The hilarity surrounding Mitt Romney’s now famous “binders full of women” comment aside, the exchange in the US presidential debate this week held some hard truths for women who believe that one day they will earn the same income as their male counterparts.
I doubt that anyone could have predicted that the most talked about issue coming out of the US Presidential debate last week would be the gender wage gap, but what was even more surprising was that the most honest answer to the question about inequalities of women in the workforce (specifically, why it is that despite enormous progress in other areas women still only earn 72 cents on every man’s dollar) came from Romney himself.
Lets consider what he said:
“You’re going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, I can’t be here until 7 or 8 o’clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o’clock so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said fine. Let’s have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.”
Women will never make their career their number one priority, they will always put their families first. As the boss, that means that if I hire a woman I need to change the way I do business to accomodate her schedule. I am willing to do that, [but only because I need only pay her 72% of what I pay her male counterparts.]
“We’re going to have to have employers in the new economy, in the economy I’m going to bring to play, that are going to be so anxious to get good workers they’re going to be anxious to hire women.”
Given how unproductive female workers are relative to male workers, as a boss I will only hire a woman after I have exhausted the supply of qualified male workers [and, even then, only because I need only pay her 72% of what I pay her male counterparts.]
I may be reading between the lines here, but this is probably a pretty good representation of the way that employers make their hiring decisions; we all want to think that employers pay women less because women are discriminated against in the workforce, but the reality is that a sizeable portion of the gender wage gap is there to compensate firms for taking on female workers who they expect will be less productive than their male counterparts.
Now, you might say that that is discriminatory, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that even before they have husbands and children (who, like chicks in a nest, would starve at the end of the day if mom didn’t come home at 5:00 to feed them) women underinvest early in their careers in anticipation of having families.
Take for example the study that concludes that lesbian woman who have been previously married to men do not benefit from as great a “lesbian wage premium” (which is about 6% over the wages paid to heterosexual women) as lesbian women who have never been married to men, because those women under-invested in their careers in anticipation of one day having a husband and family.*
Or the study that concludes that obese women who are unmarried do not suffer the same wage penalty as obese women who are married, because those, single, women invest more in their careers in anticipation of never having a family — so much so that they are able to compensate for the discrimination they face as obese workers.**
Both of these studies try to measure what we call “unobservable characteristics” — the talents we bring to our jobs after everything we can measure (such as education, tenure, family situation) has been taken into consideration. Unobservable characteristics are, at least in part, one of the reasons why women get paid less than men — even men who look identical on paper.
Romney gave an honest, albeit tough love, answer to this question. He has made it pretty clear that he believes that “the private market and individual responsibility always work best” (which is direct quote from the first debate) and, I suspect, that in his mind the gender wage gap is the direct result of a free market in which workers are paid according to their productivity — if women are less productive workers than men who is the government to say they should be paid equally?
Well, me for one.
* Daneshvary, N., Jeffrey Waddoups, C. and Wimmer, B. S. (2009), “Previous Marriage and the Lesbian Wage Premium.” Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, 48: 432–453.
** Brown, Heather (July 2011). “Marriage, BMI and Wages: A Double Selection Approach.” Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 58 (3).