NYT Missing It on Women's Paychecks

by Chris Sturr | March 03, 2009

From D&S collective member Amy Benjamin:

The gender gap in pay is as persistent as ever, according to an article in Sunday’s New York Times (Freud couldn’t have written a better title: “Why Is Her Paycheck Smaller?”). On the whole, women across all income levels experience pay gaps with their male professional counterparts. What are the reasons? According to the Times,

Economists believe that discrimination as well as personal choices within occupations are two major factors. They also attribute part of the gap to men having more experience and logging more hours.

Really? What is meant by “personal choices”, anyway? The blog Feminist Philosophers points out the vague answers provided by the NY Times,

We don’t know what “men having more years of experience” is supposed to consist in. Are the average ages higher for the men? Or is it independent of the fact that in many fields woman are relative newcomers? And the logging more hours: Are they suggesting that men worked longer days, or are they thinking that women tend to take off more time? Or what? Are we seeing the ramifications of an inequality of responsibility for the home? Is pregnancy a significant problem? (Duh.) What’s going on if having a baby can cost you 20 to 40% of your salary? Doesn’t think look like more than an individual’s problem resulting from “personal choices”?

Another feminist blog, Jezebel, also argues that the Times gets it wrong:

If you’re not catching it, “personal choices” is code for “entering and leaving the work force for children” and “logging more hours” isn’t the same as having more experience, it’s “not taking time off for your kids.” Of course, those of us who have actually—as single, childless women—logged more hours, had more experience and never left the work force and yet still somehow magically experienced pay discrimination, well, we’re obvious outliers.

The “personal choices” excuse–code for childrearing–has long been seen as a dangerous, and false, argument. On the surface, it fails to account for persistence of the wage gap across the diversity of womens’ experiences and levels of competencies. More importantly, it waters down the realities of structural sexism and heterosexism that result in workplace discriminations, including but not limited to wage inequity.

In times of recession, women suffer more from the wage gap and greater rates of unemployment, as an article in the Nov/Dec issue of D&S pointed out. Salon.com has also pointed out recently that feminists need to weigh in on the recession and its effects on women. Conversations about unequal pay must be conversations about discrimination based on gender, race, and class.

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One Comment

  1. A big difference between (most) economists and (some) sociologists is that phrase “personal choices within occupations.” Economists (you know who I mean) usually consider occupations a “choice,” the expression of taste, etc. They then only look at the gender wage gap *within* occupations – before winnowing it down further with controls for hours, experience, and etc. We have to remember that occupational distributions are the result of discrimination, too, as well as structural factors. Thanks for posting this. -Philip Cohen

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