wage gap also disappears for young single women. In the young, single, college-educated demographic, you find that women actually make more than men.


Despite the significant progress women have made in education and in the workplace, there is currently in America a strong advocacy movement for women promoting policies such as affirmative action and quotas in college admission, hiring, and federal contracting. Organizations such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the NOW Foundation, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Action Fund and the AAUW Educational Foundation, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), and Catalyst promote these policies in a purported defense of women’s rights.

These feminist organizations decry the gender imbalances in certain fields of study and careers. Failing to look any further than discrimination for explanations of gender disparity in the United States, they claim that gender discrimination remains a barrier to women’s success in the twenty-first century. To remedy this discrimination, they conduct research, fund women’s programs, and lobby Congress, the administration and government leaders to establish preferential programs.

However, it is both unnecessary and unwise for lawmakers to mandate further affirmative action and gender quotas in education, the workplace, federal contracting, grant-making, and other areas of economic life. It would risk subjecting educational institutions, private sector firms, and government agencies to additional lawsuits or decreased federal funding unless they adopt a system of gender quotas.

Yet quotas distort these institutions’ admissions, hiring, and contracting practices, thus increasing costs and lowering productivity. Quotas are unfair to men, who may be passed over for a position in favor of a less-qualified woman. They are also unfair to women because they undermine women’s achievements by enforcing the belief that successful women in high positions got there through affirmative action rather than through merit and accomplishments.

In the end, such affirmative action policies would slow down America’s economy, as would the Paycheck Fairness Act, since they would add to businesses’ employment costs and likely result in employers employing fewer people, including women.

CURRENT ANTI-WOMEN POLICIES

Meanwhile, many policies that are decidedly anti-women and very family-unfriendly are already in place.

Health Care

The new health care law, for example, has a penalty of $2,000 per worker, for firms of 49 or more employees, if the employer doesn’t offer the right kind of government-endorsed health insurance. The Obama Administration claims the health care law is great for women, but it isn’t because it will mean fewer people, including women, employed.

Green Jobs

The President also claims its green jobs policies are good for the economy and the environment. Yet they aren’t good for women because few women are employed in the green jobs sector. Moreover, green job policies raise the overall cost of energy and families’ utility bills because solar, wind, and biofuels are more costly ways of producing electricity than natural gas and other traditional forms of energy.

Consider this. In California by 2020, 33% of electricity will have to be generated by green energy renewables. That’s going to make electric bills soar and hurt everyone, especially lower income Americans who spend about 22% of their total income on electric utility bills, natural gas bills, and motor fuel.

CAFÉ Standards

Another anti-woman, family-unfriendly regulation that the president has just brought out is raising the CAFÉ standard for cars to 55 miles per gallon. To reach that standard, cars will have to be made smaller and lighter.

Many women with children know they need a car that holds kids plus all the stuff—the stroller and diaper bags, the hockey sticks, the football gear, the groceries—and small cars just don’t do it. Worse, small cars are less safe. You’re more likely to get killed if you’re in an accident in one of these smaller, lighter, thinner cars.

WHAT WOMEN WANT

‘Free’ contraceptives, ‘free’ health care, arbitrary quotas and wage policy built on myths are not what women want. Rather, they want a vibrant economy that offers a chance for themselves and their families to be economically secure and to choose employment that fits their preferences and their lifestyle choices.

When it comes to a vibrant economy, government policies matter. Think about this. In North Dakota, land is mostly privately-owned, and landowners are free to invite oil companies to explore that land for natural resources. Exploration in natural gas hydro-fracturing production in that state has sparked such an economic boom that North Dakota today has an unemployment rate of only 3%, compared to a national rate hovering near 8%.

It’s important to begin taking down—not building up—government barriers to employment, whether it’s affirmative action and quotas, or unrealistic CAFÉ standards and renewable energy usage demands. The future economic progress of women and men depends on it.