The standard fact that is repeated when discussing the wage gap between men and women is that women earn 75-80 percent of what men earn, the exact figure depending on what modern country you are discussing.
The implicit assumption when mentioning this statistical wage gap is that women earn less than men because of discrimination: women are paid less than men simply because they are women, and society values women less and has no problems giving women a lower salary even though they are as competent as men.
While this is a seductive explanation for anyone believing that men are intentionally trying to keep women down, it hardly makes sense to a person who has any business experience at all.
Within a market economy, any company looking to survive, needs to turn a yearly profit. Competition is often fierce, and small gains in efficiency can often mean the difference between becoming a winner and a loser in the marketplace.
Under these circumstances, why would a company want to hire a man if it’s cheaper to hire a woman who’s equally competent? It simply does not make any sense, and if women really were paid less for the same performance, we’d quickly see a trend of companies preferring to hire women over men.
A Closer Look
Common sense alone tells us that it is unlikely that women get paid less than men based on gender, all other factors being the same. But what can we learn when taking a closer look at the facts? Are there any other factors than gender discrimination that better explain why men earn more money than women?
The glaring explanation that is somehow overlooked in most gender debates is that men and women make very different choices in the workplace:
- Men prioritize earning a good salary, whereas women prioritize flexibility, fulfillment, autonomy and safety.
- Men choose “death careers” such as mining, oil platform work, the army, the police force and firefighting. Women, however, usually choose indoor jobs that are safe and clean.
- Men choose to work longer hours, thereby sacrificing time with their spouse and children. Women want to work part-time, or at the very least have a flexible work schedule so that they can spend more time at home with their children.
- Men are ready to travel more, and sacrifice their dreams of a fulfilling job, in order to be able to support a family, or even to become “marriage material” in the first place. Many women can count on not being faced with that choice, since they can expect their future husband to be the primary breadwinner.
US writer Warren Farrell has written about the wage gap in his carefully researched book Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap — and What Women Can Do About It. In the book, he demonstrates that when you control for 25 different variables that have to do with the tendencies listed above, the wage gap disappears entirely.
So, What to Do?
When all is said and done, is the wage gap really a problem? This question needs to be answered in two parts:
From the perspective of wanting a society that’s free of gender discrimination, the wage gap is not an issue. There is no proof that gender is a factor when determining the salary of an employee. Both sexes can be paid a good salary if they are ready to make the necessary sacrifices.
From the perspective of polarized gender roles, men and women still make different lifestyle choices, with women prioritizing being the primary caregiver of the children, and men prioritizing being the primary breadwinner of the family. Women are prepared to give up a high salary in order to have a satisfying family life, while men are prepared to give up part of their family life (and sometimes part of their health!) in order to make good money.
Personally I don’t believe that it’s a problem that men and women have different gender roles, since no matter how much we change culture, the nature component of nature vs nurture will remain. Many men will likely prefer to continue focusing on their careers, while many women will likely prefer adapting their job to their family life, or even giving up their career temporarily when raising toddlers.
However, overly polarized gender roles do not benefit either sex. Women are quite capable of contributing to the family income by having a part-time or full-time career, and men are quite capable of participating in the raising of children. Each individual needs to think carefully about his or her choices, and the consequences that those choices will bring.
It’s important that women look over their financial future, and find a way to make sure that they are financially compensated for the work they do by being the primary caregiver. Likewise, it’s important for men to demand that their workplaces are as safe as possible (preferably by legal regulation), and that their working hours enable them to have a family life.