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Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Equal Pay Day? More Like Unequal Comparison Day

The data used to compare men and women fails to adjust for differences in several critical areas.

Image credit: PourquoiPas on Pixabay

As I drove into work this morning, I heard on the radio that it was 2019’s “Equal Pay Day.” The story echoed years past, decrying differences between median yearly incomes for men and women and reiterating assertions that the data demonstrates unjustifiable discrimination against women “doing the same work as men.” It upped the ante a little farther than in previous years, however, by extending such claims to “life-changing” career differences.

However, as Mark J. Perry has pointed out, the data used to compare men and women fails to adjust for differences in “hours worked, marital status, number of children, education, occupation, number of years of continuous uninterrupted job experience, working conditions, work safety, workplace flexibility, family friendliness of the workplace, job security, and time spent commuting,” each of which would lead one to expect men to be paid more.

Why Not Account for This?

Activists ignore rather than explain why they choose to omit all those clearly relevant variables, relying on constant repetition and the threat of tarring critics as sexists to finesse serious evaluations of their “proof” of unfair discrimination.

Such discrimination has been illegal for years, and, if proven, would be a litigation goldmine for lawyers.

There is also reason to believe that Equal Pay Day activists doubt their mantra. First, it serves their political purposes whether their analysis is valid or not, and the worse it can be made to look, the better.

Second, such discrimination has been illegal for years, and, if proven, would be a litigation goldmine for lawyers, yet we don’t see a flood of easy money victories.

Third, if you asked a woman who worked two more hours a week than a man (roughly how much more men work than women in the “full time” data), I don’t believe I know anyone who would say it would make no difference when she would gain from it. And the same is true for every other difference supporters want people to studiously disregard to reach “Equal Pay Day” conclusions.

Another logical anomaly is also telling. Employers in general, and “big business” in particular, are constantly accused of being too selfish or too greedy to pay for accusers’ pet “do-gooding” causes.

They are too greedy to care enough about pollution/global warming/climate change, to do enough to eliminate poverty, to care about their labor force or the community, to keep money-losing plants open to benefit those workers, etc. However, despite those wide-ranging allegations of excessive greed, employers are somehow not greedy enough when it comes to female employment.

The Logic of “Equal Pay Day”

“Equal Pay Day” logic implies that it would be outrageously profitable to just hire women because the labor costs of production would be far lower as a result. That is, employers supposedly won’t do enough “good” anywhere it costs them money, yet they are determined to discriminate against women at a phenomenal cost. Perhaps it should be called “unequal comparison day,” instead. And the discriminators would include women-owned businesses and firms with female CEOs and HR heads. Is everyone, including women, willing to pay so much to discriminate against women?

“Equal Pay Day” activities feature statistics that no one who ever stayed awake in a course in the subject would accept, combined with self-contradictory logic. What they ignore when it advantages their claims of discrimination they reject as applying to themselves.

Further, they routinely accuse their “targets” of being too greedy in multiple areas yet not greedy enough when it comes to employing women. Such Swiss cheese holes reveal “Equal Pay Day” as an attempt to establish an unsupportable premise, which tortured logic can then twist into even more unsupportable conclusions. Perhaps it should be called “unequal comparison day,” instead.

  • Gary M. Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University and a member of the Foundation for Economic Education faculty network.

    In addition to his new book, Pathways to Policy Failures (2020), his books include Lines of Liberty (2016), Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014), and Apostle of Peace (2013).