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Male-Female Wage Gap Largely Reflects Male Sacrifice, not "Discrimination"

By Glenn Sacks


In her column "You've come a long way, maybe" (Viewpoint, May 25), Angela Walters writes "According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Women Bureau, women are paid 74 cents for every dollar that men make." According to former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich the current number is actually 76 percent, not 74 percent, but the better question is "Why do men make more money than women?"

The answer has little to do with discrimination.

To begin with, men work considerably more hours than women do. Men work 90 percent of the overtime hours in the United States and full-time employed males work, on average, eight hours a week (or over 400 hours a year) more than women do.

The "76 cents for every dollar" statistic is misleading because it creates the illusion that women are making 76 percent of men for the same number of hours worked. Women earn 76 percent of what men earn but for working roughly 84 percent (not 100 percent) of the hours that men work.

If we use wages based on an equal number of hours worked (rather than gross income) over half of the gender difference between men and women disappears.

So, going by wages for equal hours worked women are up to earning roughly 90 percent (76 percent divided by 84 percent) of what men earn. What else are we leaving out?

Plenty. Men earn more money than women because:

1) Men do the dangerous jobs. Every year between 6,000 and 10,000 people are killed in work related accidents in the United  States - roughly 95 percent of them male (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

Ten times that number die from occupational diseases, such as black lung disease and occupationally related lung cancers - again overwhelmingly male.

Over 6 million suffer work related injuries from broken limbs to bad backs to blindness - again overwhelmingly male ("Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect," Bureau of Labor Statistics).

While even working-class women are likely to work in safe, comfortable offices as secretaries and file clerks, men are working on roofs and sides of buildings, in sewers, in mines, in factories, on power poles, in the heat and in the cold, at night and on weekends.

Many of these jobs, such as construction worker, fireman, roofer, miner, welder, oil worker, forklift and crane operator, electrician, truck driver, etc., pay better specifically because there are clear hazards associated with them.

There is a straight progression along gender lines between safe jobs and hazardous jobs - the more hazardous it is, the more male it is (United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment and Earnings).

2) Men are far more likely to work graveyard shifts, endure long commutes and working weekends, and to travel for their work.

3) Because men have been saddled with the breadwinner burden for longer than women, there is a large experience gap between them. Full-time employed females have, as a whole, 25 percent less job experience than their male counterparts, which is (of course) reflected in their wages (June O'Neill and Solomon Polacheck, "Why the Gender Gap in Wages Narrowed in the 1980s," Journal of Labor Economics 11, no. 1, Jan. 1993).

The majority of this gap appears in older workers and, accordingly, the wage gap among older workers is far greater than that among younger workers.

The 76 percent statistic is also distorted by the large number of 50 and 60 year-old males who, with 30 or 40 years of experience, are making higher wages. Many of their wives spent much of their lives working part-time or as full-time homemakers and thus make far less money, even though they, as a group, spend more money than their male counterparts.

4) Women entered the workplace in large numbers at a time when unions were weak. Thus the mostly male unions, largely formed 50 or 75 years ago, are generally more entrenched and stronger than the majority female unions.

5) Women often take years off (or work part-time) to take care of their young children. When women return to their full-time careers years later they are way behind men.

It is upon the birth of a family's first child that the wage gap between men and women really kicks in. The man, overwhelmed with bills, sets himself upon the task of supporting his newly enlarged family and the woman takes on the burden of primary care-giver to the children.

Because of the far-more constraining gender roles imposed upon men, taking years off to rear children is simply not an option, although studies have shown that many men (wistfully) long for just such an option.

So, accounting for all this, what wage gap, if any, is left?

Not much. According to surveys by the Independent Women's Forum and by the Cato Institute, when all of the above factors are considered, women earn over 98 percent of what men earn.

One of the problems is that American society does little to compensate women or make adjustments for the earning loss they take when they have children.

An example in university life is that women are often under pressure to "publish or perish" in the struggle for tenure at just the same time in their lives when their biological clock is putting them under pressure to have children.

This is not "discrimination" but it is insensitivity. Society could go a long way toward eliminating the gender wage gap by trying to institute measures to reduce the career damage done to women by child-rearing. In turn, by reducing the damage done to women's careers by child-rearing we could take some of the financial burden off of men and free them to do more child-rearing, which in turn would help women's careers.

Is the male role of breadwinner and primary wage-earner a privilege?

For successful men in safe jobs, perhaps it is. But for the majority of men it is not privilege at all, even if their wages are still somewhat higher than that of their female counterparts.

Interestingly, the founders of the National Organization for Women (NOW) saw the male breadwinner role as highly burdensome. The original NOW Statement of Purpose reads:

"We reject the current assumptions that a man must carry the sole burden of supporting himself, his wife, and family, and that a woman is automatically entitled to lifelong support by a man upon her marriage, or that marriage, home, and family are primarily woman's world and responsibility - hers to dominate - his to support."

And support men do, at the expense of their health, their safety, and sometimes their lives. Men earn more money than women because they make more sacrifices to make money, not because of "discrimination."




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