Young women are closing the so-called gender pay gap.
Pew research found that in 22 of 250 U.S. metro areas, women under the age of 30 earn at least as much as their male counterparts. In some cities, including New York and Washington, young women are earning more. “There are 107 metros where young women earn between 90% and 99% of what young men earn,” said Richard Fry, author of the Pew analysis.
This is good news for young women, who are more educated than ever before. As opposed to 1950 when women earned only 27% of bachelor’s degrees, they now hold 57% of bachelor’s degrees, 61% of master’s degrees, and 54% of doctoral degrees. As women obtain more qualifications, it appears that their salaries are rising in suit.
Despite this positive trend, lawmakers and leftist activists continue to cite the raw wage gap as evidence of rampant sex-based discrimination in the workplace. They argue it’s why we need legislation such as the Paycheck Fairness Act to protect women.
Part of the reason for the pay gap, however, is that women tend to work fewer hours than men. Women also pursue different degrees and careers. Not all degrees translate to the same earning potential. As the Independent Women’s Forum explained in a recent policy paper , “Men continue to congregate in college majors that lead to high-paying jobs, such as technology and engineering, while women congregate in majors leading to lower-paying roles in the social sector and liberal arts.”
Unless women start choosing different majors that position them for higher-paying careers, a wage gap makes sense. Far from evidence of sexism, the disparity reflects choice.
It’s tempting to view any widening pay gap as negative. However, what some describe as an “obstacle” or a “penalty,” others would describe as a “privilege” or a “choice.” A separate Pew study , for example, found that around 30% of mothers with children under the age of 18 prefer part-time work. The popularity of flexible and part-time work extends beyond working moms. A recent Gallup poll found that 66% of women searching for a job sought work-life balance as a top priority. Most men ranked increased salary and benefits as their No. 1 priority.
These choices should be celebrated and not portrayed as evidence of female victimhood. It is short sighted to suggest that women who choose less money in favor of other benefits, such as job security, workplace flexibility, or safe working conditions, suffer penalties or face persistent obstacles when, in fact, many choose this path.
Instead of framing the gender pay gap as evidence of unequal treatment, let’s discuss it with the dignity women deserve. The gender pay gap reflects women’s free agency to participate in the economy when and how they choose. We should applaud young women for rising in the ranks to earn more and be proud to live in a country that has long secured everyone’s right to equal pay for equal work under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But before we try to close the pay gap for good, we should think long and hard about what women could lose.
For some, a gender pay gap is precisely where balance and personal fulfillment is found.
Kelsey Bolar is a senior policy analyst at Independent Women’s Forum and a senior fellow at The Steamboat Institute.