Monday, June 04, 2007

The Pay Gap Between Men and Women

When reading through yesterday's Washington Post Outlook Section, I read the headline for this piece and thought, "ah, another pay discrimination story" and almost moved on, but his part caught my attention and I read deeper:
But unless today's women make some changes, that's exactly what may happen. This goes beyond that conventional salary-disparity culprit, workplace discrimination, that was the subject of a Supreme Court ruling last week. If Funk and her female classmates don't prosper as much as their male colleagues do, it will probably be because they didn't dream rich enough dreams in choosing their major.
For once, the blame for the pay disparity among men and women is being properly attributed to personal decisions and not some insidious "discrimination" cause that no one can really prove on a widespread basis. That is not to say that pay discrimiantion doesn't occur, it does, but not on a wider scale that feminists would have the public believe.

Linda Hirschman writes further:
Why does this happen? It's not as though the women are 15 percent dumber. After all, they enter college with better grades and graduate with better grades. Nor is it self-inflicted, driven by women who opt out to care for children or pick up socks. Most of the competing workers are single and childless and have no gaps in their nascent résumés.

In fact, what the AAUW report reveals is that, at almost every step of the way, women could make decisions that would keep them even with their male classmates. But they don't.

The biggest decision any student keeping an eye on the bottom line can make is the choice of a major. According to the AAUW report, women who major in education make 60 percent of what female engineers make in their first year of work. But far more women still choose education over engineering.

Despite the talk of discrimination, the same disparity holds true for the guys. (A male accounting trainee just out of the University of Albany is making close to six figures, while another young man I know, who has a degree in anthropology and political science from Brandeis, is hoping it won't be too cold in Boston this winter so he can live on his $20,000 internship salary.) But here's a difference: Unlike the female Tulane psych grad, the Brandeis guy is thinking about his longterm income and going to law school.
The AAUW study Hirshman is quoting really does look beyond the traditional media meme of pay discrimination and look at why the pay gap starts and persits. The choices that young women make in college affects their earning potential, which then affects the family decisions they make later on once they wed, including which spouse, if either, stays home with the kids.

The structural deficiency may indeed be cultural, in that our culture does not push women to take the same kind of career-minded risks that men take.
Maybe, on the whole, women just aren't as interested in worldly success as men are. According to AAUW, 25 percent more men than women go to "highly selective" schools. In that very formative first year in the work world, 10 percent more men are working full-time for one employer rather than holding several part-time or successive full-time jobs, as women are more apt to do. Studies show that women don't ask for as much money as men do and that they're less willing to take the higher risks that often accompany higher-paying jobs.

If women just don't want to become engineers or run big firms, well, it's a free country. But the social consequences of these decisions are not positive. Consider that just as AAUW released its report, the big news about women in the media -- as reported by Women in Media and the News -- was that the reality-TV show "America's Next Top Model" was running an episode featuring the scarily thin competitors posing as victims in a shoot about murder and suicide. Surely this isn't the best we can offer our young women to aspire to.

The poet Wordsworth said the child is father to the man. If the girl is mother to the woman, her child-rearing skills are sorely in need of some sharpening.
Intersting thoughts and at least we are looking at the real root cause of pay disparities, rather than merely noting the pay gap.

How do we as a society address the gap? By making people aware of the fact that, surprise, surprise, choices have consequences.

1 comment:

rightwingprof said...

This is timely. I'm working on an article on this very topic to submit to the carnival this week.

The dept of ed data bear out the same conclusion, by the way.