ANALYSIS: 83 cents on the man’s dollar– Experts weigh in on what’s really behind the gender pay gap

'The much-touted gender pay gap is better thought of as a motherhood wage gap.'

Equal pay for equal work is actually mandated by the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

“Women make about 80 to 83 cents on the dollar for every man.” So goes the common narrative about the gender pay gap. 

The figure comes from Christina Huber, an economics professor at the Metropolitan State University of Denver. She told an ABC affiliate that Americans observe Equal Pay Day because it “marks how many extra days into the new year the average woman would have to work in order to make the same amount that a man had made through December 31 of last year.” 

This year, Equal Pay Day fell on Mar. 14, coinciding with Women’s History Month.

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But Huber and the other professors and experts sounding off on Equal Pay Day will also point out the underlying reason behind the gap: men and women tend to make different career choices, disrupting the academic narrative that often depicts the gap as an issue of sexism or inequity

The competing narrative on the gender pay gap also shifts the policy focus away from equity, or advancing policies that would achieve the same outcomes for men and women. Exploring the complicating factors behind the gender pay gap surfaces a different set of solutions that allow women to put their families first. 

Huber told Campus Reform that women taking time to care for their families and discrimination explain some of the gender pay gap, though the latter is likely “[a] couple remaining cents.” 

“The gender pay gap compares the median earnings for all full-time working males in the U.S. to the median earnings of all full-time working females,” Huber says. “It does not compare men and women of similar skills and similar experience doing the same job.” 

Equal pay for equal work is actually mandated by the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Most of the pay gap, then, is explained by the different choices men and women make in their careers. 

“[W]omen continue to [be] overrepresented in under-paying jobs,” and, “even within the same occupations, women choose different types of careers,” according to Huber.

“For example,” she continues, “we think of men as doctors, but women as nurses. We think of men as college professors, but women as kindergarten teachers.”

Women will also scale back their work for the sake of family, and a 2021 report released by the Heritage Foundation during Women’s History Month suggests that this is not necessarily a bad thing. 

“[A]ttempting to eliminate such differences through public policies that limit workers’ choices will hurt all workers, and mothers, in particular,” senior research fellow Rachel Greszler writes. 

“Moreover, such efforts could reduce personal and societal well-being by limiting the non-income-generating activities that individuals prioritize over work and wages.”

Rather than strive for equality of outcomes, Greszler’s suggestions include “lower taxes for everyone to make it easier for all families to pursue the combination of work and family care that is best for them” and, on the employer side, providing remote opportunities for working moms. 

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Patrick Brown, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), says that both moms and dads would benefit from taking time away from work to focus on childcare. The effects on earnings, however, are especially true for moms. 

“The much-touted gender pay gap is better thought of as a motherhood wage gap,” Brown told Campus Reform. “What drives most of the difference between female and male wages tends to be that moms take time away from work, or shift into less-demanding careers, when they have children.”

EPPC recently introduced its pro-family policy recommendations, which include paid leave for new parents. Brown offered other policy ideas “[m]aking it easier for parents, especially moms, to take time out of the workforce without taking a hit to their career prospects.”

“Some companies have instituted ‘mom-ternships,’ or programs that recruit moms who took time away from their career to raise kids and are looking to get back into the labor force,” he continues. “Harvard economist Claudia Golden has written a lot on this topic and suggests a focus on making jobs less ‘greedy,’ such as offering more flexible working hours, which could help as well.”

Brown says that these policies could close, not the gender wage gap, but “the motherhood wage gap.”

Campus Reform contacted all relevant parties listed for comment and will update this article accordingly.