The opening line of the Wall Street Journal op/ed “The ‘Wage Gap Myth’ That Won’t Die” yesterday reads, “When it comes to economically foolish laws, California is second to none.” Fine, and the author, Sarah Ketterer, goes on to cite plenty of statistics that show that the wage gap is essentially non-existent.
Except, it is still very much existent, and in danger of getting much worse.
Ketterer has two main theses:
First, that equalizing hours worked, women earn as much as men.
Second, women self-select to lower-paying careers.
The myth of the myth of the wage gap
We know that women work fewer hours, thus earning lower weekly wages, and women have narrowed the earnings gap over the past several years. But we also know that much of this is due to the fact that typically male-dominated industries, that are more physically demanding, will be (have been) the first to be replaced by automation, which has pushed down wages and hours for males.
With that, the remaining industries that require a high number of hours worked are going to be higher wage jobs, such as those in STEM. Women are woefully underrepresented in STEM-related industries, even though women a) score as high, if not higher, as men in math and science testing, and b) women graduate from college at a higher rate than men.
This seems to be more of a cultural problem in these industries than anything (and this is hardly an American phenomenon).
If women are somehow discouraged from learning the skills or taking jobs as web developers, statisticians, or chemical engineers, even if they are more prepared than men to go into these industries, that’s a big problem. If this were indeed the case (which it seems to be), women aren’t self-selecting into lower-paying industries. Industries are self-selecting those within it.
And unless this is somehow checked, this is only going to become a bigger issue. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that STEM-related jobs are going to grow 13% between 2012 and 2022, faster than the 11% growth of all jobs. The median wage in STEM industries is also more than double the national median wage.
If this current trend continues, there will be two effects: first, the wage gap for women in these professional industries will only widen, and second, we’ll effectively be constraining the number of qualified workers in these key growth industries.
There are a lot of problems with the current structure of labor markets for women. A persistent women’s wage gap is bad enough. Letting it become a national productivity and industrial potential crisis is worse.