Fair Pay for Women – The two arguments in New York Times. This is part of my campaign for fair play for women worldwide.

Fair Pay Isn’t Always Equal Pay

By CHRISTINA HOFF SOMMERS – Published: September 21, 2010


AMONG the top items left on the Senate’s to-do list before the November
elections is a “paycheck fairness” bill, which would make it easier for
women to file class-action, punitive-damages suits against employers they
accuse of sex-based pay discrimination.

The bill’s passage is hardly certain, but it has received strong support
from women’s rights groups, professional organizations and even President
Obama, who has called it “a common-sense bill.”

But the bill isn’t as commonsensical as it might seem. It overlooks
mountains of research showing that discrimination plays little role in pay
disparities between men and women, and it threatens to impose onerous
requirements on employers to correct gaps over which they have little

The bill is based on the premise that the 1963 Equal Pay Act, which bans
sex discrimination in the workplace, has failed; for proof, proponents
point out that for every dollar men earn, women earn just 77 cents.

But that wage gap isn’t necessarily the result of discrimination. On the
contrary, there are lots of other reasons men might earn more than women,
including differences in education, experience and job tenure.

When these factors are taken into account the gap narrows considerably — in
some studies, to the point of vanishing. A recent survey found that young,
childless, single urban women earn 8 percent more than their male
counterparts, mostly because more of them earn college degrees.

Moreover, a 2009 analysis of wage-gap studies commissioned by the Labor
Department evaluated more than 50 peer-reviewed papers and concluded that
the aggregate wage gap “may be almost entirely the result of the individual
choices being made by both male and female workers.”

In addition to differences in education and training, the review found that
women are more likely than men to leave the workforce to take care of
children or older parents. They also tend to value family-friendly
workplace policies more than men, and will often accept lower salaries in
exchange for more benefits. In fact, there were so many differences in
pay-related choices that the researchers were unable to specify a residual
effect due to discrimination.

Some of the bill’s supporters admit that the pay gap is largely explained
by women’s choices, but they argue that those choices are skewed by sexist
stereotypes and social pressures. Those are interesting and important
points, worthy of continued public debate.

The problem is that while the debate proceeds, the bill assumes the answer:
it would hold employers liable for the “lingering effects of past
discrimination” — “pay disparities” that have been “spread and perpetuated
through commerce.” Under the bill, it’s not enough for an employer to guard
against intentional discrimination; it also has to police potentially
discriminatory assumptions behind market-driven wage disparities that have
nothing to do with sexism.

Universities, for example, typically pay professors in their business
schools more than they pay those in the school of social work, citing
market forces as the justification. But according to the gender theory that
informs this bill, sexist attitudes led society to place a higher value on
male-centered fields like business than on female-centered fields like
social work.

The bill’s language regarding these “lingering effects” is vague, but
that’s the problem: it could prove a legal nightmare for even the
best-intentioned employers. The theory will be elaborated in feminist
expert testimony when cases go to trial, and it’s not hard to imagine a
media firestorm developing from it. Faced with multimillion-dollar lawsuits
and the attendant publicity, many innocent employers would choose to settle.

The Paycheck Fairness bill would set women against men, empower trial
lawyers and activists, perpetuate falsehoods about the status of women in
the workplace and create havoc in a precarious job market. It is
1970s-style gender-war feminism for a society that should be celebrating
its success in substantially, if not yet completely, overcoming sex-based
workplace discrimination.

Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise
Institute and the editor, most recently, of “The Science on Women and
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on September 22, 2010, on page
A25 of the New York edition.


Fair and Equal Paychecks for Women
Published: September 24, 2010

To the Editor:

Re “Fair Pay Isn’t Always Equal Pay” (Op-Ed, Sept. 22):

Christina Hoff Sommers’s ominous warnings of “multimillion-dollar lawsuits”
should the Paycheck Fairness Act pass smell of fear-mongering hyperbole.
We’ve heard it before, when critics warned that lawsuits would flood our
courts after the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It hasn’t

The wage gap is real. Our 2007 report, “Behind the Pay Gap,” which
controlled for factors flagged by Ms. Sommers, like education and
experience, found that college-educated women earn less than men with
comparable backgrounds. Even the Bush administration acknowledged the
existence of the wage gap.

The latest analysis Ms. Sommers cites, which shows young women outearning
young men, needs to be viewed with a skeptical eye. The average American
woman still earns 23 percent less than her male counterpart earns, a gap
that is widest among older women and smallest among younger women.

With two-income families the norm, and with women increasingly assuming the
role of primary breadwinner, Ms. Sommers’s criticism of the Paycheck
Fairness Act reminds us of Chicken Little crying about the falling sky.
Widely seen as an excellent tool to help close the gender wage gap, the
Paycheck Fairness Act isn’t about lawsuits. It’s about American families.
And it’s time we put them first.

Linda D. Hallman
Executive Director
American Association
of University Women
Washington, Sept. 22, 2010

To the Editor:

Christina Hoff Sommers contends that the Paycheck Fairness Act, which
passed the House and which the Senate may soon vote on, “isn’t as
commonsensical as it might seem.”

The Paycheck Fairness Act will ensure that legislation already on the books
— the Equal Pay Act of 1963 — is adequately enforced. It will give women
the right to know what their male colleagues earn without fear of
retaliation by their employer.

Women are regularly fired or disciplined for asking how much their male
peers earn for doing the same work. If I don’t know how much the man
sitting in the cubicle next to me earns, how can I know whether I’m earning
a fair day’s pay? Giving women the right to ask questions about pay pretty
much defines common sense.

Heather Boushey
Senior Economist
Center for American Progress
Washington, Sept. 22, 2010

To the Editor:

Christina Hoff Sommers is absolutely right about one thing: the Paycheck
Fairness Act on its own is unlikely to close the gender wage gap. It does
not address the fact that child care workers — almost all female — rank
among the 10 lowest paid occupations, even though almost half of child care
workers hold some college qualifications.

Nor that jobs done by women typically require higher levels of
qualifications than jobs done by men, yet on average pay less. Addressing
those aspects of inequality requires broader policy changes and work-family

But the Paycheck Fairness Act addresses at least one barrier faced by
working women: outright pay discrimination. More than 40 years after the
Equal Pay Act was passed, employers can (and do) still get away with paying
a woman less than a man for the same work, because the mere act of
discussing her pay with her colleagues may get her fired. That needs to

Ariane Hegewisch
Study Director, Institute
for Women’s Policy Research
Washington, Sept. 22, 2010