Today is the anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted the right to vote to women. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has decided to use this day of equal rights for women to argue that women are now to blame for unequal pay in the workplace. On the organization’s official blog, ChamberPost, Senior Director of Communications Brad Peck today makes the argument that the pay gap between men and women in the American workforce — women currently earn roughly 77 cents to every dollar a man earns — is “the result of individual choice rather than discrimination.” He argues that, instead of bold legislative action being taken to help correct this pay gap, women should pick the “obvious, immediate, power-of-the-individual solution: choosing the right place to work and choosing the right partner at home“:
Most of the current “pay gap” is the result of individual choice rather than discrimination. […]
It is true that culturally speaking women are more likely to have to make the tough choices about work-life balance. But as we all seek to fit our values into a dynamic 24/7 economy, let’s not overlook the obvious, immediate, power-of-the-individual solution: choosing the right place to work and choosing the right partner at home.
Peck’s argument that women could close the pay gap by simply choosing jobs in better paying fields and marrying wealthier men is based on a faulty premise — that the pay gap in the United States between genders exists because women choose to work for less and men choose to work for more.
While it’s true that women sometimes migrate into fields that have lower pay, what Peck ignores is that even within the same occupation, women are paid less. For example, data collected by the Census Bureau in 2007 shows that “female secretaries…earn just 83.4% as much as male ones” and female truck drivers “earn just 76.5% of the weekly pay of their male counterparts.” A report put out this year by the University of Minnesota finds that women in that state are “are paid $11,000 dollars less each year than men with the same jobs.” A 2007 American Association of University Women report compared men and women with similar “hours, occupation, parenthood, and other factors normally associated with pay” and found that “college-educated women still earn less than their male peers earn“; the report concludes that workplace discrimination is the culprit in the wage gap.
It is important to note that this pay inequity is so pervasive that it even affects people who undergo a sex change. In 2008, researchers Kristen Schilt and Matthew Wiswall examined the wages over their lifetimes of people before and after a sex change operation. Even “when controlling for factors like education, men who transitioned to women earned, on average, 32% less after the surgery. Women who became men, on the other hand, earned 1.5% more.”
Unfortunately, the Chamber of Commerce has a long history of overlooking women’s struggles in America and of actively opposing movements for gender equality. While opposing the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978, the Chamber argued that pregnancy was a “voluntary” act and thus should not have discrimination protections in the workplace. In 1987 it ominously warned that the Family and Medical Leave Act would set a “dangerous precedent” of employer-sponsored benefits. And last year, the organization lobbied against legislation that would allow rape victims to bring lawsuits against their employers.