A study released this year by the Department of Labor Time Use found that full-time men work more than five percent longer per week than their female counterparts. The same study explains that women are 34 percent less likely than men to be self-employed and own only 28.7 percent of American businesses.
Yet, many Americans continue to ignore these statistics and push misleading studies — such as the recent “Women in America” White House report that shows women making 75 cents to a man’s dollar — to imply that a biased society is causing women to unfairly make less money than men.
Because studies such as “Women in America” only account for the average total income of each gender, they ignore the trends and preferences of their participants.
Undeniably, it is the choices that some women make, rather than the unfairness of society, that adversely affect women’s median income.
The percentage of women working in part-time fields is perhaps the biggest factor affecting median salaries. In 2010, the Department of Labor found that women were more than 198 percent more likely to work in part-time positions than men. The same study found that women were 50 percent more likely to work in the public sector, where salaries are typically lower than they are in the private sector. And within the public sector, the Department of Labor found that women were 13 percent less likely than men to belong to unions.
This more holistic view of male and female tendencies provides a stronger understanding of gender-based income discrepancies. Some women in America make career choices that involve less-intensive hours and modest salaries. In contrast, men appear to be more likely to embrace full-time positions, gravitate toward the more lucrative private sector and belong to unions that can advocate for higher salaries. American men and women’s stark differences in work choices make it impossible to accurately analyze income discrimination from basic averaged salary figures.
To gain an accurate view of gender-based income biases, Americans must look toward studies involving equally qualified participants.
Economist June O’Neill, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, found that when controlling for equal education, experience and tenure, women make 92 percent of what men earn. And when the study was adjusted for women without children, men earned only 2 cents more per dollar.
Studies from June O’Neill and the Department of Labor Time Use lend credence to the idea that American women have equal opportunity to earn equal salaries. This is true especially today, when, contrary to popular opinion, women are increasingly taking full advantage of the opportunities available to them.
In March, Time reported that the majority of working wives will out-earn their husbands within the next generation. And the same study showed that single, working women with no children are already earning more than their male peers in the majority of U.S. urban cities.
Much of this growth can be attributed to the role that education is playing in the trajectory of young women’s lives. According to The Atlantic, three women will receive a B.A. this year for every two men who do the same. This upward swing signifies the changing cultural demographics across America — one in which a woman’s path revolves less around the home and family and more so around her own personal and professional interests. American women now, more so than ever before, can write their own futures and fulfill their own workplace goals. Any governmental policy that tries to skew the system in women’s favors devalues the entire gender’s accomplishments and belittles women’s ability.
Arguments can certainly be made for the fact that gender roles and societal influences are at the root of the reason why women have historically made less than men. But, as we’ve seen with the unfairness of affirmative action procedures, generalizing an entire group to mold progressive governmental policies only exacerbates inequality.
Our culture has become obsessed with fixing every minute social discrepancy in our academic, professional and personal lives. But many of these aspects, including gender-based income inequality, are best left to be adjusted and corrected themselves.
Ryan Townsend is a sophomore majoring in business administration. His column “The Blame Game” runs Tuesdays.