By Jen Lade
You have probably heard the quotation attributed to Mark Twain about three kinds of lies: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” I wonder if when Twain said that line, he imagined that statistics would be used to push and justify government intervention into countless areas of private life.
While writing an article for another publication (disclaimer: I kind of hate this article, but I need to pay the bills), I found the National Partnership for Women & Families using statistics on the alleged “wage gap” between men and women to advocate for new laws about pay discrimination, such as the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which President Obama signed into law. The Paycheck Fairness Act passed the House in 2009 but did not make it out of the Senate. It has been reintroduced each year but has not yet passed.
An analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the National Partnership for Women & Families found that across the state, the median yearly pay for women in Massachusetts is $14,079 less than the median yearly pay for Massachusetts men, or 77 cents for every dollar. That number is about the same nationally.
The most dishonest people cite that statistic and leave it at that. All employers must be scumbags, hiring a man and a woman for the same job and paying women 23 percent less. But of course there is more to the story.
Some people will take it a step further and acknowledge that the women’s choices — what to major in at college, what job to take, how many hours a week to work, years taken off from fulltime work to stay home with kids — are going to create discrepancies in the median pay between men and women.
For example, in 2011, 22% of male physicians and 44% of female physicians worked less than full time. This is a better explanation than pay discrimination for why female doctors’ median pay is lower than male doctors’.
Then there were other factors I didn’t even consider when writing my article, which someone wrote in the comments section. These included the hypothesis that even before having families, at least some women are making career choices with the expectation that they will leave their career when they have children. They might choose lower-paying jobs with other perks like flexible hours, for example. My low-paying newspaper reporter job translated perfectly to a freelance position when I had kids.
Another interesting thing to consider is that earning money and controlling money are two different things. Seventy-six percent of Americans believe that men control more wealth than women. But a new survey of Federal Reserve Board data reveals that women actually control 51.3% of personal wealth in the United States. So does it really matter if men are earning the money if women are controlling it?
But those shouting “Pay discrimination!” are impervious to these facts. They continue to push new legislation, even though we’ve had decades of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits employers from paying women less than men in the same job, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which also deals with pay discrimination. New legislation can handcuff businesses with needless regulation and lawsuits that can drive up the cost of doing business and actually lead to fewer people being hired overall. If you’re actually being discriminated against, sue. But don’t pretend it’s a nationwide conspiracy to shortchange women.