COMMENTARY | Gender has crept back into national politics for 2014 with the Wendy Davis scandal and the use of the controversial “women make 77 cents for every dollar made by men” statistic used by president Barack Obama in his 2014 State of the Union address. According to The Daily Beast, this old “statistic” is very misleading and has been widely discredited. Women make less money on average because they choose less lucrative jobs, research reports, and men charge after the top dollar while women more often seek a more fulfilling work-life balance. So why does this statistic stick around?
Obviously, this statistic remains popular because it is good political fodder. President Obama was obviously using it to invigorate women and sway them to support Democrats as opposed to Republicans. It was a political cheap shot: Make women feel discriminated against and that you and your party are the only ones willing to do something to fix it…then sit back and let the votes pour in.
While both political parties are not above using political cheap shots to drum up votes, the misleading statistic about gender and pay is worse than usual because it offers little to women. While discrimination indeed exists in employment, most employers cannot afford to risk offering differing pay along gender lines for the same job. Such blatant discrimination would be quickly discovered and result in harsh consequences. For example, as a high school teacher, there are no separate “men’s salary” and “women’s salary” columns on the pay charts.
Since few, if any, employers have gendered pay for the same job, how would legislation mandating equal pay for equal work be effective? At my job women already receive identical pay to men. As a result, little would change under neutral “equal pay” laws.
To affect the “77 cents for every dollar” average the equal pay laws would have to be far from neutral. They would have to raise the pay for jobs dominated by women. While this might not be unfair in some instances, in some instances it would unfairly disadvantage men. As a man, I am leery of gendered programs for they will likely put me at a disadvantage.
Not every man is a six-foot-tall extrovert who was raised in a wealthy and well-connected family. Those men, I agree, enjoy the benefits of stereotypical “boys’ clubs” and find themselves unfairly advantaged in life. Many men, however, are not so advantaged. Men who are short, bald, unattractive, introverted, or otherwise discriminated against should not have to find themselves doubly disadvantaged because their female colleagues now enjoy policies seeking to boost their pay or promotion status.
Additionally, insisting on increasing pay for jobs dominated by women, based solely on the fact that women should be paid more, harms men. Socially, men are strongly urged to pursue the most lucrative trades possible in order to support their families and be the primary breadwinners. Forcing higher pay among “women’s jobs” will likely only put further pressure on men to seek higher-stress, higher-paying employment, creating a gendered “arms race” in terms of pay and employment.
Many men might feel equal pay laws mandating higher pay for women-dominated fields to be a bit of a slap in the face. After all, many men seek out rough, dirty, difficult, and undesirable jobs simply to earn more money. Increasing pay in some jobs based solely on politics rather than the laws of supply and demand denigrates the profit motive of men trying to support families. It will create bitterness and resentment. A roughneck in the oil field struggling in the heat and cold to make good money might be upset to find that a secretary, enjoying a climate-controlled and non-dangerous environment, now makes the same pay.
And aggressive “equal pay” laws could backfire for women as well. Forcing higher pay for jobs traditionally held by women could bring about more male competitors for jobs, prompting unique challenges. If a man enters a field traditionally dominated by women and is passed over for promotions, he will likely sue for gender discrimination. Will possible “girls’ clubs” in women-dominated fields be challenged by young men who feel isolated and ignored in their new posts? It is not outrageous to assume that some workplace cultures, developed in an all-female environment, might be uncomfortable to new male employees and prompt challenges.
While workplace discrimination does exist, sticking to an old and misleading statistic could cause more harm than good.