The following is a guest post by Daisy Belden
The gender pay gap has received a decent amount of attention recently, and, in response, has also been refuted over and over again. Knowing this, I thought that writing a piece explaining why the “gender wage gap” doesn’t exist would be beating a dead horse, so I never did. But, the Washington Post just released a poll in conjunction with the Kaiser Family Foundation that delves into contemporary opinions on feminism, and, according to this poll, 75 percent of respondents said that their top priority for improving women’s lives is “equal pay for equal work.” Apparently, this myth just won’t die, and I can’t sleep at night knowing that people still believe it. Everyone will be happy to know that women are, in fact, paid equally for equal work.
The so-called “gender wage gap,” also known as the “gender pay gap,” relies on the confusion of simple economic concepts: the difference between wage and earnings. Wage is the amount of money you are paid per unit of work, i.e., dollars/hour, dollars/project, percent commission, and so on. Earnings, in this case, is the total amount of money a person makes over a lifetime (or a given period of time, i.e., earnings over 20 years).
The problem with this myth lies in feminists taking the average lifetime earnings between men and women, and then spinning the difference between those earnings as a wage gap. This is a critical distinction, because a wage gap would be immoral, and people instinctively know that. Paying some people less per unit of work is wrong. But this isn’t a wage gap, it’s an earnings gap. If there really were a wage gap, those profit-hungry corporations (that leftists love to hate) would only hire women, since paying people lower wages for the same work would help their bottom line.
There is a difference between men and women’s lifetime earnings, which can be explained by the choices men and women make. Women are less likely to take risks in their careers, meaning they are less likely to become entrepreneurs or go into business, and are more likely to take a more tracked path to their careers through something like graduate school.
Let’s take a hypothetical example. A woman graduates from college, takes a year off, and chooses to get a doctorate degree. The average PhD takes about eight years to complete — meaning that a young woman who starts her PhD program at 22 will likely finish when she is 30. So, she goes to graduate school, netting zero income for those eight years (graduate students usually make around enough money to pay for living expenses), and then she works for two years. By then, she’s 32, a time when lots of women have children, and takes a year off because she has a baby. By the time she is 40, if she returns to work after that year, she will have only worked a total of 10 years with a positive net-income, meaning she was only making money for 10 years of her career before age 40. Meanwhile, a man she graduated college with, who has been working for a private company since he graduated, has been working for 18 years and is reaping the benefits of the promotions and pay raises that come with being a business professional for 10+ years. Those two people are going to have very different lifetime earnings — because they made different choices.
This example depicts one scenario, but there are many more in which women choose less lucrative career paths than men. Whether you like it or not, career choices affect the amount of money you will make over a lifetime. That is not something that is unjust or outrageous. Confusing wages with earnings to mislead people, on the other hand, is unjust and outrageous. It also makes women seem economically illiterate, which I don’t appreciate very much.
Lots of people have done more in-depth statistical analyses of the gender wage gap if you want to read more. I only wanted to correct some economic misconceptions so that I can sleep at night.
Daisy Belden is a senior at the University of Michigan. She is an aspiring entrepreneur and writer, with a love for the controversial and contrarian.