Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Societal assumptions can be a problem too

Yesterday was Equal Pay Day, the day the National Committee on Pay Equity has calculated is the number of days into this year that the average woman would have to work to make as much as the average man made last year. The heart of that calculation is the statistic that on average women in America earn 77% as much as men.

The right has been attacking that 77% figure. The best explanation I could find for their problems with the number is from the allegedly non-partisan WP Fact Checker column:
In other words, since women in general work fewer hours than men in a year, the statistics used by the White House may be less reliable for examining the key focus of the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act — wage discrimination. For instance, annual wage figures do not take into account the fact that teachers — many of whom are women — have a primary job that fills nine months out of the year.  The weekly wage is more of an apples-to-apples comparison, but it does not include as many income categories.
June O’Neill, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, has noted that the wage gap is affected by a number of factors, including that the average woman has less work experience than the average man and that more of the weeks worked by women are part-time rather than full-time. Women also tend to leave the work force for periods in order to raise children, seek jobs that may have more flexible hours but lower pay and choose careers that tend to have lower pay.
But isn't the fact that women are more likely to work part time, take jobs with shorter or more flexible hours, or leave the work force to raise children itself a product of sexism? Society assumes that women are primarily responsible for childcare and other family issues. There are stay at home dads these days but they still are very much the minority. Even if Kessler is right and most of the disparity is not due to wage discrimination (and I'm not positive that he is right), that doesn't mean that the difference is earnings isn't real or that difference isn't due to people treating women differently than men. It's still a problem.