Open Thread: About That Gender Pay Gap

As part of the ludicrous "war on women" idea that liberals have been pushing designed to scare educated females into voting Democrat, the old notion of a "pay gap" between men and women performing similar jobs has been resurrected. Unfortunately, as Kay Hymowitz wrote in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, it's a bunch of nonsense. While it's true that some women get paid less than men, that's because generally women with children are less likely to work longer hours at work. Take kids out of the picture, however, and it is women who actually earn more. Could it be that people are simply adjusting their own lives to fit their wants and needs? Perish the thought!

One stubborn fact of the labor market argues against the idea. That is the gender-hours gap, close cousin of the gender-wage gap. Most people have heard that full-time working American women earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. Yet these numbers don't take into account the actual number of hours worked. And it turns out that women work fewer hours than men.

The Labor Department defines full-time as 35 hours a week or more, and the "or more" is far more likely to refer to male workers than to female ones. According to the department, almost 55% of workers logging more than 35 hours a week are men. In 2007, 25% of men working full-time jobs had workweeks of 41 or more hours, compared with 14% of female full-time workers. In other words, the famous gender-wage gap is to a considerable degree a gender-hours gap.

The main reason that women spend less time at work than men—and that women are unlikely to be the richer sex—is obvious: children. Today, childless 20-something women do earn more than their male peers. But most are likely to cut back their hours after they have kids, giving men the hours, and income, advantage.

One study by the American Association for University Women looked at women who graduated from college in 1992-93 and found that 23% of those who had become mothers were out of the workforce in 2003; another 17% were working part-time. Fewer than 2% of fathers fell into those categories. Another study, of M.B.A. graduates from Chicago's Booth School, discovered that only half of women with children were working full-time 10 years after graduation, compared with 95% of men.

Women, in fact, make up two-thirds of America's part-time workforce. A just-released report from the New York Federal Reserve has even found that "opting-out" by midcareer college-educated wives, especially those with wealthy husbands, has been increasing over the past 20 years.

Hymowitz doesn't focus too much on the wealthier childless women but this 2010 article from Time magazine, no bastion of conservatism, delves a bit deeper into the phenomenon. And since it's Time, instead of just telling the facts, the piece is headlined with a rah-rah headline "Workplace Salaries: At Last, Women on Top." Whatever happened to the idea that feminism was about equality, not superiority? That aside, here are some key grafs from the Time piece:

[A]ccording to a new analysis of 2,000 communities by a market research company, in 147 out of 150 of the biggest cities in the U.S., the median full-time salaries of young women are 8% higher than those of the guys in their peer group. In two cities, Atlanta and Memphis, those women are making about 20% more. This squares with earlier research from Queens College, New York, that had suggested that this was happening in major metropolises. But the new study suggests that the gap is bigger than previously thought, with young women in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego making 17%, 12% and 15% more than their male peers, respectively. And it also holds true even in reasonably small areas like the Raleigh-Durham region and Charlotte in North Carolina (both 14% more), and Jacksonville, Fla. (6%). (See TIME's special report on the state of the American woman.)

Here's the slightly deflating caveat: this reverse gender gap, as it's known, applies only to unmarried, childless women under 30 who live in cities. The rest of working women — even those of the same age, but who are married or don't live in a major metropolitan area — are still on the less scenic side of the wage divide.

The figures come from James Chung of Reach Advisors, who has spent more than a year analyzing data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey. He attributes the earnings reversal overwhelmingly to one factor: education. For every two guys who graduate from college or get a higher degree, three women do. This is almost the exact opposite of the graduation ratio that existed when the baby boomers entered college. Studies have consistently shown that a college degree pays off in much higher wages over a lifetime, and even in many cases for entry-level positions. "These women haven't just caught up with the guys," says Chung. "In many cities, they're clocking them."

Chung also claims that, as far as women's pay is concerned, not all cities are created equal. Having pulled data on 2,000 communities and cross-referenced the demographic information with the wage-gap figures, he found that the cities where women earned more than men had at least one of three characteristics. Some, like New York City or Los Angeles, had primary local industries that were knowledge-based. Others were manufacturing towns whose industries had shrunk, especially smaller ones like Erie, Pa., or Terre Haute, Ind. Still others, like Miami or Monroe, La., had a majority minority population. (Hispanic and black women are twice as likely to graduate from college as their male peers.)

Once again, as with many issues, it is liberals who are seeing things through a black-and-white perspective, in this case the notion that evil males are oppressing women, when reality is far more nuanced than they'd want you to believe.

Be sure to read the Hymowitz article because she talks further about how it appears that no level of government intervention, including in the much-touted Scandinavian countries, seems to be able to stop the "pay gap." Perhaps it should be called the interest gap instead.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013