Feature:Opinion

Different pay for different work

Photo of Alex Castellanos
Alex Castellanos
Co-founder, Purple Strategies

I watch Rachel Maddow’s program on MSNBC more than I’d like my bosses at CNN to know. Not unlike Rush Limbaugh, she is a joyous warrior for her ideological cause, a comparison she may not find flattering. This Sunday, we were both guests on “Meet the Press,” where Maddow was offended when I complimented her on her passion. She found it condescending. I meant it as high praise and still do: In political campaigns, business consulting, and my own company, I often urge those I work with, male and female, to give themselves passionately to their effort, no matter the sacrifice or obstacles. It is my experience that no one ever does anything well unless they give themselves to it passionately. Working for a candidate or cause, not because you believe in them, but for power or money, would be my definition of hell.

Maddow’s commitment to her cause is unrestrained and it shows both in her enthusiasm as an advocate and her effort. While writing books and fitting in public appearances, she also puts in 12-hour days, I’m told, to prepare for her program. The work shows: Unlike those who “wing it,” she is one of the best-prepared political hosts on television. That she was unacquainted with the dimensions of the equal pay issue was a surprise.

Maddow restated an old and discredited liberal myth — that women are paid less than men, only 77%, for the same labor.

The fact is women are paid less than men in America — but not for the same work. They are paid less, for other reasons. First, they take different jobs than men and secondly, as Kay Hymowitz sub-headed her recent Wall Street Journal article, “women earn less because they work fewer hours.”

Hymowitz, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, notes:

“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.”

According to the Labor Department, as Hymowitz points out, 25% of men working full-time worked 41 or more hours, compared with only 14% of female full-time workers. “In other words,” Hymowitz says, “the famous gender-wage gap is to a considerable degree a gender-hours gap.”

Why do women spend less time at work than men? Hymowitz boils it down to one word: 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.” By a margin of 3 to 1, working mothers with young children, a Pew survey informs, prefer to work part time, not full time.

Women, it turns out, want more flexibility in their careers and more time for children and family than men do. Perhaps a better way to understand the data is this: Women work as much or more than men but prefer to do more of their life’s labor outside the business and inside the home. Throughout their lives, this choice trickles down through their decisions. In “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics: The Wage Gap,” at swifteconomics.com, Andrew Syrios points out that men and women prepare for different careers with different educational choices. Thomas Sowell explains:

“Women tend not to go into occupations in which there’s a very high rate of obsolescence. If you’re a computer engineer and you take five years out to have a child and [raise him] until the age you can put him in daycare, well my gosh, the world has changed. You’d have to start way, way back. On the other hand, if you become a librarian, a teacher or other occupations like that, you can take your five years off and then come back pretty much where you left off.”

More men than women work in industries that pay more: engineering, technology, and the sciences. “Women are nine times more likely than men to drop out of work for family reasons,” says Syrios, and “less seniority leads to lower pay.” Men also tend to take more dangerous jobs — watch “Deadliest Catch.” Nine out of ten workplace fatalities belong to the Y chromosome, not the X.