The first efforts to narrow the pay gap aimed at encouraging women to go into previously all-male jobs. Women should be just as eager to become plumbers, lumberjacks and long-haul truck drivers as men, they argued. When women didn't flock to most male-dominated jobs, the feminists then urged that we raise the wages in female-dominated job categories to close the pay gap. Nurses should make more money than electricians; child-care workers should earn more than tree trimmers; and librarians should earn more than garbage collectors.
But there is no central wage-setting mechanism in this country that could enforce such arbitrary efforts to increase pay in female-dominated jobs, thankfully. So these efforts to eliminate the wage gap also failed. And if these recent studies are correct, even if starting wages for women were higher, many women's salaries would eventually fall behind their male co-workers' because they failed to demand raises. But discrimination isn't the cause.
Discrimination -- against women, minorities or white men, for that matter -- still occurs on an individual basis. Even with harsh penalties and aggressive enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, some employers will choose to hire or promote based on their own prejudices. But employers who make a habit of rewarding less qualified individuals over better qualified ones will pay dearly for those prejudices in lower productivity -- and lower profits -- over time. And those employers who reward merit and effort will benefit by being able to attract the best workers -- that is, unless the workers themselves give up.
Marketplace economics works to reward talented individuals, but only if those individuals are willing to take risks on their own behalf. Women need to learn to play the game -- or quit complaining that they're underpaid.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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