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April 3, 2001

Equal Pay Day 2001: Economic Choices for Women

Women And Wages: Busting The Myths

“Equal pay for equal work” has been the law of the land since the Equal Pay Act of 1963, backed up by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Since then women have made, and continue to make, enormous strides in business, professions, education, politics and all walks of life.

Not everyone is willing to recognize women’s economic progress nor the tremendous benefits of classic civil rights laws passed in the 1960s. The National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) and its allied labor unions and feminist groups conduct an annual observance of “Equal Pay Day” – not to celebrate women’s success but to call for more laws, more government programs, and fewer economic choices for women and families.

On Tuesday, April 3rd, the NCPE and friends will claim that the “wage gap” between women and men is 72 cents on the dollar and that the only way to bridge this gap is to pay everybody equally for … different work.

Yes, the NCPE’s idea of “equal pay” is to pay the same wages to parking lot attendants and child care workers, teachers and truck drivers, carpenters and cooks. Naturally, the NCPE also wants to pass new laws to set up big government bureaucracies that will force employers to pay, and employees to accept, so-called “equal” pay.

How would this concept of “equal pay” help women? It’s really just a new name for “comparable worth” – a misguided notion discarded years ago by Congress and the courts, and proven ineffective wherever it’s been adopted.

Here are a few of the myths you’ll probably hear on “Equal Pay Day,” followed by the facts about women, wages and work.

Myth #1: Women earn 72 cents for every dollar that men earn.
If this myth were true, employers would be eager to replace their male workers with cheaper (and better) female workers, and thus increase their profits. But the “72 cents” claim is misleading because it only refers to the median wages of all men and all women in the work force, without regard to age, education, occupation, experience or working hours – factors that even the NCPE admits are valid explanations for different pay rates. When those key factors enter the equation, the “wage gap” disappears. Studies based on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, taking into account these key variables, reveal that among people ages 27 – 33 who have never had a child, women’s earnings are actually 98 percent of men’s.

Myth #2: The “wage gap” is the result of discrimination.
Remember, such discrimination has been unlawful since 1963. You would not be surprised to know that bosses earn more than their assistants or that full time workers are paid more than their part-time colleagues. Market forces and common sense dictate that some people earn more than others because of their education and skills, their experience, the demand for their services, or their willingness to work longer, harder or under more difficult conditions. Differing wages exist for many reasons and are not in themselves an indication of discrimination.

Myth #3: Women are funneled into low-paying jobs by a sexist society.
The NCPE claims that certain jobs (like sales, clerical and service work) are paid less because they are held by women, and they say that any earnings differences not explained by differences in education, experience or time in the work force are “proof” of discrimination. But the NCPE is overlooking some important facts. First, the value of a job is determined by the supply and demand of able and willing workers. Women who might be able to hold a better-paying job often choose a job that pays less but provides more flexibility. This is not discrimination.

And the jobs women tend to avoid (such as farming, forestry, maintenance) are not all that wonderful. Twenty-three out of the twenty-five worst jobs in the Jobs Rated Almanac are more than 90 percent male, and men account for 92 percent of all job-related deaths.

Myth #4: The “Glass Ceiling” prevents women from holding top corporate jobs.
This myth has been hanging around since 1995 when the Glass Ceiling Commission found only 5 percent female senior managers at Fortune 1000 and Fortune 500 companies and assumed discrimination. Their finding was politically useful but statistically wrong. It was based on the number of women in the total labor force, rather than the number of women actually qualified through education and experience to hold top positions.

A further look would have disclosed that while only 11 percent of corporate boards included women in 1973, by 1998 women sat on the boards of 72 percent of major corporations. As women continue to move through the “pipeline,” toward the positions that typically require an MBA and 25 years experience, and as women increase their numbers in previously male-dominated fields and professions, more and more women will continue to achieve senior management positions in business and other fields.

Myth # 5: Stronger laws are needed because “Some jobs are still paid based on who is doing the work, instead of the value of the work.”
Here is the NCPE’s call for “comparable worth” – a bad idea gone wrong. It has been tried in the United Kingdom, where regulators can order one company to pay higher wages than its competitor, producing “arbitrary, inconsistent and inefficient outcomes.” Here in the United States, Minnesota has ranked fire fighters and librarians as having “comparable worth.” (1)

For further information:

  • Viewpoint: A Manufactured Crisis: Women, Wage Gaps, and Equal Pay

  • Viewpoint: Think You Know About the Wage Gap? Think Again. . .

  • Press Conference: Equal Pay Day a Farce (5/12/2000)

  • Press Release: Pay Equity Day a Myth (5/12/2000)


    (1) Lawrence W. Reed, “Comparable Worth or Incomparably Worthless?” (September, 1994) Midland, Michigan: Mackinac Center for Public Policy Research; Steven E. Rhoads, “Would Decentralized Comparable Worth Work? The Case of the United Kingdom,” Regulation (1993 #3) pp. 1-7, Washington, D.C., the Cato Institute.


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