Equal Pay Day, which was earlier this week, was originally created by the National Committee on Pay Equity to denote how far into the next year a woman would need to work in order to make the same income her male colleagues earned in the previous year alone. In celebration of the "holiday," I'd like to dispel the myths commonly associated with the gender pay gap. Only after this fog has dissipated will we be able to find the way forward.
It is an economic fact that women in the United States, on average, make less than men. The most recent statistic, as determined by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress in recently released report, is 79 cents on the dollar for women in comparison to men. Many other sources have their own numbers, but quibbling over whether the elephant in the room weighs 1,900 pounds or 2,100 is a largely pedantic effort, one that distracts from the real issue.
Our focus should instead be on the root causes of the problem and possible solutions to them. The National Committee on Pay Equity, as well as top political leaders like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, attribute the gap to discriminatory hiring practices that require government intervention. Women deserve equal pay for equal work, they argue, and regulations like mandatory paid maternity leave are the first steps to achieve this parity.
These assertions are as false as they are stale; equal pay for equal work became the law back in 1963. The real issue is that men and women are not doing equal work. Research conducted by both the right and the left (and libertarians too) has found that men are more likely to major in subjects that pay more (engineering versus social work), that even within the same general field men gravitate towards jobs that pay more (cardiologists versus pediatricians), that men work more hours per week (and more weeks per year because they are less likely to take leave time), and that men are more likely to choose higher salaries over other forms of compensation such as schedule flexibility. When we control for these factors and compare truly equal work between men and women, the wage gap completely disappears.
The main problem, then, is that men are putting their jobs first and leaning on women to care for the families. Women then have no choice but to cut back on hours in the office to accommodate that time burden. In anticipation of this need, society pushes women from a very young age into career paths that are better suited to be held in conjunction with child-rearing. The gender homemaking duties gap drives the gender pay gap; as long as the former exists, so will the latter.
If we want to see the average woman making the same as the average man, then we can't continue to push women out of the workplace by expanding maternity leave. Instead, we should call on men to step up and pull their weight at home.