More on the Gender Wage Gap

by Ramesh Ponnuru

The Nation’s take on my column is much more intelligent, and less full of invective, than Jezebel’s (admittedly, a low bar). But it’s still flawed.

Bryce Covert cites studies that attempt to adjust for several factors other than discrimination that might explain raw differences between men’s and women’s wages, and notes that some of those studies still find differences that aren’t accounted for. That’s true! But we can’t assume that all of the unexplained difference results from discrimination. It’s, well, unexplained. It could be that the studies aren’t correcting for everything they should be–and in fact studies that correct for more factors, unsurprisingly, find smaller unexplained gaps. (I cite some of them in my column, and Covert doesn’t poke any holes in them.) Or it could be that those factors are just very hard to control for.

Anyway, my point in the column wasn’t what Covert takes it to be. I’m not attempting to prove that discrimination plays no role in wage differentials, and I’m not attempting to show that tightening the regulatory and legal screws on employers to reduce those differentials is always a bad idea (although I’m skeptical). The only legislative proposal that the column condemns is the comparable-worth bill called for by NOW. Covert doesn’t try to defend that law.

All I’m trying to show is 1) that the wage differential is not primarily the result of discrimination by employers, 2) that the prevailing feminist rhetoric on the issue, which moves straight from raw wage differences to the need for legislation to combat employer discrimination, is mistaken, 3) that there’s no reason to expect or want the gap ever to close completely. Covert doesn’t really contest any of these points.

Update: Covert has updated her post to respond to the above. All I’ll say in response to her latest comments is that H.R. 1493, the NOW-endorsed bill I criticize, does indeed get government involved in deciding how much different jobs should pay. See, for example, the title of Section 3: “Equal Pay for Equivalent Jobs.” There’s a lot of mischief in that phrase.

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