Wages, Sex and Parity in Indiana

October 9, 2009

For release noon Tuesday Oct. 6 thereafter (718 words)

Several years ago at Butler University, feminist activists visited classrooms and handed out “Pay Day” candy bars to the students. The feminists were calling attention to the fact that women, collectively, earn less money than men. In addition to the candy bar, feminists gave us a diatribe about the situation.

Today, women still earn about 78 cents for every dollar a man earns and feminist activists continue to make a big deal about salaries on Pay Equity Day. In its 2008 report, our state’s Indiana Commission for Women reported on an event it sponsored under the title, “Bridging the Gap: Reaching Pay Equity in Indiana.”

So not much has changed about the way the Indiana Commission for Women and many feminists approach the pay gap, namely, with old ideas, charges of injustice and a woeful lack of research. Were those feminists to change their ways, they would have a better grasp of the world.

A good start would be Women’s Figures, a monograph published over 10 years ago by Diana Furchgott-Roth, an economist, and Christine Stolba, a historian. Their work showed that women are successful participants in the American economy. Also, they might read the Dec. 20, 1996, Indianapolis Star, which reported:  “The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth compared people aged 27 to 33 who had never had a child and found that women earned 98 percent of men’s wages.” 

But perhaps things have changed in the ensuing years, Perhaps, suddenly, women are not getting paid the same as men. What does the evidence say?

The General Accounting Office (GAO) examined the purported wage gap and here is what the GAO found: “The gender pay gap — the difference between men’s and women’s average salaries — declined significantly in the federal workforce between 1988 and 2007 . . . all but about seven cents of the gap can be explained by differences in measurable factors such as the occupations of men and women and, to a lesser extent other factors such as education and years of federal experience . . . the remaining seven-cent gap might be explained by factors for which we lacked data or are difficult to measure.”

One factor the GAO may have taken into account is the risk associated with jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 5,488 people died at work in the year 2007. Of that total, men suffered 5,071 workplace fatalities, or 92.4 percent. In Indiana, there were 127 workplace fatalities, 119 men and eight women. The imbalance in fatalities, as well as the correlative injuries, falls primarily on men.

The riskier the job, it logically follows, the higher the pay.

What about a field heavily associated with men, namely, engineering? Perhaps a pay gap exists there. The National Science Foundation (NSF) studied the field and here is what it found: Analysis shows “that when controlling for years of experience . . . the estimated difference in salaries between men and women fell from 13 percent to three percent . . . when other variables . . . are added to the regression, the estimated difference is lowered only another one percentage point.” The NSF observed that “on average, women in engineering occupations had five fewer years experience than men,” “the rate at which salary increases with experience is the same for men and women,” and the analysis “showed that women with engineering degrees were working in occupations other than engineering more often than men.”

The report echoed what the NSF had found in 2002: “Women employed full time in S&E (science and engineering) occupations earn less than men on average, but these salary differentials are due primarily to differences in age, length of experience, occupations, and highest degree attained.” Were it not for those factors, “the median salaries for men and women are generally more similar.”

When I offered that sort of analysis to my class, one of my best students just glared at me. The next day, however, she wrote a list of resources on the board and told the class, “He’s right.” When activists handed her a ‘Payday,’ the student responded, “No thank you.”

That’s what our legislators should say to feminists who don’t do their homework.

Richard McGown, Ph.D., is an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation and an instructor in ethics for the College of Business, Butler University.


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