The New York Times Gets The Wage Gap Wrong

Hannah Fairfield, attempting to explain the wage gender gap for the New York Times, places the blame squarely on "women's choices." Oh, and discrimination might have a little something to do with it.

Fairfield writes:

Economists believe that discrimination as well as personal choices within occupations are two major factors. They also attribute part of the gap to men having more experience and logging more hours.

If you're not catching it, "personal choices" is code for "entering and leaving the work force for children" and "logging more hours" isn't the same as having more experience, it's "not taking time off for your kids." Of course, those of us who have actually — as single, childless women — logged more hours, had more experience and never left the work force and yet still somehow magically experienced pay discrimination, well, we're obvious outliers.

That is, unless you account for those things.

"There's no measurable way to explain the gaps within occupations," said Barry T. Hirsh, a labor economist at Georgia State University. "Other wage gaps, like racial gaps, can be almost fully explained by factoring in the differences in education, geography and age."

What Hirsch is saying, despite Fairfield's careful wording, is that it's because of discrimination, not "women's choices."

Fairfield does get one economist on the record blaming the wage gap — that is, the overall wage gap, not the one that exists within occupations when accounting for experience, hours, education, geography and age — on women's choices.

"Desire for a certain flexibility or a certain lifestyle drives career choices," said Stephanie Boraas, an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Women often choose jobs that have more flexible hours, which can work well with child care."

Fairfield additionally posits that the wage gap in the medical field is due to women "picking" — as opposed to, say, being "encouraged" into — lower paying fields like general medicine rather than taking up surgery, not that she does the research to see if women in surgery or general medicine still make less than their male counterparts. Of course, despite the fact that the federal government has statistics breaking down wages in medical specialties (and 800 total occupations), they only release data on the wage gap for 200 occupations and lump all doctors in together — but when the statistics show that male registered nurses do better than their female colleagues in a completely female-dominated occupation, you'd better have some hard numbers to show me that women have wage equality in female dominated medical specialties, and the government and thus Fairfield don't.

Fairfield then asks:

But why do men who are bus drivers or insurance agents, jobs with similar numbers of men and women, earn more money than their female counterparts?

Umm, discrimination? Like, maybe it's a bigger factor than "women's choices" despite what she posits throughout her entire piece? Yes, women that choose family practice over neurosurgery or, um, perhaps blogging over lobbying can expect to make less money than neurosurgeons or lobbyists. We're not bitching about that. We're bitching about the fact that female bloggers probably make less than their comparable male counterparts, and that female lobbyists definitely make less than their comparable male counterparts, and female family practitioners probably make less than their male counterparts and female neurosurgeons probably make less than their male counterparts. That is the point of pay discrimination laws, and Ledbetter v. Goodyear and the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It is not that if I choose a lower-paying field I make less money than men (or women) who choose a higher-paying field — and to suggest so lends credence to the argument made by plenty of discrimination-apologists that we're all just looking for special treatment when we're really just asking for equality.

Why Is Her Paycheck Smaller? [New York Times]

Related: National Employment And Wage Data From The Occupational Employment Statistics Survey By Occupation, May 2007 [Bureau of Labor Statistics]
Median Weekly Earnings Of Full-Time Wage And Salary Workers By Detailed Occupation And Sex [Bureau of Labor Statistics]