Our View: Dispelling the myth of the wage gap

Posted: October 1, 2012

Some myths don’t die. Regardless of contrary evidence, people will believe what is provably false. One of those myths is that women earn just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns because something evil, meaning discrimination, is afoot in business world. Democrats and the feminist sisterhood repeat it endlessly, and the myth recently surfaced in a letter to the editor.

Thus, it’s worth reprising a few words from an editorial in this space in April that quoted Kay Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute. The scholar addressed a simple question in The Wall Street Journal: Why do women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns? Answer: They work fewer hours, and they leave the work force to raise children. Those who don’t, she found, meaning childless younger women, generally earn more than men.

Wrote Ms. Hymowitz: “One stubborn fact of the labor market argues against the idea” that women earn less than men because they are maltreated. “That is the gender-hours gap, close cousin of the gender-wage gap. Most people have heard that full-time working American women earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. Yet these numbers don’t take into account the actual number of hours worked. And it turns out that women work fewer hours than men.

“The Labor Department defines full-time as 35 hours a week or more, and the ‘or more’ is far more likely to refer to male workers than to female ones. According to the department, almost 55 percent of workers logging more than 35 hours a week are men. In 2007, 25 percent of men working full-time jobs had workweeks of 41 or more hours, compared with 14 percent of female full-time workers. In other words, the famous gender-wage gap is to a considerable degree a gender-hours gap.

“The main reason that women spend less time at work than men — and that women are unlikely to be the richer sex — is obvious: children. Today, childless 20-something women do earn more than their male peers. But most are likely to cut back their hours after they have kids, giving men the hours, and income, advantage. . . .

“Women, in fact, make up two-thirds of America’s part-time workforce. A just-released report from the New York Federal Reserve has even found that “opting-out” by midcareer college-educated wives, especially those with wealthy husbands, has been increasing over the past 20 years.”

Some countries have tried closing the “hours gap” to in turn close the “wage gap.” It doesn’t work. In Sweden and Iceland, Ms. Hymowitz reported, “mothers still take more time off than fathers after the baby arrives. When they do go back to work, they’re on the job for fewer hours. Iceland’s income gap is a yawning 38 percent — that is, the average women earns only 62 cents to a man’s dollar. Even Sweden’s 15 percent gap — though lower than our 23 percent one — is far from full parity.

“All over the developed world women make up the large majority of the part-time workforce, and surveys suggest they want it that way.”

And why would that be? Maybe most women with children — mothers — don’t really believe what the sisterhood’s radicals have been peddling for a half-century: that choosing motherhood over a full-time career diminishes a woman’s worth. Maybe they think caring for their own children is more important and rewarding than balancing books or litigating lawsuits. But no matter what they think or want, the facts are plain: Work fewer hours, earn less money. Women work fewer hours than men.

Those facts explode the myth.