Women, and the Unequal Pay Myth

Story Stream
recent articles

Just in time for the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act comes the publication of a new book by American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers, Freedom Feminism: Its Surprising History and Why It Matters Today.

President Obama should read this book. Last week in the Rose Garden, at an event celebrating the Equal Pay Act, he once again repeated the myth that women earn 77 cents on a man's dollar.

"The day that the bill was signed into law, women earned 59 cents for every dollar a man earned on average. Today, it's about 77 cents," the president said. "Over the course of her career, a working woman with a college degree will earn on average hundreds of thousands of dollars less than a man who does the same work. "

Nonsense. The 77 percent figure is bogus because it averages all full-time women, no matter what education and profession, with all full-time men. Even with such averaging, the latest Labor Department figures show that women working full-time make 81 percent of full-time men's wages. For men and women who work 40 hours weekly, the ratio is 88 percent.

Unmarried childless women's salaries, however, often exceed men's. In a comparison of unmarried and childless men and women between the ages of 35 and 43, women earn more: 108 cents on a man's dollar.

Mr. President, if you're so concerned about the wage gap, why not fix it in your White House? In 2012, female White House staffers made 87 cents on a man's dollar, according to an analysis of published salaries by the Daily Caller.

Women make less than men because they choose more humanities and fewer science and math majors at college. Then, when they graduate, more enter the non-profit or government sector. Finally, many choose to work fewer hours to better combine work and family. In May, 2013, according to Labor Department data, 23 percent of women worked part-time, compared to 11 percent of men.

To solve the pay gap, the president reiterated his call for passage of the misnamed Paycheck Fairness Act sponsored by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). The bill has no chance of becoming law in this Congress, because it failed to pass the Democratic-controlled Congress in the first two years of the president's term.

If the bill were passed, the threat of litigation about pay differences between men and women and minorities and whites would raise the potential cost of employment, discouraging hiring.

Workers would be included in class-action suits against employers unless they specifically opt out, raising the costs of litigation whether or not the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rules in favor of the complaining employees. Under the Act, employers found guilty of discrimination would have to pay uncapped punitive damages as well as back pay, with a quarter or a third going to plaintiffs' lawyers.

The bill would allow employers to defend differences in pay between men and women resulting from education, training, and experience only if these factors were also justified on the grounds of "business necessity." Employers could not use fewer hours, less education, and lower performance to evaluate salary differences.

American women know that they've succeeded, and feminist demands are foreign to them. That's why, Sommers shows, 70 percent of women, including high achievers such as Sandra Day O'Connor, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Lady Gaga say they are not feminists. Seventeen percent believe the label is insulting. Feminists are driving away young women who see that equal choices exist.

But feminism is still valuable, according to Sommers, because it achieved the gains that American women see today. American women can go into any field they choose, major in any subject they choose, and are protected from questions about their intentions to marry and have children.

Sommers's five-step Freedom Feminism agenda would take back feminism from today's feminists, whose "aims and methods are those of a narrow, intellectually corrupt, special-interest group."

1) Take Back Reason. The first step is to stick to the facts. Women's groups continue to push the flawed statistic that women make 77 cents on the dollar. More helpful information would be that fewer women are elected to Congress because fewer women run for office. Real data could help persuade more to step up to the plate.

2) Be Pro-Women but Not Male-Averse. Feminists routinely denigrate men, portraying them as misogynists and rapists. Think of the number of "Take Back the Night" rallies on campuses that focus on men as potential assailants, and the pseudo- statistic that one in four female college students will be the victim of rape or attempted rape during her years at college. But men need help too, especially in the education area, where women have surpassed them in high school diplomas, MAs, BAs, and PhDs. Men's welfare helps women.

3) Pursue Happiness. Why not be happy, even if it means a lower title and a lower standard of living? Dutch women are among the happiest, according to studies, even though-or perhaps because-70 percent work part-time.

4) Respect Female Diversity. Feminists should admit that working part-time, or not working outside the home, is as valid a choice for women as being Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, or Marissa Meyer, the novelist. A choice of more leisure over more paid work is not a social problem, just as a man who decides to retire early does not face social criticism.

5) No Political Litmus Tests. Feminists should cast a wide net, including women of all political parties rather than being limited to pro-choice Democrats. All women can agree that helping women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where soldiers routinely rape and torture women, is a worthy goal. Too often feminists reject those outside their political sphere. Being Republican is also a valid choice. United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, a Reagan appointee and the mother of three boys, said in August 1994, "It has even been suggested that I'm not really a woman at all -- 'without a uterus,' someone said in print about me."

The success of American feminists needs to be extended to other countries. "For most of the world's women," Sommers writes, "the quest for equality has hardly begun." The story of women's oppression in developing countries has been extensively documented, and American feminists should give their foreign sisters a hand.

Legal and cultural changes have ended systemic workplace discrimination in America. But today's feminists do not fight for equality of opportunity, but equality of outcome, regardless of choice or qualification. By continuing to chant "women make 77 cents on the dollar" they are making their movement irrelevant. Fifty years after passage of the Equal Pay Act, it is time for a new feminist agenda-and Christina Hoff Sommers has written one.



Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is senior fellow and director of Economics21 at the Manhattan Institute. Follow her on Twitter: @FurchtgottRoth.   

Show commentsHide Comments

Related Articles