Points of Interest

Hype about gender wage gap undermines equality

Posted 7/23/19

Two recent guest columns lamented what is called Wyoming’s Equal Pay Day. June 10 was the symbolic date a woman must work into the following year in order to make as much as a man made the …

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Points of Interest

Hype about gender wage gap undermines equality


Two recent guest columns lamented what is called Wyoming’s Equal Pay Day. June 10 was the symbolic date a woman must work into the following year in order to make as much as a man made the previous year. The editorials called for laws to rectify this situation, and they were long on hype and a little short on an honest presentation of the data.

One of these columns was written by Jennifer Simon of the Women’s Action Network and Natalia Macker, chairwoman of the Teton County Board of Commissioners. 

In their column, Simon and Macker state that “overall, Wyoming women earn 70.6 cents for every $1 earned by Wyoming men.” This calculation is just a comparison of average men’s wages to average women’s wages in the state.

Simon and Macker then go on to say that “gender wage gap research always compares apples to apples: Men and women in the same professions, with substantially similar jobs, who have comparable educations, skills and experience — and work the same number of hours.”

Strangely absent from their article is any mention that the overall gap they previously cited shrinks when these factors are controlled for. This omission makes it appear the “70.6 cents for every $1” figure is an apples-to-apples comparison. It isn’t at all. 

Consider a study by PayScale, a company that researches worker compensation across the nation. Using online surveys of nearly 1.8 million people providing information on their industry, occupation, location, education, demographics, and a range of factors impacting salary, PayScale determined when all these factors are included in a comparison of men’s and women’s wages — and not just an average between the two groups — the difference is a mere 2 cents on the dollar.

The other column was written by Robin Sessions Cooley, director of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, and it incorporates the same omission. She claims the wage gap includes a range of factors that impact wages, but the only figure she provides is the “overall” wage gap of 70.6 cents, never mentioning this figure doesn’t include those factors.

Why all three authors omitted any mention of this fact I can only speculate. Cooley does mention that male kindergarten teachers make less than female ones, but she largely dismisses this figure as having any importance.

A wide range of factors impact how much money someone makes, including college majors, hours per week worked, time taken off work to raise kids and how dangerous an occupation is. No one study could ever control for all of them, but women tend to make choices that produce lower salaries.

When those who raise alarm about the wage gap actually acknowledge these differences in choices between the sexes, they often claim sexist stereotypes drive women to make these less lucrative choices. This argument says women are incapable of making beneficial choices unless they receive approval and encouragement. How is that empowering?

There is some truth to the claim that expectations placed upon people based on their gender guide individuals to eschew other choices. However, these impact men as much as women, and the narrative that infects the discussion on the gender wage gap is undermining any productive conversations on this phenomenon.

If there were such a productive conversation being had, we’d also be looking at disparities that impact men, such as the workplace fatality gap. Men make up 92.5 percent of all workplace fatalities. (They also are the majority of homeless, murder victims and suicide completions.) If we looked at the workplace fatality disparity the way we look at wage gaps, we’d be blaming women for driving men into dangerous jobs and pretending men have limited agency in those choices. We’d call for legislation to get men into safer jobs and ensure they’d be paid the same amount. I don’t need to tell anyone how harmful such laws would be.

Men are expected to be breadwinners, to take risks and to literally work themselves to death to provide for their families. We encourage this expectation and honor men who rise to the challenge. One might argue it leads to stronger families. But when men more often than women pursue dangerous jobs, which typically have higher salaries, it creates a disparity that is said to be the result of women being undervalued.

Gender equality could greatly benefit if we honestly examined and questioned these gender-based expectations and how they guide us into roles in life that may not fit who we are as individuals. However, let’s be honest. Expectations are not requirements. Adults — men and women both — are still responsible for their choices in life.

The discussion on the gender wage gap is actually undermining equality. It exaggerates disparities and then contextualizes the differences as being caused by men undervaluing women. It makes no comparable examination of disparities negatively impacting men, and then seeks to solve problems with legislative solutions based on misplaced blame. Where’s the equality in that? In a state that has a historical commitment to gender equality, we shouldn’t embrace narratives that undermine it.