The Senate will take up the Paycheck Fairness Act, today.  June O’Neill offers an insightful opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on Washington’s Equal Pay Obsession:

Women in the workplace don’t face rampant pay discrimination, and yet the Senate may soon pass a bill-already passed in the House-premised on the erroneous charge that they do. The Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) would be a harmful addition to the many federal laws that already protect women and men from labor-market discrimination.

His piece provides a long list of antidiscrimination policies to prove the point that women already have sufficient remedies to fight workplace discrimination. Nevertheless, the Senate will take up the Act in just a few hours. Mark J. Perry over at the American Enterprise Institute gives us a lead as to why that is:

The most recent economic research suggests that paycheck fairness is already a reality, and therefore women’s pay won’t change much if the “Paycheck Fairness Act” passes. There is, however, one group whose paychecks might get a lot fatter if new legislation goes into effect: trial lawyers, an important point made by June O’Neill in the Wall Street Journal (“this new legislation would simply provide a feast for lawyers”), AEI’s Christina Hoff Sommers recently in the New York Times, and last week by the Chicago Tribune.

IWF recently published a policy paper on the Unintended Consequences of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which lists the following harmful consequences should the Act be passed:

  • Employers would face  far greater liability and potentially frivolous lawsuits
  • Employers would be burdened with more regulations and paperwork
  • The role of government in employers’ compensation decisions would be vastly expanded
  • Flexible working arrangements would be discouraged

It seems that proponents of the Paycheck Fairness Act overlook that we have entered an age in which women lead in the economy. If anybody needs extra encouragement and support to adapt to our rapidly expanding post-industrial economy, it’s men.  The Atlantic had an excellent article on the End of Men this summer, highlighting some of the features of the 21st century economy that allow women to excel economically while leaving men behind. Below is a summary of some of the main points.

Post-industrial society is fueled by services which require more thinking, communicating, and an inclusive management style that focuses on collaboration, rather than on physical strength, stamina, and a command and control management style, features men excelled at in the past. Women are taking the lead in this new economy and country-wide data reflects this trend.

In 2006, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development devised the Gender, Institutions and Development Database, which measures the economic and political power of women in 162 countries. With few exceptions, the greater the power of women, the greater the country’s economic success.

While female CEOs are still a rarity, a 2008 study by researchers at the Columbia Business School and the University of Maryland, shows that female leadership qualities are already prominent drivers of firm success:

[The] study attempted to quantify the effect of this more-feminine management style. […] Firms that had women in top positions performed better, and this was especially true if the firm pursued what the researchers called an “innovation intensive strategy,” in which, they argued, “creativity and collaboration may be especially important”-an apt description of the future economy.

The Atlantic predicts that, if men don’t bridge the gap and successfully adapt to the needs of a post-industrial society, more of American society will reflect the current situation in African American communities where women are the main breadwinners and decision makers who raise their children without men.

The sociologist Kathryn Edin spent five years talking with low-income mothers in the inner suburbs of Philadelphia. Many of these neighborhoods, she found, had turned into matriarchies, with women making all the decisions and dictating what the men should and should not do.

The women, she explained, “make every important decision”-whether to have a baby, how to raise it, where to live. “It’s definitely ‘my way or the highway,'” she said. “Thirty years ago, cultural norms were such that the fathers might have said, ‘Great, catch me if you can.’ Now they are desperate to father, but they are pessimistic about whether they can meet her expectations.” The women don’t want them as husbands, and they have no steady income to provide. So what do they have?

Edin thinks the most compelling theory is that marriage has disappeared because women are setting the terms-and setting them too high for the men around them to reach. “I want that white-picket-fence dream,” one woman told Edin, and the men she knew just didn’t measure up, so she had become her own one-woman mother/father/nurturer/provider.

The whole country’s future could look much as the present does for many lower-class African Americans: the mothers pull themselves up, but the men don’t follow. First-generation college-educated white women may join their black counterparts in a new kind of middle class, where marriage is increasingly rare.

Women are leading the way in this new economy. The more pertinent question is: Are men being left behind? The current policy focus on securing equal pay for women is misguided, and passing the Paycheck Fairness Act will likely result in doing more harm than good.