There's New Evidence That Employers Do NOT Discriminate Against Single, Childless Women. But Do They Then Discriminate Against Mothers?
A recent CD post highlighted the new "reverse gender gap," based on a recent study that found evidence that young women's median full-time salaries are 8% higher than those of their male counterparts.
Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress, writes in Slate.com that "young women are earning more than young men because young women are acquiring more skills than the men are." That makes perfect sense, as Heather explains further:
"Among women aged 22 to 30, a third (34 percent) have some college education and a third (35 percent) have a college degree or more. Among men in that age group, less than a third (30 percent) spent some time in college, and just over a quarter (28 percent) have a college degree. If one group (women) has more workers with more education, then they should out-earn the other group. That's what the Reach Advisors study shows—that because there are more young women with college degrees, women now out-earn young men."
In other words, Boushey agrees that labor markets are generally efficient, wages are based on experience and skills, employers pay single, childless women more than single men on average because women have superior skills and education, and there is NO gender discrimination. Agreed. After all, if there were discrimination against women in the labor market, then we would expect to find equal pay for childless, single workers under 30, even though young women are now better educated on average than young men. But we find exactly the opposite - women make more than men on average, because of their superior educational credentials. Conclusion: no gender discrimination.
But gender activists like Ms. Boushey find that conclusion unacceptable - there has to be some kind of gender discrimination; if not against single women, then against some other group of women, and Ms. Bousey easily identifies that other group: mothers. So at the same time that Ms. Boushey apparently agrees that there is no discrimination against single, childless women, there apparently is discrimination against married women with children. According to Boushey, "Research has shown that discrimination against mothers remains widespread."
But that conclusion is inconsistent. How could wages for single women be determined competitively by market forces, free of gender discrimination, but wages for married women with children be distorted by discrimination? Stated differently, is it realistic to assume that employers are gender-neutral when it comes to single workers, but they turn into gender-discriminators if some of those single females get married and have children?
A more consistent position would be to assume that either employers discriminate against women or they do not. If they don't discriminate against childless, single women (which is supported by recent evidence), then they probably don't discriminate against married women with children. If they do discriminate against women, then they would discriminate against all women, regardless of marital and motherhood status.
If married women with children make less than: a) married men with children, or b) single, childless women, then perhaps it's because married women with children work fewer hours than their married male counterparts and single female counterparts, elect not to work overtime or accept out-of-town assignments that require travel, elect not to apply for promotions that require additional responsibilities and increased hours, etc. In other words, when a decision involves more work and greater pay, or less work and lower pay, it's perfectly plausible that married women with children voluntarily accept the lower-paying options.
Bottom Line: The fact that single, childless women earn more than their male counterparts due to having greater educational qualifications demonstrates the reality that labor markets are efficient and that wages are based on the value an employee creates for the employer. The fact that married women with children earn less than married men with children or single, childless workers of either sex doesn't necessarily prove gender discrimination. It might just prove that married women with children don't create as much value for employers as married or single men, or single women.
Update: From a comment by Milton Recht, "Women represent about half of the 130-135 million workers in the US. Given the large size of the US workforce, for there to be any measurable wage discrimination in average salaries, there has to be millions of women who are underpaid and who have the legal right to file discrimination charges against their employers. Where are the numerous lawsuits and Department of Labor complaints? Who are the employers who are discriminating against women? If there is truly gender wage discrimination in the U.S., the organizations (MP: Like the Center for American Progress) should name the employers responsible (MP: And bring legal action)."
If Boushey is confident of "widespread" discrimination against mothers, that should mean huge opportunities for "widespread" legal action against hundreds, if not thousands, of employers across the U.S. Why doesn't the Center for American Progress, or the AAUW, or one of the dozens of other women's advocacy groups, start filing complaints and legal action on behalf of the thousands or millions of mothers who are alleged victims of discrimination?