On Sunday, Democrats commemorated the 55th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act — by demanding further legislation against the gender wage gap. Citing aggregate and misleading statistics, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) essentially blamed Republicans for “robbing” roughly $400,000 from women over the course of their careers.
“Fifty-five years after the law was enacted, women still earn on average only 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man,” Pelosi declared in a statement. “Today, this shocking wage gap robs women of a total of $403,440 over the course of their careers, making it much more difficult for millions of hard-working women and their families to pay their monthly bills for groceries, rent, child care, and health care.”
Guess whom she blamed for this “robbery”?
“Instead of working with Democrats to close the wage gap and help lift up working families, Republicans have ignored this vital issue and cynically worked to give the American people a raw deal as they undermine the strength of the middle class,” the Democrat leader argued.
Pelosi led Democrats in commemorating the Equal Pay Act, which President John F. Kennedy signed into law on June 10, 1963, and which explicitly outlawed sex discrimination in wages. The law indeed marked an important step forward, making it illegal for employers to engage in the kind of wage discrimination Democrats continue to accuse them of doing.
Pelosi also led her party in making the call for further legislation to close “loopholes” in the legislation, enabling the wage gap to persist. “To finally ensure the full promise of the Equal Pay Act for all American women, Congress must finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to strengthen and close loopholes in the 1963 law, and give women the tools they need to ensure they are paid fairly and equally to their male counterparts,” she said.
Many other Democrats — even vulnerable liberal U.S. senators up for reelection like Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) — echoed Pelosi.
“It’s been 55 years since the Equal Pay Act became law, yet women across Montana know there’s more to do to make equal pay a reality,” Tester tweeted. “Women deserve equal pay for equal work, and that’s why I’ll keep fighting to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.”
It’s been 55 years since the Equal Pay Act became law, yet women across Montana know there’s more to do to make equal pay a reality. Women deserve equal pay for equal work, and that’s why I’ll keep fighting to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. #mtpol #mtsen pic.twitter.com/ALkn1LyhI1
— Jon Tester (@jontester) June 10, 2018
“The [Equal Pay Act] turns 55 years old today and I am proud to continue to stand up in support of fair pay. The [Paycheck Fairness Act] would bring us closer to the goal of pay equity and build upon the promise of the Equal Pay Act,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) chimed in.
The #EqualPayAct turns 55 years old today and I am proud to continue to stand up in support of fair pay. The #PaycheckFairnessAct would bring us closer to the goal of pay equity and build upon the promise of the Equal Pay Act. pic.twitter.com/5TIhVN6ZAj
— Sen. Maria Cantwell (@SenatorCantwell) June 10, 2018
“Today, the Equal Pay Act turns 55 and women on average still only make 80 cents for every dollar a man makes – and it is even less for women of color. It’s time that comes to an end, that’s why I support the Paycheck Fairness Act,” Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) added.
Today, the Equal Pay Act turns 55 and women on average still only make 80 cents for every dollar a man makes – and it is even less for women of color. It's time that comes to an end, that's why I support the Paycheck Fairness Act.
— Sen. Maggie Hassan (@SenatorHassan) June 10, 2018
While it is true that women do make less than men in aggregate, that does not prove anything like the wage discrimination these Democrats alleged. Ultimately, the problem isn’t that there are “loopholes” allowing gender discrimination, but that men and women in general make different employment decisions.
Pelosi’s suggestion that “the system” in general — or Republicans in particular — is to blame for the fact that women on average make $403,440 less than men throughout their careers denies agency to both women and men, who make different decisions for different reasons.
“The reality is that men and women make very different career and work choices, and frequently play very different family roles, especially for families with children,” Andrew Biggs and Mark Perry, economists and scholars at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), explained. “These choices reasonably account for most of the gender differences in earnings and don’t point to widespread gender pay discrimination in the workplace.”
Men on average are more likely to take dangerous and/or demanding jobs at the risk of more time away from their families, while women (perhaps wisely) tend to value time with family more highly. “Data show that male employees tend to have more years of work experience than females, and also work more hours per week on average than women,” the AEI scholars pointed out.
“Men also tend to gravitate toward college majors with greater market value than women,” they added, citing familiar statistics that 80 percent of engineer and computer science majors are male, while two-thirds of liberal arts, drama, dance, and education majors are female.
Besides the lifestyle and academic differences, men are also more likely than women to suffer in their lifestyles for better work. The average American male spends 4,500 more minutes commuting to work each year — the equivalent of nine eight-hour days sitting in traffic.
Men are also more likely to take risky jobs. The 20 jobs with the highest occupational fatality rates tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are on average 93 percent male. Safer jobs, such as office and administrative support and education, training, and library occupations, are roughly three-quarters female.
CEOs are more likely male, but the disparities are even higher in other fields. Logging (94.9 percent), fishing (99.9 percent), piloting (94.8 percent), roofing (98.3 percent), and garbage collecting (91.4 percent) are overwhelmingly male occupations. By contrast, 70 percent of nonprofit jobs focused on advocacy are held by women.
As female libertarian YouTube star Julie Borowski put it, “What do you prefer: a low paying job that you love or a high paying job that you hate? My guess is that many men and women would answer that differently.”
Demands for more and more government to enforce equal pay for men and women are insisting on an equality of outcome that is impossible to mandate. If government were to forcibly erase the gender pay gap, it would involve quite a few actions most Americans would find downright totalitarian.
Should women be forced to keep working when they have children? Should fathers be randomly assigned to drop out of the workforce, to ensure that an equal amount of men and women take a break from work to care for children? Should women be forced to take more dangerous jobs? Should women be forced to major in science, technology, engineering, and math — by law?
On a more immediate note, if Congress made it easier for female employees to sue companies on the suspicion of unfair treatment, companies would become much more hesitant to hire women, because the liability of a lawsuit would increase dramatically. In other words, the very law Democrats want may make life more difficult for the people they want to help.
By all means, the Equal Pay Act should be celebrated and enforced. True discrimination on the basis of sex is disgusting and rightly outlawed. But there are many more factors than outright discrimination, and men and women should have the freedom to choose their own paths, even if those choices often lead to a gender pay gap.