Today is Equal Pay Day– the day on which feminists claim that women have finally made enough money in 2007 to make up for last year’s “wage gap.” If you are one of the few who is unfamiliar with the term “wage gap,” it’s the catch phrase used for the difference in earnings between the median full-time working man and the median full-time working woman. The Department of Labor regularly publishes this statistic, which shows that women make on average about 75 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Feminists and liberal politicians regularly trumpet this statistic as evidence of systemic workplace discrimination.
On this particular Equal Pay Day, the House Education and Workforce Committee is holding a hearing on legislation designed to close the gap by instituting new regulations on businesses and empowering D.C. bureaucrats to further investigate private employers’ compensation packages. Feminist groups are also gathering in D.C. and elsewhere to lament the injustice and demand action from policymakers.
Another group should join in the fun: men who work part-time. The same Department of Labor statistics that show the wage gap among full-time workers reveals a gap among those who work part-time. But this time it’s the men who are the victims. The median male part-time worker makes about 90 percent of the earnings of the median part-time woman. Their “Equal Pay Day” would fall in mid-February, not April, but the concept is the same.
Men who are enthused by things like Equal Pay Day rallies should demand answers: Why are men who work part-time being targeted for discrimination? They should picket the Department of Labor and demand that officials contact the biggest employers of part-time workers; investigations must be made into the roots of the anti-male bias that motivates their payment practices.
Of course, this won’t happen. And most people who learn of this statistic will intuitively sense that there must be some explanation more benign than discrimination. By thinking of the individuals you know and using your common sense, you can come up with many other factors that might contribute to this outcome. Many part-time workers are young. For many, their part-time job may also be their first job. Yet we also know that many women who have previously spent years in the workforce later seek out part-time employment, particularly when they have young children.
The Department of Labor’s data confirms these presumptions. Seventy percent of women working part-time are over age 25, compared to less than half of part-time men. It’s no surprise that the female part-time workers, who are older and more experienced, would make more than their male colleagues.
Yet someone who looked simply at the discrepancy between the wages earned by male and female part-time workers might conclude that these men were victims of discrimination. That would be a mistake, and it’s exactly what happens in the national conversation about the wage gap among full-time workers.
Politicians and feminist activists fixate on one data point–median weekly earnings– and ignore the many other factors that influence that number. They don’t take into account the average number of hours worked per day (the average full-time working woman works about a half-hour less for her employer than the average full-time working man). They don’t consider differences in occupation, years of experience, education, amount of travel required, level of danger, distance traveled to the job, benefits, level of fulfillment, or any of the many other factors that affect earnings.
Those who have even a moderately sophisticated understanding of statistics know that they can be as misleading as they are informative. In the case of the Department of Labor statistic known as the “wage gap,” this oft-repeated factoid really tells us very little about the prevalence of workplace discrimination.
Carrie Lukas is the vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism.
This article was first published in National Review.