The Myth of the Gender Wage Gap

President Obama has often criticized the so-called gender wage gap. This is a bit hypocritical since a new study finds that the Obama White House pays women less than men on average. According to the 2011 annual report to Congress on White House staff, the median wage for males was $71,000 while the median wage for females was $60,000—18 percent less. Of course, like many have already pointed out, these statistics do not signal discrimination because it is not comparing men and women who hold the same job and do the same work. It’s not fair to compare the salaries of a female Staff Assistant and the male Deputy Assistant to President Obama.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration continues to spread myths about the gender wage gap. Obama considers signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 to be one of the key achievements of his presidency. This pro-trial lawyer legislation makes it easier for women to file lawsuits if they feel they are being discriminated against in the workplace. But the fact is that gender discrimination plays little to no role in pay disparity between men and women. While the law may seem well-intentioned, it imposes recordkeeping burdens on employers and could lead to employers hiring less women due to the fear of frivolous lawsuits.

Barack Obama’s campaign website said “despite decades of progress, women still make only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes.” But he never tell us how they calculate this oft-cited misleading statistic. The U.S. Census Bureau finds the median wage for full-time male and female workers and then calculates the difference. Their research finds that males do earn more than females on average. But they are not comparing apples to apples. The government statistic neglects occupation; it’s not comparing men and women in the same job who have the same educational backgrounds.

Women, on average, earn less than men mostly because of individual choices. Discrimination is not a key factor in the gender pay gap. Men and women tend to be interested in different career choices. More women than men are enrolled in college and all of them are free to major in whatever they please. Men are more likely to major in engineering, mathematics, and computer science in college. These overwhelmingly male-dominated majors are highly profitable. Conversely, the top college majors for women are education, English, and psychology. Women tend to be interested in the social sciences which normally pay less money. 

Studies show that women enter and leave the work force at a much higher rate than men. Many women wish to take off some time from work to raise children down the road. Therefore, they choose more flexible jobs. On the other hand, men are more likely to have dangerous jobs, high stress jobs, work longer hours, and travel more for work. Men represent 93 percent of all on-the-job deaths. These types of jobs generally have higher salaries.

When you compare apples to apples, the so-called wage gap disappears. Young, childless, single urban women earn 8 percent more than their male counterparts. Women who have never had a child earn 113 percent of what men earn. Unmarried college-educated males between the ages of 40 and 64 earn nearly 15 percent less than their female counterparts.

The gender wage gap is largely due to individual choices that women make, not discrimination. Obama’s campaign website stated that “Barack Obama believes the government needs to take steps to better enforce the Equal Pay Act.” But any government intervention to “fix” this nonexistent problem will be counterproductive. Women should reject the flawed notion that government is always the answer.