There’s a push for the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act before Congress adjourns for the season, which has sparked some pushback from right-wingers given prominent platforms in the corporate media. The Act, which already passed the House, would help enforce and close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963; under the law, women would actually be able to find out how much their male colleagues make without either of them facing retaliation. A September 22 New York Times op-ed by Christina Hoff Sommers of AEI and an October 4 George Will Newsweek column both attack it as unnecessary–in Will’s words, “It is ludicrous to argue that women should be regarded as victims in patriarchal, phallocentric America and must be wards of government.”
Sommers says the law “overlooks mountains of research showing that discrimination plays little role in pay disparities between men and women,” while Will–relying heavily on Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the conservative Hudson Institute–argues that “pay disparities largely reflect women’s choices.” As an example, Will says women hold so few science and technology jobs and faculty position because they just don’t want those jobs–after all, hardly any women who go to all-women’s colleges, where they’re surely not discriminated against, study those things. At Bryn Mawr, for instance, only 4 percent major in chemistry and 2 percent in computer science. (Will also makes liberal use of irrelevant factoids, such as the fact that women live longer than men, now receive more doctoral degrees than men and may soon be a majority of the workforce.)
Heather Boushey has a good take-down of Sommers’ op-ed on Slate–most of which applies to the Will column as well–in which she makes clear that “Sommers is the one overlooking mountains of research that demonstrate just the opposite.” Both Sommers and Will compare groups of women who are better educated to groups of men who are less educated to “prove” that women sometimes even earn more than men. In an earlier critique, Boushey explained that
there are two ways to look at the gender pay gap. The first way is to ask whether equally skilled men and women in comparable jobs are paid the same. That’s the way to gauge workplace fairness. Do women with similar credentials in similar jobs earn as much as the men they work with? It’s in this context that the answer remains no.
Ten years out of college, women who went to the same kind of college, got the same kinds of grades, held the same kinds of jobs and made the same choices about marriage and number of kids as their male peers earn 12 percent less than those men. Boushey also cites a Cornell study that 40 percent of the total gender pay gap couldn’t be explained by women’s choices, the only culprit Sommers or Will blame.
As for Will’s claim about the sciences, Bryn Mawr chemistry professor Michelle Francl points out in the comments section that nationally less than 1 percent of all students major in the physical sciences, and only 0.66 percent of women study chemistry–so Bryn Mawr”s 4 percent is actually astonishingly high: “I can do the math (and enjoy it, too)–women at Bryn Mawr are six times as likely to major in chem than in the population as a whole. Still think there’s not a difference?”