The Maryland Public Policy Institute
Sen. Barbara Mikulski is pushing legislation to involve the government more heavily in policing employee pay. Claiming that women are discriminated against in the workforce, she wants to empower the federal government to regulate pay even more closely. To bolster her claims, she says that women don’t make “equal pay for equal work.”
When most people hear that phrase, they assume that it means that if a man and a woman are equally qualified and are doing the same job, the man gets paid more. That’s not the case, however. If that happens, it’s illegal.
The statistics cited by Sen. Mikulski and others are looking at a different issue. As the president of the Independent Women’s Forum, Carrie Lukas, explains:
The wage gap statistic, however, doesn’t compare two similarly situated co-workers of different sexes, working in the same industry, performing the same work, for the same number of hours a day. It merely reflects the median earnings of all men and women classified as full-time workers.
The Department of Labor’s Time Use Survey, for example, finds that the average full-time working man spends 8.14 hours a day on the job, compared to 7.75 hours for the full-time working woman. Employees who work more likely earn more. Men working five percent longer than women alone explains about one-quarter of the wage gap….
Women tend to seek jobs with regular hours, more comfortable conditions, little travel, and greater personal fulfillment. Often times, women are willing to trade higher pay for jobs with other characteristics that they find attractive.
Men, in contrast, often take jobs with less desirable characteristics in pursuit of higher pay. They work long hours and overnight shifts. … Such jobs pay more than others because otherwise no one would want to do them.
Unsurprisingly, children play an important role in men and women’s work-life decisions. Simply put, women who have children or plan to have children tend to be willing to trade higher pay for more kid-friendly positions. In contrast, men with children typically seek to earn more money in order to support children, sometimes taking on more hours and less attractive positions to do so.
When advocates claim that women don’t get “equal pay for equal work,” they are making an assumption about what “equal work” is. They want to use a bureaucratic calculation to second-guess the actions of employers who offer the wages and employees who accept them.
Lawrence Reed tackles the problems with this:
The idea is that individual workers who perform jobs of substantially comparable value to their employer should be paid similar wages. If the work done by an accountant is deemed to be as valuable to an employer as that done by a typist, for example, the law would require the two employees to earn the same wage. In Minnesota, firefighters in the city of St. Paul were ranked as having the comparable worth of the city’s librarians.
When many people seek employment in an occupation for which there is declining demand, the tendency in free markets is for wages to fall, sending a signal that people should look for a different line of work. Likewise, wages rise during a labor shortage, sending a signal that more people are needed.
A comparable worth scheme imposed on private sector employers would arbitrarily and effectively abolish the role of supply and demand in the labor market. Conditions in the market wouldn’t matter, because some authority’s “calculation” of the value of one job compared to another would take their place by force of law.
Sen. Mikulski is peddling flawed legislation that is based on the public’s misunderstanding of what “equal pay for equal work” means. It’s already against the law for an employer to pay a woman less than a man just because that worker is a woman. There’s no need to get the government more involved in “fixing” a situation that results from the individual choice of workers, not the discrimination of employers.
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