Capitalism and Western Civilization: Equal Pay

William H. Young

The 2012 salvo in the progressive and gender feminist war against inequality of women in the marketplace was fired on April 17, national Equal Pay Day. To mark the occasion, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) issued its annual report, The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap, which placed the national average gender pay gap at 77 percent. 

AAUW arrived at that statistic simply: “In 2010, median annual earnings in the United States for women and men working full time, year round, were $36,931 and $47,715, respectively. The 2010 earnings ratio is 77 percent. The 2010 pay gap is 23 percent.” 

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 requires equal pay for equal work, a proper national policy objective. The AAUW statistic, however, is not a true measure of equal pay for equal work. 

The Simple Truth goes on to say: 

Critics charge that pay differences between men and women are simply a matter of personal choices. In 2007, AAUW addressed this argument in our report Behind the Pay Gap, which analyzed earnings data for female and male college graduates one year and 10 years after graduation. We found that just one year after college graduation, women earned only 80 percent of what their male counterparts made. Ten years after graduation, women fell further behind, earning only 69 percent of what men earned…. 

After accounting for college major, occupation, industry, sector, hours worked, workplace flexibility, experience, educational attainment, enrollment status, GPA, institution selectivity, age, race/ethnicity, region, marital status, and number of children, a 5 percent difference in the earnings of male and female college graduates one year after graduation was still unexplained. 

AAUW considers that the unexplained 5 percent difference is evidence of persisting discrimination. And it continues to utilize the 77 percent statistic as the basis for characterizing the marketplace and employers as practicing “wage discrimination.” 

On April 6, 2012, President Obama did so as well: 

Right now, women are…still earning just 77 cents for every dollar a man does—even less if you’re an African-American or Latina woman. Overall, a woman with a college degree doing the same work as a man will earn hundreds of thousands of dollars less over the course of her career. So closing this pay gap—ending pay discrimination—is about far more than simple fairness. When more women are bringing home the bacon, but bringing home less of it than men who are doing the same work, that weakens families, it weakens communities, it’s tough on our kids, it weakens our entire economy. 

(The White House, Equal Pay Task Force Accomplishments, April 2012) 

The White House report amplifies the President’s statement: 

The pay gap was even greater for African-American and Latina women, with African-American women earning 64 cents and Latina women earning 56 cents for every dollar earned by a Caucasian man. Decades of research shows that no matter how you evaluate the data, there remains a pay gap—even after factoring in the kind of work people do, or qualifications such as education and experience. Those same studies consistently conclude that discrimination is the best explanation for the difference. In other words, pay discrimination is a real and persistent problem that continues to shortchange American women and their families. 

Aside from class and gender politics, why would the White House juxtapose the pay of African-American and Latina women to that of Caucasian men? I offered this answer in my previous article on Social Darwinism

At the end of the nineteenth century, a different view of human nature began to be developed in order to establish a social order in which immutable forces of biology—genes and unequal traits—would play no role in accounting for the behavior of individuals and social groups. Reformers would overcome rule by superior white (Nordic) individuals over oppressed groups by refashioning theories of mind to make classism, racism, or sexism as untenable as possible—culture over nature. That concept would evolve over the twentieth century to the denial of human nature and to social constructionism. Inequality arises entirely from society rather than from within the individual. 

The gender pay gap relative to Caucasian males is a false socially constructed reality from which society, by forcing employers to redistribute income, would make oppressed groups equal. 

In “Why Women Make Less Than Men,” The Wall Street Journal, April 26, 2012, Kay Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute argues that the gender-pay-gap statistics 

don’t take into account the actual number of hours worked. And it turns out that women work fewer hours than men…The famous gender-wage gap is to a considerable degree a gender-hours gap….The main reason that women spend less time at work than men…is obvious: children. Today, childless 20-something women do earn more than their male peers. But almost all are likely to cut back their hours after they have kids, giving men the hours, and income, advantage….Women, in fact, make up two-thirds of America’s part-time work force. 

AAUW sees this as a “motherhood penalty.” 

In my article Marriage and Family, I discussed the national epidemic of out-of-wedlock births and single-parent households, headed mostly by women. That situation, along with poor education, underlies the statistics of pay for African-American and Latina (as well as white) women relative to that of white males. This problem was created by the cultural and sexual revolutions—and especially by misandrist gender feminism—along with subsidization of unwed mothers by the welfare state. 

The Simple Truth argues that society should sustain that lifestyle: 

Equal pay is not simply a women’s issue—it’s a family issue….For the 34 percent of working mothers who are their families’ sole breadwinner—either because they are single parents or their spouses are not in the labor force—the gender pay gap can contribute to poor living conditions, poor nutrition, and fewer opportunities for their children. For these women, closing the gender pay gap is much more than a point of pride—it’s a matter of necessity. 

Rather than use a contrived pay gap to further enable bad life choices, the academy and society should seek to return to a culture in which traditional values and public policies counseled better choices—such as marriage. 

Ironically, the gender pay gap is also claimed for other sexual choices. University of Chicago sociologist Kristen Schilt and NYU economist Matthew Wiswall report from a survey that “average earnings for male-to-female transgender workers fall by nearly 1/3” while those for “female-to-male transgender workers increase slightly following their gender transitions.” (“Before and After Gender Transitions,” B. E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, Vol. 8, Issue 1, Article 39, 2008) 

The Obama administration and gender feminism are following a familiar strategy: to “litigate, regulate, and legislate” to eliminate the gender pay gap. The White House report highlights its litigation and federal enforcement actions in claims of wage discrimination by employers. AAUW actively supports the Paycheck Fairness Act, which passed a Democratic House of Representatives in 2009 but failed in the Senate in 2010. The U. S. Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill in a letter to Senators because it would 

open up compensation and employment decisions to limitless review by courts and juries and would ultimately lead to an inefficient, cumbersome, and costly salary-setting process. In addition, the bill would modify existing rules concerning collective actions, making it easier for plaintiff’s attorneys to mount class action suits. 

AAUW’s advocacy of a misdirected income egalitarianism to compel employers to produce gender “pay equity” is the kind of “democratic engagement” embraced by the academy, which NAS properly opposes. As I argued previously in Education, the academy should instead seek to provide competent graduates to employers to produce jobs. 

Next week’s article will examine shareholder capitalism and stakeholder capitalism, or corporatism.



This is one of a series of occasional articles applying the lessons of Western civilization to contemporary issues relevant to the academy. 

The Honorable William H. Young was appointed by President George H. W. Bush to be Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy and served in that position from November 1989 to January 1993. He is the author of Ordering America: Fulfilling the Ideals of Western Civilization (2010) and Centering America: Resurrecting the Local Progressive Ideal (2002).

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