Economic paradox: the wage gap

How can something both exist and not exist? Schrodinger’s cat is, poor thing, both dead and not dead. The wage gap both is and isn’t. What does that mean?

College Arguments 101

You’ve probably  heard some variation of the following argument. Let’s set the stage. On your left, there’s a guy in his mid-twenties. He’s either done with college or never went. and he’s smart as anything, but you don’t always like talking to him about politics because he gets way too heated for you. On your right is your best friend. She’s smart too, but less in your face about it, though as far as you know she doesn’t get super into politics. As luck would have it, they decide to bring up the wage gap.

“Women don’t get paid as much as men. We make seventy-seven, at most seventy-nine cents for every dollar a man makes,” your friend says, and you think, dang, really? That seems crazy.

“Actually that’s not true,” the guy says, then starts spewing figures at a rate that is, quite simply, too fast to fact-check. You have no idea what he’s saying, really, but you know that you trust your friend, and while you may not like this guy very much it doesn’t matter because he’s usually right.

Who’s correct?

Both of them are. They’re also both wrong. There are two contradictory narratives in play here: that of the first-world feminist movement and that of its reactionary partner, the sort-of-ridiculously-named meninist movement.

Let me explain simply, for my readers who have very little economic background or who will at least admit to not knowing much about the wage gap in general. I’m not trying to be condescending here, just making sure that everyone understands.

See, when the Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963, women made about “60 cents to a man’s dollar” according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor. That number has increased to the high-seventies number that the hypothetical friend above cited in the last half-century, but nonetheless there remains a so-called ‘wage gap’. Women make less than men. But this isn’t the whole story. Those numbers come from aggregating all of the full-time workers of each gender. If, to make the math easier, the average American man made ten dollars an hour, the assertion that a woman in similar work would get paid $7.90 is patently untrue.

But the guy who spouted off figures is wrong too. See, there is a wage gap: it’s just not the one that most people think exists. The gap as cited by the hypothetical friend who, in this case, represents first-world feminism, isn’t there; in fact, the assertion is ridiculous. The Equal Pay Act prohibits paying less on the basis of sex and there are no two ways about it. In fact that guy probably used the example of a CEO who’s hiring for their company and just hires all of the women since he can apparently get away without paying them as much! He’s right there.

However, since we’ve established that the wage gap does exist, is there still wage disparity for the same work? Sort of. In similar fields, women tend to get paid at least 96% as much as men, and many experts say that maternity leave and the fact that men are more likely to work extreme overtime (think 80+ hours a week) account for this minor difference. But the fact remains that the average woman earns about 78% as much as the average man. Why?

The simple answer is career choices. While the actual causes of this should be examined a lot more rigorously and scientifically than my blog post can give credit for, it should suffice to say that there are a lot less women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields than men; there are less female lawyers, as in just over a third according to the American Bar Association; and there are less women in politics. I won’t speculate on why this is the case, but it is.

It should change. One great blind spot of modern liberalism is that they are inclusive for inclusiveness’ sake; the corresponding blind spot for conservatives is that they have chosen to not care about inclusiveness, just egalitarianism. Both are short-sighted. Diversity is a good when tempered by egalitarianism. A diversity of opinions and perspectives is necessary for dialogue no matter what field you’re in and especially necessary when it comes to politics.

We, as people, can help no matter our position in life. Whether you are in one of those fields, in another career, or a stay-at-home kind of person (retired or otherwise), whether you’re a man or a woman, whether you’re old or young, it doesn’t matter; you can help encourage people to follow their career goals. This is a cultural change and it will take some time. Results won’t be overnight, they’ll be in the next generation (mine) which continues to close the wage gap that actually exists and hopefully stop fighting the one that doesn’t. We can’t change this with legislation or forcing industries to give women top positions; that merely creates feelings of resentment for those who feel maligned, in this case men. It backfires.

The solution is to tell the little girl who says she’ll be the President one day that you’ll vote for her instead of asking if she’d rather be a princess.

Besides, the last six-year-old girl who told me she’d be President would institute mandatory playtimes since everyone gets stressed at work, and I’m down for that. Ashleigh 2048, ladies and gentlemen.


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