When Rachel Maddow appeared on Meet the Press recently and threw out the figure that women earn only 80 cents to the dollar compared to what men earn, she was flummoxed that the statistic wasn’t taken as gospel truth.

It is interesting that Maddow and many other liberals often appear never to have heard the counter arguments. But the so-called wage gap has been roundly debunked. Kay Hymowitz’s excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal has already been remarked upon here.

Now National Review Editor Rich Lowry is the latest wage gap challenger. In an excellent piece today on NRO (it quotes IWF’s Carrie Lukas), Lowry writes:

An entire movement has grown up around the factoid that American women make about 80 percent of the pay of men. It is a reliable talking point of Democrats who insist the country is racked by a “War on Women.”

A raft of proposed legislation purports to remedy the discrimination exposed by the damning number. It is the only bad statistic with a day devoted to it, “Equal Pay Day,” which falls in April to signify how much longer women have to work into the New Year to make what men earned in the previous year.

Tradition says that the day must be marked with wailing and gnashing of teeth, and lots of press releases from advocacy organizations….

Never mind that the figure is crude and misleading. The latest data from the Labor Department say that women made 82.2 percent of what men made in the first quarter of 2012. That’s a considerable gap, but comparing all women versus all men is not particularly telling when all sorts of variables — occupation, levels of experience, education, hours worked — are in play.

Rich quotes Warren Ferrell, author of Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap—and What Women Can Do about It.” Ferrell says that the 25 most stressful jobs (firefighter, sheet metal worker, etc.) are about 90 percent male. As Carrie is quoted saying, women tend to gravitate towards jobs with more desirable conditions.

When these choices are factored into the equation, the wage gap almost disappears. The wage gap in also under threat on another front: Women make up more than half the nationls college and university students, and their attitudes towards work are becoming more similar to those of men. Lowry writes:

In light of all this, it stands to reason that the wage gap will narrow, even if it doesn’t disappear. A study by a research organization called Reach Advisors shows that single women in their 20s make 105 percent of what single men in their 20s make in urban areas, and 120 percent “in certain cities with a heavily knowledge-driven employment base.” These women must not realize that they will never make their way in the workplace without Congress somehow acting to ensure “equal pay.”  

In the end, the reality doesn’t matter. A bad statistic never dies.

In this, I disagree with Rich. IWF has been a longtime debunker of the wage gap notion. Many young women recognize that it is a phony figure. The 2012 presidential race, when the Obama campaign will undoubtedly invoke the wage gap, could be another teachable moment.