Politics & Policy

Incomparable Nonsense

Feminists try to hit John Roberts in the pocketbook.

The feminist Left’s attempt to tar Judge John Roberts as a fan of abortion-clinic bombers failed, so they need a new angle to convince women that he’s a threat. The latest crop of memos released by the White House provides a new opening: Roberts doesn’t believe in “equal pay” for women.

At least, that’s how the mainstream media characterize his sentiments. USA Today’s headline warns, “Roberts scoffed at equal pay theory.” On Good Morning America, Jessica Yellin described Roberts as having “urged the White House to oppose an effort by some in the women’s movement to equalize pay between women and men who do comparable work.”

But Roberts’s reflections on the danger of the government micromanaging wages were plain common sense. Comparable-worth theory assumes that wages set by the marketplace are unfair to women and that the government will better decide the just compensation for a given job. New York’s Senator Hillary Clinton introduced legislation based on this concept earlier this year: Her bill would require that employers pay equal salaries to “equivalent” jobs. While bureaucrats would ponder how to define “equivalent,” employers, fearing a flurry of lawsuits, would likely regiment their salary practices.

Women would be the big losers from this new regime. Women tend to want flexible employment arrangements: Many women–particularly those with children–willingly trade higher pay for the ability to leave each day at 4 P.M. to pick up the kids from school. Employers may hesitate to offer such options under a new “comparable worth” regime, since bureaucrats thumbing through their records could question why the female manager makes less than her male counterpart.

True comparable-worth advocates aren’t just concerned about pay discrepancies within offices or even industries. They want to “correct” the unfair system that results in industries dominated by men, such as truck driving, paying more than those dominated by women, such as elementary-school teaching. Implicit in their logic is the snobbish belief that jobs like teaching deserve more compensation since they require more education, while truck drivers just mindlessly drone from one highway to the next.

The marketplace, however, takes many factors other than education into account when determining compensation. Dr. Warren Farrell, a former board member of the National Organization for Women’s New York chapter, details the many criteria that affect pay rates in his recent book, Why Men Earn More. He concludes that men tend to make choices that maximize pay, while women opt for lower pay but a better quality of life.

Men assume more high-risk jobs: 92 percent of occupational deaths befall men. Men take on endeavors that require braving the elements outdoors and are physically grueling. Women avoid jobs that require a great deal of travel or relocation. Even those women who work full-time on average spend fewer hours on the job than full-time working men. And, of course, as Roberts noted, women tend to take more time out of the workforce entirely.

Statistics that show a “gap” between men and women’s earnings aren’t evidence of discrimination since they fail to account for these factors. Of course, that doesn’t stop the feminist movement from trumpeting such numbers to promote the perception that women are members of a victim class in need of big government to save them.

Instead of accepting the feminist claim that they’re victims of discrimination, American women should consider the choices that they’ve made during their lives. Have you always sought to maximize pay? Both men and women likely recognize their career decisions have been more complicated than that. Women in particular are likely to find that salary is often not the driving force behind their employment choices.

This isn’t to suggest that there’s no such thing as discrimination against women in the workplace, but the statistical differences between men and women’s wages alone aren’t evidence of discrimination. Moreover, empowering government to “fix” wages so they are more “fair” is a recipe for disaster, particularly for women for whom flexibility is paramount.

Regardless of the mainstream media’s spin, Judge Robert’s skepticism of the push for “comparable worth” legislation isn’t evidence of sexism. It’s evidence of good sense.

Carrie Lukas is the director of policy at the Independent Women’s Forum.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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