But when researchers don't include these important characteristics in their analyses, the differential appears much greater. The unadjusted earnings of black males are only 70 percent of the earnings of whites, and Hispanics' earnings are 82 percent of whites. The same holds true for women. The raw numbers suggest that women lag far behind men in their pay -- a theme feminist groups have touted for years and one President Obama took up in his inaugural and State of the Union addresses. But the oft repeated claim that women earn only 77 cents for every dollar men earn is highly misleading, as the O'Neills go to great lengths to prove.
There is a large wage gap between men and women, one not entirely explained by years or quality of schooling, regional differences, or scores on aptitude tests. In fact, women have completed more years of schooling, on average, than men, live in all regions of the country, and score as well as males on aptitude tests. But women often make choices that have a large impact on their earnings, including the decision to have children.
Working mothers are more likely than men to work part time and take career breaks during the childbearing years, which means they accumulate fewer years of continuous work experience. And women also are more likely to try to balance work and family obligations by choosing occupations that provide more flexibility but less pay. Even women who work full time work fewer hours per week than their male counterparts. When all of these characteristics are factored in, the gender gap largely disappears. Young, childless single women, for example, earn comparable wages to similarly situated men.
The best way to close the wage gap between blacks, Hispanics and whites, the data suggest, is to encourage blacks and Hispanics to stay in school, study hard and commit to gaining work experience. When it comes to women, perhaps we should throw out the rhetoric and honor women's choices instead of trying to force them to conform to feminist priorities that place little value on families.
In reality, discrimination doesn't seem to be the biggest problem facing either minorities or women.
Linda Chavez is the author of "An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal." To find out more about Linda Chavez, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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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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