Boston Herald | Monday, March 4, 2013 | Op-Ed |

   Wage discrimination is unlawful in this country — has been since 1963, when  President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law. Here in Massachusetts, it’s been unlawful since 1945.

You wouldn’t know it, though, from listening to Mayor Tom Menino or President Obama. To hear them tell it, salary discrimination is one of the greatest problems of the 21st century. And they’re here to fix it.

The basis for the claim is the so-called “wage gap” — the deliberately misleading statistic that women earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

Menino and Obama look at this number and see only discrimination.

But as a working mom who willingly traded higher pay for flexibility and time with family, I can tell you this number is far more complicated than it looks.

Don’t take my word for it. Ask economist Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a former Department of Labor official, who has studied the issue. According to Furchtgott-Roth, the 77-cent figure is the result of at least four factors that have nothing to do with discrimination.

First, women and men choose different educational paths. More men than women select majors with high-paying job prospects, such as economics, finance, or engineering, while more women than men select majors such as sociology, English, or nursing.

Second, even within the same academic major, men and women tend to choose different types of jobs upon graduation. For example, more women than men choose nonprofit or government jobs.

Third, among employees with children, more women than men work part-time.

Finally, even among men and women who work full-time performing the same jobs, women with children tend to work fewer hours than their male counterparts.

Interestingly, former Congressional Budget Office director June O’Neill notes that if we take marriage and children out of the picture, we still find a wage gap — only this one favors women: never-married women make 108 cents for every dollar earned by never-married men.

Is this discrimination against men?

Unfortunately, most media outlets report on the wage-gap unquestioningly without unpacking its meaning.

Boston Magazine is a recent case in point.

The February issue features a much-hyped article entitled, “Mind the Gap,” in which author Janelle Nanos recycles the same misleading stats and wonders why liberal Massachusetts ranks 37th in the nation for pay equity.

The answer, she informs us, in a brilliant twist of Orwellian logic, is that the Bay State has such a large number of highly educated, professional women.

And this is a problem why?

Because the salaries of professional women are set by managers on the basis of discretionary factors — which liberals believe allow for the influence of gender bias.

What Nanos doesn’t mention, however, is that professional careers often allow for flexibility. Thus, many full-time professional moms choose to take on fewer clients, forgo overnight business trips, or work partially from home to spend time with children. Paying these workers less in exchange for flexibility isn’t discriminatory. It’s positively enlightened.

Why, then, do so many liberals continue to point to the wage-gap as evidence of discrimination?

Many simply cannot accept a world in which there remain economic or social disparities — even when those disparities are the result of free choice. Equal opportunity is not enough. These utopians seek equal outcomes.

But the wage-gap debate is not just ideological. It’s also political.

By taking up the mantle of equal-pay (who could possibly be against equal pay?), liberal Democrats paint themselves as the champions of women — and their opponents as outright sexists. The argument is disingenuous, but for many Democrats it has proved a winning strategy.


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