Today is Equal Pay Day, a faux holiday to celebrate how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.

The day is meant to call attention to how perceived gender discrimination impacts pay for women in the economy. The pay gap is roughly the same as last year—17 cents. Put another way, for every $1 men earn, women supposedly earn $0.83.

The problem with Equal Pay Day is that it’s built upon a misleading statistic (the pay gap) that doesn’t signal widespread discrimination but rather the consequences of the choices that women make about work. The goal of those who promote the pay gap is to demand federal legislation that is supposed to close the pay gap but won’t. 

Here are five facts you should know about the pay gap:

  1. The pay gap is just a penny (1 cent). According to the employment research website, the uncontrolled pay gap is 17 cents, but when controlled for a wide variety of factors that impact compensation, that gap shrinks to a penny at most. Those factors include occupation, experience, job title, education, job tenure, hours worked, and more.
  2. Gender pay discrimination is already illegal. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protect a woman’s right to earn equal pay for equal work. Women facing sex-based discrimination at work can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Office, or with their employer’s human resources department, which is legally obligated to investigate the claim. 
  3. Women work fewer hours than men. Full-time men work 8.4 hours per day on average, compared to 7.8 hours for women. Seventy-five percent of men work full-time, compared to just 65 percent of women.
  4. Women work in lower-paying jobs. The most common jobs for women generally pay less than the most common jobs for men. Also, men are concentrated in college majors leading to high-paying jobs, such as in technology and engineering, while women are concentrated in majors leading to lower-paying roles in social sciences and liberal arts.
  5. The motherhood factor is huge. Parenting plays a major role in the work-related choices of men and women that impact pay. The wage gap among single, childless, young workers is much smaller (and sometimes flipped, with women earning more) compared to the wage gap between working mothers and fathers.

Women are flexibility maximizers. They more often seek jobs that allow them flexibility or greater fulfillment, and they are willing to trade pay. According to the employment website Indeed, 92% of female workers prioritize flexibility over stability when it comes to their careers.

In households with two parents, men and women often share households, resources, and responsibilities. Their employment choices reflect choices to maximize not just income, but overall well-being and happiness. 

Laws such as the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) would not fix the pay gap or outlaw discrimination, but would encourage more lawsuits and increase government oversight over businesses’ compensation decisions.

We should applaud that, in a dynamic economy like ours, women can enjoy a variety of opportunities that meet their unique circumstances. Thanks to independent contracting and freelancing, women can earn incomes while balancing other important priorities such as family caregiving (kids, aging parents, and sick spouses) or their own health conditions.

Unfortunately, the Biden Administration’s new regulations affecting independent contracting will restrict independent contracting nationwide. Congress has an opportunity to right this egregious wrong and ensure that women have access to flexible opportunities.

Bottom Line

Equal Pay Day, like the pay gap, is misleading. They don’t tell us anything about the status of women in the workplace or the fairness (or unfairness) of their pay. Women are enjoying many opportunities today that they could never have imagined even a generation ago.