White House speechwriters couldn’t resist sticking an applause line into President Obama’s State of the Union speech about how women supposedly earn only 77 cents to every dollar a man earns in America. Even more depressing, it drew some of the night’s biggest applause. But as almost everyone familiar with the numbers has had reason to know for years and years, it simply isn’t true. Most, if not all, of the gap melts away once you factor in variables such as hours worked, choice of occupation, and midcareer family interruption, among others. Hanna Rosin at Slate is the latest to set the record straight:
…The point here is not that there is no wage inequality. But by focusing our outrage into a tidy, misleading statistic we’ve missed the actual challenges. It would in fact be much simpler if the problem were rank sexism and all you had to do was enlighten the nation’s bosses or throw the Equal Pay Act at them. But the [more-accurate] 91 percent statistic suggests a much more complicated set of problems. Is it that women are choosing lower-paying professions or that our country values women’s professions less? And why do women work fewer hours? Is this all discrimination or, as economist Claudia Goldin likes to say, also a result of “rational choices” women make about how they want to conduct their lives.
All credit to well-known Washington journalist Hanna Rosin, a co-founder of Slate’s Double X, for writing a piece bound to displease some of her colleagues in the liberal commentariat.