Letter: Examining the gender wage gap

    Letter to the Editor

    Daniel Villalon is the the Secretary of Public Relations for the Northwestern University College Republicans and publishes this piece with the authorization and endorsement of NUCR. Given that NUCR does not have a club platform, it is not our practice to publish response or opinion pieces. However, after reading what we felt to be a misleading article on the gender wage gap published on April 7, the preponderance of members felt it necessary to respond.

    Long held myths die hard, and the commonly perpetuated claim of systemic gender wage discrimination seems to be among them. It was only recently that the President himself, at the State of the Union address, repeated the mantra we've all heard too often: women make 77 cents for every man's dollar. This phenomenon is often cited as evidence of gender discrimination by feminist groups and, so it appears, some of our peers here at NBN. Strangely, that these claims have been addressed and refuted numerous times by their critics seems to have little effect on the acceptance they receive. 

    It should first be noted that if unequal pay: The result obtained by averaging out and comparing two groups' total pay, is evidence of systemic discrimination between the two groups, then it necessarily follows that there is systemic work force discrimination inflicted upon every group that exhibits any sort of earnings differential from another. Furthermore, recent reports show that the female staff in Obama's administration make less on average than their male colleagues.  Apparently the president must be guilty of such discrimination himself. 

    Yet the error with these arguments could not be more obvious: such comparisons hold no weight given the different occupations held by society's various constituents. It would then seem critical that in attempting to discern whether gender discrimination is a common presence in the workplace, any study of the issue must control for relevant factors such as job choice, hours worked and work experience, in order that wage differentials are measured for identical work. This is clearly a far cry from mere comparison of averaged earnings. 

    The issue has in fact been studied repeatedly in the requisite fashion. One such recent study by the AAUW shows that while averaged earnings exhibit the gender differential commonly mentioned, the disparity shrinks to 6.6 cents when all the mentioned factors are taken into account.  In similar vein, when the following article points out the wage disparity between white men and women with master's degrees as evidence of discrimination, it fails to observe that women choose by and large to major in non-STEM fields, which typically pay less than their technical counterparts. What's more, time spent taking care of kids post childbirth results in a loss of work experience that typically leads to lower pay upon re-entering the labor force. Household work similarly cuts into office hours, as the study mentions. Factors such as these diminish the gap to the 6.6 cents found by the study, a figure far less inflammatory than those commonly touted.

    But is the remaining wage gap still the result of discrimination? Well the underlying cause is ultimately uncertain, but jumping instinctively to conclusions of discrimination in the absence of proof is to essentially commit a God of the gaps fallacy. Erroneous as that would be, it is likely that the remaining gap would significantly narrow if studies more specifically accounted for the precise occupations held (as opposed simply to fields, where mentioned disparities have still been observed by the AAUW). This assertion follows firstly from the ever-diminishing magnitude of the gap observed with increased controls. Yet secondly, and more substantially, it avoids the following critical problem: if businesses regularly pay women less for equal work then why would they also hire men when such choices would lessen their profits? Such a claim makes little economic sense, as others have observed, and those who would stand by it on the grounds of employers' prejudices are vastly underestimating the efficiency of a competitive free market.  

    But are women systematically directed towards lower paying jobs, as more nuanced critics contend? It is ironic that in making such claims the same activists so committed to gender equality exhibit little regard for the ability of women to make freely independent choices. What's more, the answer appears to be no. Significant efforts have been directed over the past years at promoting the pursuit of science amongst the female population. Additionally, more women are now attending college than men. Fact such as these indicate directive pressures to be almost absent if present at all. Furthermore, pay issues aside, the insinuation implicit in the assumption that women's predominant role at home could only be the result of societal pressure is that their choices are somehow inferior. Why not show more respect for the valuable contributions made by those who raise our society's next generation? To fail as such is to essentially be guilty of prejudice oneself.

    Ultimately, the persistence of the gender discrimination myth is a symptom of the greater trend of victimization that has gradually pervaded our culture. If there's a lesson to be gleaned here, it's that in a nation as affluent and fortunate as ours it would behoove us to think twice before crying bloody murder. 

    -Daniel Villalon
    Weinberg sophomore 
    Secretary, Northwestern University College Republicans 


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