In the Western world, given that the business of work has always been a patriarchal form of control system, headed up by ‘old boy’s clubs,’ it cannot surprise us that as women started entering the workforce in significant numbers they were taken advantage of in terms of remuneration, and undervalued for the work they did compared to men.
Today, mainstream perception holds that the ‘gender wage gap’ is still with us, and is showing few signs of getting resolved. Certainly there has been no official announcement in recent years that we have fully bridged the gap, nor does one seem to be forthcoming any time soon.
The frequently-used statistic that is bandied around is that on average women earn 77 cents compared to one dollar for men. The conclusion most people draw from this is that in any particular job, where qualifications, years of experience, productivity and other relevant factors are equal, a woman will make an average of 23% less than a man.
In the short video below, featuring Christina Hoff Sommers, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, not only will this notion be brought into question, but the idea that we still have any fundamental discrimination against women at all in the workforce is challenged as well.
Separating Fact From Fiction
In the video, the first thing that Hoff Sommers tackles is some clarification around that notion of women earning 77 cents on the dollar. She hypothesizes that if women truly earned 77 cents compared to one dollar for men, then companies (whose bottom line is money) would be prone to hiring only women in order to save 23% on salaries. Obviously this is not happening, and the details about what this calculation is based on helps to explain why:
The 77-cents-on-the-dollar statistic is calculated by dividing the median earnings of all women working full time by the median earnings of all men working full time. But these calculations don’t involve a gender wage injustice because it doesn’t take into account occupation, position, education, or hours worked per week.
She goes on to explain how the ‘gender wage gap’ is more a matter of individual choices of those who work rather than a matter of discrimination based on gender, and gives some hard evidence to back it up:
In 2009, the US Department of Labor released a paper that examined more than 50 peer-reviewed studies and concluded that the oft-cited 23 percent wage gap “may be almost entirely the result of individual choices being made by both male and female workers.”
Different Educational Choices
One of the most significant and impactful individual choices where men and women differ is which career to actually get training and education in. Hoff Sommers notes that Georgetown University compiled a list of the 5 best-paying college majors and the 5 worst-paying college majors, and noted the percentage of men and women who major in those fields:
Five Best-Paying College Majors
- Petroleum Engineering: 87% male
- Pharmaceutical Sciences: 48% male
- Mathematics and Computer Science: 67% male
- Aerospace Engineering: 88% male
- Chemical Engineering: 72% male
Five Worst-Paying College Majors
- Counseling and Psychology: 74% female
- Early Childhood Education: 97% female
- Theology and Religious Vocations: 34% female
- Human Services and Community Organization: 81% female
- Social Work: 88% female
As a whole, it is fairly self-evident that if men choose their majors based on ‘what pays the most’ more than women do, they will end up having a much higher median income. This does not completely address the discussion as to what kind of work should be more valued in society, and thus compensated at a higher rate, but it nonetheless gives us more reason to question the conventional notion of the ‘gender wage gap’ in which we are made to believe that women are being paid significantly less than men for doing the same job.
There is strong evidence that the powers-that-be do everything they can to divide us in all areas of difference: race, religion, culture, age, and certainly gender as well. Tensions between genders get stoked when a stereotypical perception is maintained that men still don’t consider women as equal and don’t believe they deserve equal pay for equal work.
The discussion in the video helps us by bringing facts to bear to the discussion, and grounds us better in the reality we currently face. This does not mean there are no instances where disparity exists in the workplace, but it serves as a foundation for men and women to work together on issues grounded in the facts, without the need to approach the issues from polarized gender positions.