Opinion: Columnists

Diana Furchtgott Roth: People should be paid for their work, not their gender

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Opinion,Diana Furchtgott Roth,Columnists

For feminists, April 9 is Christmas, New Year's and Easter rolled into one. It marks their ill-conceived Equal Pay Day, when they say that women's wages, allegedly only 77 percent of men's, catch up to what men have earned the year before.

The 77 percent figure is bogus because it averages wages of all full-time women, no matter what education and profession, with all full-time men. The latest figures show that comparing men and women who work 40 hours weekly yields a wage ratio of 88 percent.

Sometimes the wage gap benefits men. In a comparison of unmarried and childless men and women, Labor Department data show that women earn 108 cents on a man's dollar.

On Thursday, the free-market American Enterprise Institute will host a conference featuring June O'Neill, economics professor at Baruch College, City University of New York, and co-author (with Dave O'Neill) of "The Declining Importance of Race and Gender In the Labor Market."

Packed with data, the book explains how differences in salaries of women are not due to employment discrimination but to factors such as education and time spent in the workplace. I will be a panelist at the conference.

The O'Neills conclude that "the factors underlying the gender gap in pay primarily reflect choices made by men and women, given their different roles in the family, rather than labor market discrimination against women due to their sex."

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, in her new best-seller "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead," agrees. She concludes that many women don't make it to the top because they turn down challenging assignments in favor of a better work-life balance. They aim for family-friendly jobs even before they have children.

Twenty-two percent of women work part-time. Many choose jobs with flexible hours, or careers in the nonprofit sector. All these positions pay less than jobs with 60-hour weeks and unpredictable travel. The late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a chemist, reached the pinnacle of power not because of affirmative action but because of her perseverance and qualifications. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a physicist, followed in her footsteps.

On Equal Pay Day, feminists are calling for passage of the misnamed Paycheck Fairness Act as a remedy for supposed discrimination.

This bill would harm economic growth by inserting the government into employers' compensation decisions. Passed by the House of Representatives in January 2009, the bill failed to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate in 2010.

The bill would allow the government to collect data on sex, race, national origin and earnings of employees, even if no complaint has been filed. The threat of litigation about pay differences between men and women and minorities and whites would raise the potential cost of employment, discouraging hiring.

Workers would be included in class-action suits against employers unless they specifically opt out, raising the costs of litigation regardless of whether the EEOC finds for the complaining employees.

Under the law now, employers found guilty of discrimination owe workers back pay. Under the Paycheck Fairness Act, they would have to pay uncapped punitive damages, with a quarter or a third going to plaintiffs' lawyers.

The bill would allow employers to defend differences in pay between men and women only on the grounds of education, training and experience -- if these factors were also justified on the grounds of "business necessity."

Feminists can learn from Sheryl Sandberg and Margaret Thatcher. Women can put in the hours, persevere and reach the top, whether it's Facebook or the British Parliament.

But if women choose family-friendly jobs, the pay shouldn't be equal, and feminists shouldn't complain.

Examiner Columnist Diana Furchtgott-Roth (dfr@manhattan-institute.org), former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

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