Happy Equal Pay Day! You’ll have to forgive your friends for not sending a card—Hallmark has yet to recognize fabricated feminist holidays based on misleading data.
Overshadowed by legitimate spring holidays such as Easter and Memorial Day, Equal Pay Day celebrates, or rather mourns, the day in which women have worked off the “wage gap” from the previous year. The wage gap refers to the much-hyped statistic that women only earn 78 cents for every dollar a man earns. Discrimination is the implied culprit. Unfortunately for Equal Pay Day enthusiasts, the wage gap tells us nothing about the existence or nonexistence of workplace discrimination.
The wage gap—a real statistic measured by the Department of Labor—simply compares the median wage of the full-time working woman versus the median wage of the full-time working man. It is a single-variable statistic that fails to account for a variety of factors that affect compensation levels, including number of hours worked, education level, years of relevant experience, and type of occupation (just to name a few). Once these other factors are taken into account, the wage gap shrinks away. Even liberal groups such as the American Association of University Women (AAUW), who support efforts to counter the wage gap, admit that over three quarters of the wage gap is explained by factors other than discrimination.
Far from a crisis, the difference in median wages can be chalked up to different preferences and lifestyle choices. A mother, for example, who takes time out of the workforce to care for an infant or elderly family member likely decreases her future earning potential and therefore contributes to the wage gap. Ditto the mother who gives up higher wages for a more flexible work arrangement to assist with her childcare needs. So do women who forgo a high-paying career in laboratory science for a more social or family-friendly work environment that pays less, but is more personally rewarding for them. Each of these individual choices, which are perfectly rational for that unique person’s situation, contributes to the aggregate wage gap.
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