Hiding Behind Skirts

The causes of the gender wage gap in America are both simple and complicated. Put simply, much of the chasm derives from a legacy of chauvinism that reformers have partially succeeded in overcoming, particularly during the past half century. The complexity adheres to a combination of nuance, lifestyle choice, and widespread assumptions about family that are in some ways extrinsic to the workplace.
Acknowledging and possibly even accepting complex causation is one thing. Denying the reality of the result is another. Yet here is one Carrie Lukas, executive director of the craftily titled Independent Women’s Forum, preaching denial in The Wall Street Journal opinion pages on the eve of Equal Pay Day earlier this spring. It’s not that she ignores the Bureau of Labor statistic that women earn 77 percent of what men do. She just thinks she can explain it all away.
Lukas’s derisive use of the word “feminist” five times in her first four sentences provides a clue to her perspective. But she follows with a halfway reasonable point. According to the Labor Department’s Time Use Survey, she says, “full-time working women spend an average of 8.01 hours per day on the job, compared to 8.75 hours for full-time working men. One would expect that someone who works 9 percent more would also earn more.”
Fair enough—as far as it goes. But, of course, it doesn’t go far enough. A larger context informs this discrepancy. Surely part of the difference here is that men are spending less time working in the home, a fact unmentioned by Lukas but borne out by (wait for it) the same survey: “On an average day, 20 percent of men did housework . . . compared with 51 percent of women.” The hard numbers? Women, on average, spent 2.6 hours on household activities, while men spent 2.0 hours.
Hold on, she has another half-point. Men perform a higher percentage of physical and risky labor, which earns them a premium. Okay. But even when a man works in a primarily female-dominated field, the gap still yawns wide. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a full-time male registered nurse earns an extra $2,860 per year. Here’s another. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, “women working full-time in the finance sector earn 55 percent less per year than men working full-time.” No hazard bonus there.
Maybe it will all be fixed by the millenials? Lukas cites a 2010 study of “single, childless, urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30” that revealed women earned 8 percent more than their male counterparts. Hallelujiah! I’m just going to tell my daughters to refrain from getting married—or turning 31. The reality is that those pesky little child-bearing years are precisely when the friction increases.
The Journal’s opinion editors are sometimes adept at finding a sophist in contrarian’s clothing. But their news editors practice more robust intellectual exploration, as they did in their “Women in the Economy” report on the day before Lukas’s diatribe. There, they chronicled the statistical landscape of thwarted ambition that describes the plight of so many women in middle management. Among many others, the estimable Saadia Zahidi, director of the Women Leaders and Gender Parity Program at the World Economic Forum, limned a combination of policy disconnects—in areas ranging from child care, taxation, and paternity leave to diversity, bonus incentives, and mentoring targets—that could be addressed to help separate the effects of voluntary lifestyle choices from furtive bigotry, rather than wishing away the latter with selective statistical citations.
I’m not saying Ms. Lukas is part of the old boy network. She’s just their beard.

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