Today is the Equal Pay Day 2022. This is a holiday created to draw awareness to the gap between what men and women earn–about 18 cents. But be careful, this statistic is misleading. (We’ll explain below.)

On Equal Pay Day, a narrative of widespread sex-based discrimination in the workforce is promoted. Activists and lawmakers rally women with the slogan “equal pay for equal work” and use the holiday to push for federal legislation that they claim will close the wage gap and end discrimination–even though sex-based discrimination is already outlawed.

The victimization narrative of women in the workplace doesn’t just end today but continues into the year with various Equal Pay Days devoted to women of color. 

Before, jumping onto the equal work for equal pay bandwagon, here are 3 things you should know on Equal Pay Day:

  1. The pay gap is smaller than reported and more within a woman’s control than they tell us. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates the raw wage gap by comparing the median salary for all male and female full-time wage and salary workers. In 2020, they found that female workers earned 82 percent compared to male workers (82 cents to each dollar that men earn). Not controlled for are the many factors that contribute to the wage gap such as seniority, education, hours, and working conditions. When controlling for those factors the pay gap shrinks to a few cents. found that the controlled gap is just one penny! In other words, the wage gap is not a metric of “equal pay for equal work.”
  1. The pay gaps for women of color may be bigger but are still largely explainable by work-related choices. The uncontrolled pay gaps for black, Hispanic, and Native American women with white men are bigger than the overall pay gap: $0.79, $0.78, and $0.71 respectively. However, the controlled pay gaps are nearly nothing: $0.98, $0.99, and $0.99. Asian women actually start out with a very small uncontrolled pay gap ($0.97) and actually outearn white men when other factors are controlled for ($1.03). That never gets mentioned. Again, choices such as industry, occupation, education, and time worked all impact the pay gap for women of color. 
  2. Women’s workplace needs go beyond more pay. Women more often than men seek jobs that allow them greater flexibility or more fulfillment. A recent Gallup poll found that 66 percent of women looking for a new job sought a greater work-life balance, followed by compensation and benefits. Conversely, most men sought to bump up their income and benefits as their top priority (63 percent). Women work fewer hours than men each week and may take jobs, career paths, or industries that offer more flexibility with the tradeoff of higher pay. 

Just a few more thoughts on the pay gap for women of color. Activists claim that because their pay gaps are larger than the overall pay gap, these women face a double whammy of sexism and racism. However, they miss important points. Pay for women of color are compared to white men, but comparing black and Hispanic women to their male counterparts (a more honest comparison) reveals much smaller pay gaps in median weekly earnings.

Also, Black, Native American, and Hispanic women are more likely to occupy lower-paying jobs. They also tend to pursue majors and careers in healthcare, human services, and education which are lower-paying. These jobs and industries may be tremendously fulfilling for these women who value helping their communities.

Racism and sexism do exist and should not be tolerated. Discrimination can be hard to expose and measure. Women who believe that they are being discriminated against at work can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Office, or with their employer’s human resources department, which must investigate the claim.

Let’s use Equal Pay Day to make women better informed about the connection between their choices and their pay. Let them choose whether they want to maximize their earnings or make tradeoffs to build the life they desire.

For a quick and dirty explanation of Equal Pay Day, check out this one-pager: Takeaways: Equal Pay Day Everyday