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October 17 2012

From the Debate: The Wage Gap and the Daughters v. Sons Myth

Carrie L. Lukas

I guess it is inevitable that the wage gap myth had to be a part of the official presidential debates of 2012.  Though thoroughly debunked, it’s a staple of the Left’s campaign to convince women that our society is a heartless, sexist patriarchy and a micromanaging government is the only way women can hope to get a fair shake.

Diana Furchtgott Roth details all of the evidence that the wage gap is a misleading statistic that tells us  nothing about discrimination in the workplace.  IWF has written about this almost countless times too.

One might wonder how many times the government can “solve” the equal pay problem.  The President seems to want to have it both ways:  His Administration has been a leader in solving this problem, but there is always a need for more legislation—and more government—under this banner.  The simple truth is that this a problem that will never be “solved” because it’s really not a problem—at least it’s not for anyone but radical feminists who will only be satisfied when men and women have indistinguishable roles in society. 

The basic fact is that the wage gap is largely a product of women and men having different preferences for how to live their lives and the role of paid work.  Women tend to make choices that lead to lower-pay.  Women should understand the financial impact of the decisions they make—whether that’s to pursue a lower-paying career that they find personally rewarding, or to take years out of the workforce to stay home with children—but differences in individuals’ preferences are not “problems” in need of a government fix.  

Of course, paying a woman less for equal work has long been illegal, and the real policy questions in the Lilly Ledbetter Law is how those lawsuits must proceed.  One can argue that before the Ledbetter Act, women didn’t have enough time to file a lawsuit, but one should also recognize that opening up the potential for employees to sue decades after a pay decision has been made will also create its own injustices:  Namely that these matters will be litigated long after the parties who made the decisions are gone so that any damages against the company will be borne by employees who had nothing to do with any long-past discrimination.  An increase of frivolous lawsuits is also a drag on the economy, and the specter of more litigation another deterrent to job creation, which hardly seems like what the economy needs today.

Yet the wage gap stat wasn’t the element that bothered me the most in that exchange during last night’s debate. It was this statement by the President:

I’ve got two daughters and I want to make sure that they have the same opportunities that anybody’s sons have. That’s part of what I’m fighting for as president of the United States.

As Sabrina and I write in our recent book, on many measures, women—particularly young women—are doing far better than men.   They are more educated, more optimistic and motivated about the future, and have longer life expectancies and better health than men.   

I can honestly say that never in my life have I thought that being female in any way handicapped me or limited me in terms of pursuing any dream.  President Obama’s daughters are a generation behind me.  Surely they cannot seriously think that somehow their prospects are limited by their sex.

Moreover, I believe that most parents who have both boys and girls would agree with my sense that it is actually boys who seem to have a less certain path in American society today.  I have much more concern about how my son will be viewed by teachers, and what he will be told about men’s place in society, than I do for my daughters.  At a minimum, the idea that our daughters are somehow systematically short-changed is a long-passed relic.  But apparently it’s a relic that Democrats see as useful as they push their “War on Women” campaign.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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