Edited by Oneiorosgrip, MRMod3
The pay gap issue is once again become a central feature of the news thanks to President Obama’s recent state of the union address in which he repeated the statistic that women earn $0.77 per $1.00 that men earn. The purpose was to proclaim that women were being discriminated against in the workplace.
It is well understood that this statistic is misleading – it is not incorrect, it is just misleading. The wage gap, as stated, is calculated by taking the average annual earnings of women and dividing by the average annual earnings of men, all full time employed workers. This very specifically does not take into account choice of vocation, numbers of hours worked (i.e. overtime), amount of work experience, consecutive years worked (i.e. tenure), etc. In all of these statistics there is also a gender gap, and these quantities are understood to be a result of the personal choices that individuals make.
Don’t believe me?
And you can check a variety of news sources, who have checked into more details on the issue, including Department of Labour statistics.
The list goes on. It is now becoming popular for journalists to discuss the problems with the wage gap, as it was once popular for them to talk about the existence of the wage gap. But part of the problem is that we are calling it a “wage gap” in the first place. Wage refers to the amount a person earns in relation to the amount of time they put in. But since it has already been established that men and women don’t work the same amount of hours, and the values being used in the calculation are based on total yearly earnings (independent of hours worked), it is very clear that this “wage gap” title is a misnomer. Really, this should be called an “income gap” – and in that vein, it cannot be denied. Indeed, there is a 77% income gap between men and women. Let’s accept it, because it is clearly supported by the data.
Now that we have established that this is an “income gap”, the question becomes: Is this a problem at all?
That may be a highly contentious question for some, but we should seriously consider it from several perspectives.
The first perspective to consider it from is from gender differences. While it is generally accepted that it is possible for there to be women who can perform the same job as men, and vice versa, it is also possible (i.e. not scientifically established otherwise) that the average male and the average female may not be equally capable of doing the same job as well as the other, or may be influenced on a biological level to be less inclined to participate in certain careers. This argument is most pronounced during, and often discussed through the example of firefighters and military combat personnel, however it is not yet established whether such an issue is possible with regards to more mentally dependent jobs. Are men and women distinct enough that each gender is more capable of and/or more inclined, on average, to doing certain types of jobs than the other? It is possible, and it should be scientifically determined (if possible) before the answer assumed one way or another.
It should be noted that if it is determined that there are average performance/inclination differences between men and women in certain occupations, it simply means that there are non-discriminatory sources influencing the income gap. It is still ethically wrong to discriminate based on gender between two equally capable applicants for a job. People should have the right to fair assessment of their abilities and capabilities, and should not be restricted in their vocation due to gender. This issue simply addresses whether or not gender disparities in vocations are evidence of widespread systematic discrimination.
The second perspective to consider it from is from personal responsibility. Individuals have a responsibility for the actions they take, regardless of gender. There are a number of choices that influence employment, some free from and others susceptible to social pressures. A non-exhaustive list of choices that influence employment is:
a) Choice of vocation (liberal arts versus science and technology, for example, but also jobs that have higher occupational safety risks).
b) Choice of location (working in the inner city, or working closer to home, for example).
c) Choice of hours worked (choosing jobs for which there is higher expectation on hours worked, versus personal/family time allowances).
d) Choice to assert one’s self for raises and campaigning for promotions.
e) Choice of frequency of changing occupation (often related to having children).
Both genders are faced with these choices, and are influenced differently by society in the decisions they make. The perception that women are more caring, nurturing individuals may influence their decisions to partake in the more caring/nurturing fields (health care, child care, etc), but that does not absolve them of responsibility for their decisions. In other words – the effect of the outcome of these choices on expanding the income gap cannot be attributed to sexual discrimination.
Having established that it is both possible for there to be natural gender differences, and that individuals must be responsible for their decisions despite influencing factors, it becomes necessary to make a decision. Obviously, if we decide that this is sufficient to disregard the income gap – that is to say that sexual discrimination still remains ethically and legally wrong, but that our society will not take the income gap as an indicator of sexual discrimination – then the argument ends.
But many will say that the income gap is still a concern to be addressed as a society, regardless of the previously stated perspectives, and there are valid reasons to do so. The primary reason to still be concerned by the income gap (though in a different way than President Obama indicated in his state of the union address) is that of individual liberty: we, as a society, should strive to allow individuals to make and be responsible for decisions that are made free from societal influence (social influence, from one’s own social circle, should not be the purview of society, however).
If we wish to address the income gap, then we need to start including all of the other gender gaps that are similarly involved – the “glass ceiling” is as important as the “glass cellar”. There is, among others (again, a non-exhaustive list), a workplace hazard gap, where 93% of all workplace deaths are male (PDF); a teaching and education gap, where female teachers out number male teachers by 4:1 and women are graduating from university/college at a higher rate than men; and the gendered homelessness gap.
It is, by definition, sexual discrimination to only be concerned with gender gaps that negatively affect women, while ignoring those gender gaps that negatively affect men. We need to find a way to address all of these gaps, and to address issues like the gendered name study.
The current push by governments and women’s interest lobby groups is to focus on the income gap, with the suggestion that it is caused by discrimination against women. These groups are aware of the data, and aware of the correct implications of it. However, these groups focus on pushing women’s issues, and do so by creating convincing arguments to support their purpose – government groups push the idea in order to get votes, women’s interest lobby groups push the idea in order to both get funding and to get governments to create pro-woman policies. This is why the data is only ever officially presented in the most bland, unanalyzed fashion, because that is the method that which best supports the goals of pushing women’s issues.
The income gap may, in fact, be simply caused by the choices that individuals make, though there may exist degrees of discrimination remaining in employment. Importantly, studies such as the gendered name study mentioned above suggest that any existing discrimination against women may not be an issue of men discriminating against women, as females also discriminated against female applicants, but rather reinforce that this is an issue of societal perception of gender independent of any kind of patriarchy.
By misleading the general public as to the nature and possible causes of these statistics, these influential political figures/groups are directly inhibiting the ability of our society to resolve these problems. We are spending a great deal of effort fighting the wrong problem, and that is the reason we are not making any improvements. Instead, individuals and groups are abusing the situation to gather money and influence – fighting such issues has become an industry to itself, garnering public support and heavy donations from those who rally against the “evils” of the patriarchal discrimination against women. Politics is once again getting in the way of making real, legitimate changes to societal evils that affect the lives of the vast majority of the population.