Backgrounder: Women and Wages

April 17, 2018

by Richard McGowan, Ph.D.

Indiana media outlets have recently reported on women’s ostensible pay gap. And USA Today wrote last month that the notion of bringing home 80 cents for every dollar pocketed by a man on a national basis is “unsettling,” calling it “a shortfall” and suggesting a lack of something owed.

A northern Indiana paper said, “Women in Indiana make 72 cents to the dollar that Hoosier men do on average, and they won’t see equal pay until 2082 if current trends continue, according to a new study.”

But the gap between women and men in their ability to collectively earn money is not a pay gap. Similarly situated men and women get paid the same wage. Even in that most male bastion of work, engineering, women and men are paid the same according to a National Science Foundation report.

To quote a government accounting report: “The gender pay gap — the difference between men’s and women’s average salaries — declined significantly” and “all but 7 cents of the gap can be explained by differences in measurable factors such as the occupations of men and women.”

For example, the northern Indiana paper listed the 10 fastest-growing jobs in northwest Indiana, including the four highest-paying jobs (carpenters, construction carpenters, construction laborers and coroners).  Men are well-suited, collectively, for three of the four, given men’s secondary sex characteristics.

A small comparison might help: The payroll of, the New York Yankees, with the average annual salary of its employees, excluding the team members on the field, is around $53,000. Giancarlo Stanton, alone, has a $14.5 million salary.

The Yankees have a huge gap between the pay that women and men receive. Have women been slighted or treated differently and unfairly? Any woman who could hit 50 homers against major-league pitching would be paid millions in an instant. Often, though, the benefit of high pay is offset by the burdens the job places on an individual.

Construction work, work suited to men’s secondary sex characteristics, collectively, ranks high in job fatalities, as does mining and transportation and warehousing. It is no surprise that of the 5,190 work fatalities in 2016, 4,803, or 93 percent, were men.

Typically, the more risk a job presents to a worker, the higher the pay.

If we take the media’s treatment to its extreme, we would have an “Equal Work Death Day,” the day an equal number of women are killed on the job is reached. In 2016, that day would have been Jan. 25. For the rest of the year, only men would die on the job. Using media language on trends in pay, the next Equal Work Death day will not occur until May 30, 2029. Again, the occupation bears upon earnings.

Perhaps, too, we should have an “Equal Work Day,” the day when women stop working while men continue to work. That day would have been Dec. 4 in 2018. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that,  “On the days they worked, employed men worked 52 minutes more than employed women . . . among full-time workers (those usually working 35 hours or more per week), men worked longer than women — 8.4 hours compared with 7.8 hours.”

It’s a straight line to conclude that if men work longer than women, they will have higher pay. A real-life application was the recent report that male Uber drivers earn 7 percent more money than women. Men at Uber worked longer hours.

Of course, women more often assume the time-consuming responsibilities of children and, according to research from Denmark, a very gender-equal country, gender inequality in earnings is due to children, creating a gap in earnings of around 20 percent there.

One solution to remove the gap, a Swiftian one to be sure, is simply for no one to have children. Of course, that means the end of society and the human race. A better solution is to follow feminist reformer — not revolutionary or radical — Betty Friedan’s advice, namely, get fathers more involved in child-rearing.

Is that happening?  Are men encouraged to assume the responsibilities associated with being fathers?

Only in 2015, a full 50 years after the modern women’s movement began, the one about equality, was the New York legislature asked to pass laws ensuring that men’s restrooms have facilities enabling fathers to change their children’s dirty diapers.

If we want men and women to earn equally, we have a ways to go.

Richard McGowan, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, has taught philosophy and ethics cores for more than 40 years, most recently at Butler University.

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