The Unsolvable Equation of Equal Pay for Equal Work

Now that we’ve passed what is referred to as Equal Pay Day – for which I once again failed to receive so much as a single Hallmark card – and in an election year to boot, Democrats across the land are busily engaged in their now biannual ritual of declaring that Republicans hate women. Favorite among their numerous points of so-called proof of the war on all things female is the stubborn refusal of many conservatives to buy into a variety of legislative adventures into social correction regarding wages earned by each gender. The preferred phrase which is shouted from rooftops near and far is, “equal pay for equal work.”


There are quite a few toppings on this particular stinkburger, some of which have already been covered by critical thinkers from across the ideological spectrum. And while I feel there is a more fundamental problem with this progressive argument – which I’ll return to shortly – there are two which are worth revisiting here.

First, at the highest level, it has already been discovered that the much ballyhooed meme of women making 77 cents on the dollar as compared to their male counterparts is not the result of evil bosses attempting to keep the womenfolk pregnant in the kitchen sans shoes. Less excitable observers have already noted that of the ten most financially lucrative degree programs in colleges, nine of them attract a majority of boys. Conversely, in the ten areas of study leading to the lowest average financial remuneration, 90% are favored more heavily by girls. Assuming you bothered to take even the most rudimentary math classes in school, you should be able to suss out how the wage cookie crumbles given those starting parameters.

The second is an argument which was already made admirably by Katie Packer Gage. Even if you boil down employees in any discipline to nothing more than the sum of the items on their individual resumes, coming up with a definition of “equal” is a virtual impossibility. If a company seeks to hire some set number of engineers, accounts, attorneys or architects, should the males be paid more than the females for each opening filled? Obviously not. But should they all be paid the same amount? The answer, again, is no. What if one has more years of experience than another? Holds more patents? Arrives with a list of loyal clients they will bring to the firm?  The very idea of “equality” in this setting is entirely fictional.


But neither of these entirely valid points gets to what I personally view as the deeper problem with the rallying cry of Equal Pay for Equal work. Excuse me for making a rather boorish observation, but it’s my solemn duty to inform some of you that this entire enterprise is constructed on a flawed foundation. In the real world, where those earning or providing paychecks must exist, the concept of equal pay for equal work is battered by the reality that, above the level of minimum wage labor, both the quality and quantity of work is rarely equal. And attempts by Care Bear government nannies to forcibly level this particular playing field are not only patently unfair, but toxic to the entire concept of labor and enterprise.

Even if we strip away the resumes, the professional association awards and the college degrees from employees at any place of business, the remaining worker bees will not be remotely close to equal or interchangeable. Some newly hired workers will fail to meet the minimum standards and fall out of the race, but the remaining, qualified competitors are not all sprinting at the same speed. Many will do what is required of them to satisfy the job requirements, but little more. And that may prove to be enough of an effort to establish a viable career. But others will always go the extra mile, working to stand out from the rest of the herd. They are the ones who add real value to a team and become noticed. They develop a reputation and they bring that with them when the time comes to look for that next position. And yes, they will generally wind up being paid more… because they earned it.


Attempting to hammer these peaks in the performance pallet down into some flat, homogenous mass by way of government intervention should horrify us. Demanding that pay be tied to government mandated quotas based on gender, race, religion or left versus right handedness is a disaster waiting to happen. The greatest incentive for the worker is pay, with all due apologies to those working in the HR department. And when the incentive of higher pay based purely on performance is diminished by demands for wages subject to demographic equation analysis, the corresponding incentive to excel vanishes.

Not to put too blunt of a point on the issue, but this is the reason communism never works. Or, as the musician Frank Zappa put it in somewhat more blunt terms, “communism doesn’t work because people like to own stuff.” In fact, they like to own lots of stuff, and some will always outperform the pack in the effort to realize those rewards. And none of this speaks to the vested interest companies have in attempting to negotiate the lowest salary an employee will accept in the interest of remaining competitive.

Still, if we are facing a situation where too many women are, on average, earning less than men, it is certainly worth our time to figure out why. One reason, cited above, is that too many of our daughters are choosing academic paths which lead to less lucrative careers. Another possibility is that – for whatever reason – some women may be poorer at negotiating when it comes time to discuss salaries. (This is a theory which was put forth by Mika Brzezinski in the book Knowing Your Value.) But if either (or both!) of these conditions are valid, the solution will not be found by way of government intervention.


These are societal problems which can only be meaningfully addressed through the family and the community. Providing guidance to children when they are making their first critical choices regarding college and career is the job of a parent. And living with the results of your decisions if you ignore such advice is part of being an adult. If young women are too timid in negotiating, parents are failing to instill in them the skills and attitude required to excel. This is a shortcoming of the home, not the legislature. Government has neither the tools nor the skill to rectify such conditions and we should not be encouraging it to attempt the feat.


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