American women who work for wages or a salary, on the average, earn 77 cents when American men earn one (1) dollar, also on the average.
You have to be careful of averages. They are not naturally vicious but they are often used to deceive. That is, people routinely overestimate themselves and don’t slow down enough to understand what they are seeing and hearing when an average is mentioned.
Here is a little practice exercise: Suppose all women who lack education beyond high school quit work completely. (They might go on welfare or they might find hard working husbands, maybe currently illegal immigrants – Not a bad idea actually, if I say so myself!) If this happened, what would become to the 77 cents on the dollar?
(The answer is several paragraphs below.)
Consider also that “on the average” means, of course, that there are many women who earn more money than many men, women in government, for example. Take the female toll-takers at the Golden Gate Bridge, for example. They earn about $100,000 a year for very low-skill work. They thus earn much more than male cable-television technicians who do things most of us don’t even know enough to think about. (There are female cable technicians of course, but that’s not the point, right now.) That’s compatible with the 77 cents on the dollar figure.
That women earn on the average 77 cents when men earn a full dollar speaks of rampant and rank discrimination against women where it matters most, the workplace. Or does it?
Below are some relevant facts that all of President Obama’s economic advisers know. I mean that the facts are so well-known that it’s inconceivable that they don’t know them.
Fact: On the average, working women have less education and less seniority than men. That’s on the average.
As it happens levels of pay, in many industries depend largely on seniority (rightly or wrongly). Access to the best paid jobs in a given industry also depends much on level of education. Access to superior and well-paid jobs also often depends on achieving seniority. That’s a double-whammy on low education!
Answer to the question near the beginning of this essay: If women who had no college dropped out of the workforce, female workers would, on the average, suddenly have higher educational achievement. Then, the average pay of women nation-wide would go up. If all the women with no college education dropped out of the workforce, the 77 cents on the dollar would immediately disappear. I don’t know what the resulting number would be; it might be 80 cents on the dollar, or 90 cents on the dollar. What is certain is that it would be a higher, better number.
Repeat: If all the low-skill jobs requiring a modest level of education disappeared all of a sudden, if all the women holding such jobs lost their jobs, the average pay of women, including as compared to me, would immediately go up.
This is not some sort of foggy speculation, it’s an arithmetic certainty.
Similarly, if more women in the workforce had high seniority, the average pay of women nation-wide would also be higher than 77 cents on men’s dollar. Here too, it’s a mathematical certainty although I don’t know by how much the figure would change. This is all by way of remembering what averages mean.
Fact: Working women concentrate in economic sectors where wages are historically low.
That’s low wages for both men and women. Sometimes, there are no understandable reason why pay is low in such sectors. Often it’s a sort of historical accident connected with an early union activity in those sectors of the economy. Sometimes there are good direct reasons for the high pay in sectors where women are rare. Blue collar work on oil platforms and commercial fishing are both examples of activities where few women are found. They are also dangerous activities. They are also physically strenuous activities. In those two particular sectors, pay is much higher than it is say, in the health industries, or in retail where many women are employed. This means that both men and women employed in fishing and on oil platforms earn more money than either men or women in many other industries.
The average lower pay of women nationally is at least in part the result of their low participation in these highly paid industries. If there were equal numbers of women in those high-pay sectors as there are men, the national average pay of women would be higher than 77 cents on men’s dollar.
Fact: Among those who work forty hours a week or more (“full time”), men work much longer hours than women, on the average.
It’s often the case that, other things being equal, those who work longer hours earn more money than those who work shorter hours. They earn more for the total number of hours they work. (They may also be promoted faster but that’s not my point here; one thing at a time.) Incidentally, this is true both for base workers, such as assembly line workers and sales associates, and for so-called “exempt personnel,” personnel in supervisory and management positions. The mechanisms are different, union rules, formal pay scales and government-mandated requirements (think overtime pay), in one case, alleged “merit pay,” on the other. The results are similar: Work more; earn more.
Women earn less money than men on the average than men because they spend less time at work than men do.
Now, close your eyes and let me describe two imaginary workers. One has 25 years of seniority and three years of post-high school education. The same worker is employed in mining. Over the course of a year, this worker puts in 46 hours a week on average.
The second worker has one year of junior college and has been on the same job for eight years. That worker’s occupation is in one of the health industries. Calculated over one year, this second worker puts in 40 hours plus twenty minutes a week on average.
Now, keep your eyes closed and forbid yourself from stereotyping. You don’t know the sex of either imaginary worker. Keep in mind that they may well be of the same sex, for example (for example). One or the other, or something else…
Which of the two fully employed workers do you think earns the most money in one year in actuality?
Which to you think should earn he most money according to your own standard of fairness?
You get my drift?
It turns out that when studies compensate for these important factors, American women’s remunerations are about the same as men’s. That’s still on the average. I wouldn’t be too surprised if you could find a female fisherman with 25 years seniority and a doctorate who earns less money than her husband, a high school dropout who works in a candle shop. The relevant numbers are simply too small to affect comparisons of national averages.
Yes, women earn less than men but it’s not a case of unequal pay for equal work. It’s a case of unequal pay for unequal work.
It’s worth asking why women would heap upon themselves so many of the factors that result in comparatively low pay? I mean low education, low seniority, and working in less generously paying sectors.
You probably have your own hypotheses (plural) about why this is. Let me help with an additional fact:
Fact: Women who are not married, have never been married, and have no children earn as much as men. Are you really surprised?
Many other studies confirm what we all already know: Women are the primary caretakers of both home and children by a long, long shot.
The care of children interferes vigorously with women’s ability to reach for higher paid jobs, and with their attention to their paid work, and to their ability to work long hours. It’s that simple.
Women workers fail to accumulate seniority because they quit working earlier and more frequently than men. They tend to move in and out of the workforce; that’s inimical to the accumulation of seniority, of course.
Women workers have less education than men workers, on the average, for slightly (only slightly) more complex reasons. At the lower end of the pay-scale women who work outside the home are not equivalent to men workers in general. For one thing, many low-paid working women, and increasing numbers of them, are single women raising their children alone. But we know that women with lower educational status are more likely to find themselves in that situation than women with more formal education.
Married women with children have on the average, more education than single women with children. Such married women are less likely to be in the workforce at all . Instead, their husbands are. Their husbands’ higher education and seniority enter into the national statistics. Their non-working wives’ also high numbers don’t because they are not in the labor force, precisely.
If all married women joined the labor force, the gap in education between employed men and employed women on average would shrink. It might even vanish altogether.
That would raise women’s average pay nation-wide, although the fate of poorly educated, low seniority, women employed in badly paying sectors would not improve one bit.
If all married women joined the labor force and stayed in it, employed women’s seniority would equal men’s after a while. That would raise women’s average pay nation-wide.
The pay of women with low seniority would….
(Complete the sentence; this is a test!)
Those who claim the 77 cents on the dollar figure are comparing apples and oranges.
Those in government who do this know the facts. Why are they doing it?
Now, once you have taken account all facts above, the things we already know about different ways in which women and men deal with work, women on the average still earn a little less than men. The difference is much smaller than the difference between 77 and 100 (77 cents and one dollar). Nevertheless, as I write, I think it’s possible to argue that this small difference – maybe something like 5 percentage points – proves some degree of pay discrimination against women.
By the way, I don’t play down at all this kind of pay differential. If you gross $30,000/year, 5% more would be $1,500. Even with standard deductions, that’s a round-trip ticket to someplace, even someplace interesting.
In Part Two of this essay, I will leave the domain of what’s well know, of what the president ought to know, and I will take you with me on a trip of honest, frank speculations about women’s work.
Don’t forget to come back. The best portion is yet to come!
Tech. note: Anyone is welcome to challenge any of the assertions above. Here are the rules I play by: If you give me a general reading assignment, I won’t do it. It’s too easy to waste someone’s time on a wild goose chase. If you don’t bother to say, “Read this because it shows ‘this assertion of yours…’ to be false ,” don’t expect me to make the effort either. Also, evidence that does not come from a respected refereed journal is unlikely to make much of an impression on me.