The Rise of the Pay Gap Truther and Why this Should Concern All of Us

Maria Colacurcio, April 26, 2019

The Guardian published a sobering article this week about the rise of pay gap “truthers” who continue to deny the existence of the gender pay gap despite overwhelming evidence that it exists. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/23/gender-pay-gap-alt-right.

It’s sadly another example of the phenomenon where those with a preexisting opinion scour the internet in search of a link to something — anything really — to support their position. If this were merely a tit-for-tat argument pitting women’s “choices” against “unconscious bias” it would be a fine debate.  But it goes far deeper and has more sinister consequences.

Underlying the truther movement is this inherently logical but misguided fear:  that gains for women (higher pay, promotions, and opportunities) necessarily comes at the expense of men.  And this is false. My gain as a woman is not your loss as a man. Higher pay for me is not lower pay for you. My promotion is not your demotion. This is why the first question in any debate on equal pay for equal work should be the normative question: do you believe men and women should be paid equally for similar work?

Here are the common themes we hear often from the most seasoned truthers:

Truthers: Women’s “choices” account for 91% of the reported pay gap.

Response: Does that mean you believe the 9% haircut I’m taking (because I’m a woman) is? Assuming we agree that men and women should be paid equally for similar work, how do we reconcile a 9% gap gap?

Truthers: Yes, but women tend to choose fields that pay less.

Response: That may have once been true, when men were doctors and women were nurses, all teachers were women while cops were men, and endless other examples. But the most comprehensive study on this topic found that when women enter fields, pay drops. For the very same jobs that more men were doing before. This raises the question – do we value women’s work less?

Truthers: Studies show that the gap is because women work fewer hours than men, and so they make less overtime. Women work fewer when you look at hourly jobs like driving a bus, women bus drivers just plain work fewer hours and certainly fewer hours of overtime.

Response: Ok so now you’re just cherry picking.(In fact, that example sounds like the study on bus drivers.) No one is debating choices about bus drivers or overtime. There’s no question that when it comes to hourly workers, those who work more hours earn more income. But that’s not what the pay gap examines. The question is whether those hourly workers earn the same base rates. And perhaps more importantly — for an economy more dependent on professionals — are salaried workers, managers and executives paid equally for similar work?

Truthers:  Women have babies, and this limits their time in the office. Again, choices.

Response: Yes, women have babies (many with the help of men).  The question is whether they still face a gap once they return to work. And what explains the gap among women who have not had children? What if, instead of counting time for salaried workers, we compensated employees on impact and productivity?

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