Rumor has it that when Professor Walter Block presented a lecture at Loyola College recently in which he argued that free-market competition diminishes rather than exacerbates the male/female "wage gap" the entire College administration, and the majority of the economics department, collectively swooned. There are even reports that they all collapsed simultaneously on the same swooning couch.
What could Professor Block have said that generated such hysteria, including comical "apologies" from the College president and several members of the economics department? In terms of the "wage gap" his main point was one that Nobel laureate Gary Becker (Professor Block’s dissertation advisor at Columbia University way back when) and many other economists have been making for decades: marriage affects men and women differently in terms of their earning abilities. There are exceptions, but in general women are more likely to drop out of the workforce for a period of time because of child rearing and other chores (that most men shirk). Consequently, they fall behind their male counterparts in terms of human capital accumulation, productivity, and wages.
If that was enough to cause outrage, apologies all around, and calls to burn Professor Block in effigy atop the Loyola College church steeple, it is unimaginable what might happen if the book Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap — And What Women Can Do About It, by Warren Farrell ever made it into the stacks at the Loyola College library. Even more explosive would be the new book by Professor James T. Bennett of George Mason University’s economics department entitled The Politics of American Feminism: Gender Conflict in Contemporary Society.
Warren Farrell boasts of having been elected to the board of directors of the New York City branch of the National Organization for Women (NOW) three times. The author of the foreword to Farrell’s book, Karen DeCrow, is a former NOW president who works as an employment discrimination lawyer. "Men are not involved in a nefarious plot to keep female wages down," she declares. (Pass the smelling salts to the Loyola College administration, quick!)
In The Politics of American Feminism (pp. 128—129) Professor Bennett paraphrases more than twenty reasons why men earn more than women, as discussed and documented in great detail in Why Men Earn More. Cumulatively, they go a long way towards explaining the "wage gap," although neither Bennett nor Farrell believes that wage discrimination by gender is completely nonexistent. The reasons, based on generalizations that are supported by voluminous statistics, are:
- Men go into technology and hard sciences more than women.
- Men are more likely to take hazardous jobs than women, and such jobs pay more than cushier and safer jobs.
- Men are more willing to expose themselves to inclement weather at work, and are compensated for it ("compensating differences" in the language of economics).
- Men tend to take more stressful jobs that are not "nine-to-five."
- Many women prefer personal fulfillment at work (child care professional, for example) to higher pay.
- Men are bigger risk takers than women, in general. Higher risk leads to higher reward.
- The worst working hours pay more, and men are more likely to work these hours than women.
- Dangerous jobs (coal mining) pay more and are more male dominated.
- Men tend to "update" their work qualifications more than women do.
- Men are more likely to work longer hours, and the pay gap widens for every hour past 40 per week.
- Women are more likely to have "gaps" in their careers, primarily because of child rearing and child care. Less experience means lower pay.
- Women are nine times more likely than men to drop out of work for "family reasons." Less seniority leads to lower pay.
- Men work more weeks per year than women.
- Men have half the absenteeism rate of women.
- Men are more willing to commute long distances to work.
- Men are more willing to relocate to undesirable locations for higher-paying jobs.
- Men are more willing to take jobs that require extensive travel.
- In the corporate world men are more likely to choose higher-paying fields such as finance and sales, whereas women are more prevalent in lower-paying fields such as human resources and public relations.
- When men and women have the same job title, male responsibilities tend to be greater.
- Men are more likely to work by commission; women are more likely to seek job security. The former has more earning potential.
- Women place greater value on flexibility, a humane work environment, and having time for children and family than men do.
One message that Farrell has for women is that if they really want to get paid more, they should pay more attention to these determinants of higher pay and less to Quixotic crusades for "comparable worth legislation" or "diversity training" that demonizes male employees but does nothing for them. This is the kind of practical advice a top-notch economist like Professor Block would offer, but such advice is usually drowned out on today’s college campuses by politically-correct lynch mobs who, as Professor Bennett says of academic feminists, "find it far easier to simply smear those who point out the phantom nature of the wage gap."
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln; Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe and How Capitalism Saved America. His latest book is Hamilton’s Curse: How Jefferson’s Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution — And What It Means for America Today.