New WSJ report: Do women with the same degrees earn less?

The Wall Street Journal has released a new report on the gender (or should I say gender-based) wage gap. The report focuses on college graduates early in their careers. Although the report acknowledges that many confounding factors contribute to the difference in average earnings between men and women, the underlying message is that because the report corrects for two main variables (degree level and years after graduation degree), women are treated unfairly.

Some observations and notes on this report:

Mating matters. The spirit of motherhood in women probably starts early. And conversely, men are likely to start thinking about being breadwinners even before they have one. This WSJ study appears to set aside the so-called “motherhood penalty” because it focuses on early career women. But women are still likely to “follow mom” their careers early by seeking jobs that offer flexibility in location or time.

And in the dating world, women generally care more about men’s earnings than men care about women’s earnings. Why do you think that is? Young women want to find mates who can provide for them and their future children. And men want to be attractive friends, which gives them another incentive to maximize their earnings. Tale as old as the world.

Wage gaps are generally larger, not smaller, for educated women. This report focuses on people with at least a bachelor’s degree. As a reminder, it is a minority of the country. But it’s also a more privileged group in some ways. People with higher levels of education are more likely to have higher wages than working-class people. These higher levels of education and income provide women with luxury to “bend over” or pursue a passion-driven career – a luxury their less-educated peers may not have. Lest I get into the mom wars, let me clarify that being a stay-at-home or part-time mom isn’t pure “luxury”; it’s a lot of work ! But certainly having the choice compromising on some gains is good (and enviable). Single mothers, for example, rarely have this choice.

Similarly, Christina Hoff Sommers often highlights an international study that shows that women and men in more prosperous and advanced societies have greater sex differences. The WSJ report’s focus on more educated American women may be another manifestation of this.

It is politically very difficult to fight gender discrimination, mainly because this practice is already illegal. The WSJ report, like most discussions of the pay gap, acknowledges that some of the pay gap appears to be “unexplained” by confounding variables, and that discrimination may play a role. But readers should know that it is difficult for policy makers to do anything After on this issue (e.g., strengthening discrimination laws, facilitating legal action, making wages more transparent) without creating other unintended consequences for women.

Specifically, some of the proposed solutions to “crack down” the pay gap could backfire on women by making workplaces less flexible. Employers can meet any requirement or perceived requirement to pay women and men equally (despite job differences) by eliminating all job differences, for example, the ability to telecommute or work from home .

There isn’t much to say about the pay gap that hasn’t already been said. It is real, though often misunderstood and sometimes misrepresented and politically weaponized. Gross pay gaps simply don’t measure “equal pay for equal work,” and they tell us little about equity. But they do provide some interesting information about the trade-offs women and men are willing to make, which, on average, are very different.

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