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Commentary: Alleged Gender Pay Discrepancy Based On Life Choices

Women are earning less in favor of other considerations

(Editor’s note: This commentary is an edited version of an Op-Ed that appeared in The Detroit News on September 26, 2012.)

I have become increasingly disturbed by the so-called "feminist" arguments made by some regarding the "War on Women."

It seems we've reached an age of political discourse where women are receiving the deference of yester-year, but not the respect of a rigorous examination of their argument — which, if true, would be grievous.

In this piece, I examine the feminist claim that women are not paid as much as men for equal work.

Let's take a contentious talking-point: The Lilly Ledbetter Act.

Proponents argue that it addresses the alleged 77 cents to a dollar discrepancy between male and female pay — but this is not what the act says it does. The law extends the statute of limitations for submitting an equal-pay lawsuit. So let's say you were a woman and 20 years after the receipt of your first paycheck, you felt that it had been a diminished figure due to sexism. It is little wonder that some oppose this act. Even I can objectively stand back and argue that anything that took that long to determine ought to be examined for motive.

But let's return to the 77 cents allegation, since it continues to be made regardless of the law's applicability. There ought to be some examination of market conditions regarding pay before slamming on the SEXIST RED ALERT button. How do factors such as part-time work, employment gaps, and non-decaying skill fields account for pay gaps, just to name a few?

When these conditions are taken into account, the pay for white women looks to be closer to 87 cents to each dollar earned by white men, at least, according to economist Diana Furchgott-Roth's study "Women's Figures." I specify race in this discussion because according to the Current Population Survey, among African-American women to African-American men, the gender disparity actually favors women by 4.7 percent. According to these feminist arguments, that would imply that the absence of a pay gap between African-Americans means black women are less likely to receive sexist treatment than white women, which seems presumptuous. Either way, assuming sexism is the cause ignores crucial data.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that there is a discrepancy. These feminists argue that it exists because of sexism without addressing the "equal work" part of the argument. But look at the careers women choose compared to men. They are generally less dangerous, lower-paying, require less travel, are more frequently part-time and more likely to be volunteer work, according to the 2011 White House report "Women in America." Not only is their work "not equal" on average, which closes the alleged gap significantly, but it seems to be a conscious choice.

To hammer home the point, in 2012 the Census Bureau released data demonstrating that single women's pay has outstripped their male counterpart's pay in metropolitan areas of the country. So does sexism only start after women wed?

The truth is, when the stork brings little messy, crying incentives to shackle earning potential into women's lives, women have increasingly chosen a balance between work and childcare since the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Gary Becker even got a Nobel for saying as much.

This is healthy and normal, at least according to the American Psychological Association's 2010 study of mothers' happiness, which found that the happiest women were those who worked part-time.

Further evidence that the pay gap is not sexist? Independent female business owners make less than male business owners, according to a Rochester Institute of Technology survey of business owners.

Before we start calling these employers sexist, it might be useful to remind ourselves that some women employ themselves.

Women are choosing to earn less in favor of other considerations. Let's not blame men for that, and let's certainly not shanghai legislators into bad policy decisions based on the tired rhetoric of a world that no longer exists. If people are to call themselves "feminists," they must first acknowledge that women are capable of being "the captains of their fate."