(This is one of a series of posts on the wage gap.)
This is a myth which is frequently repeated by anti-feminists on the internet. Although exact details vary, the argument is generally that the pay gap is a statistical illusion that has nothing to do with discrimination against women. Women are paid less because they work so many fewer hours; if US government statistics took account of hours worked, the wage gap would disappear. So the critics say.
There are two big flaws in this argument. First of all, the numbers don’t add up – taking account of hours worked does make the pay gap a little smaller, but not that much smaller. Second, the argument implicitly assumes that how many hours we get to work isn’t affected by discrimination; but there’s no reason to believe this is true.
How big a difference does hours worked make?
It is true that men work more hours than women, on average (at paid jobs, anyhow – but keep in mind women work many more unpaid hours at home). But the difference isn’t that large, among men and women who work full-time.
According to the US government’s Monthly Labor Review (April 1997, pages 3-14), the average full-time year-round woman worked 40.8 hours a week in 1995. Men, according to the same source, worked 44.5 hours – a significant difference, but not a huge difference (and not nearly as large a difference as anti-feminists sometimes claim). How much does that affect the wage gap?
Fortunately, we don’t have to do the math ourselves – the US Department of Labor has done it for us. According to a DOL web page in 2001 – a web page that, unfortunately, has since been taken down by the Bush administration – comparing only hourly wages, women were paid 83.2% of what men were paid in 2000. 83.2% is a noticible difference from the 76% figure for weekly full-time wages – but it still leaves the majority of the pay gap unaccounted for.
Is hours worked really a discrimination-free zone?
When anti-feminists say that it’s better to compare hourly wages, they’re sneaking an unjustified assumption into the argument. Because part of the pay gap can be accounted for by different hours worked, that part of the wage gap doesn’t, they say, have anything to do with discrimination. But is it really true that how many hours people work can’t be affected by discrimination?
Most people, after all, don’t have that much choice in how much they work. Once you’ve got a full-time job, whether you work 41 or 45 hours a week is as much up to your employer as it is up to you – and it’s quite possible for the hours assigned to be affected by discrimination.
In the eighties, for instance, I worked for a temp agency in NYC which discriminated against its black temps by giving white temps more and better assignments. (I found out when the Times printed a expose of the practice, after which I stopped accepting jobs from that agency). Presumably I earned more than black and latina counterparts that year in part because I worked more hours; but my working more hours was itself a result of discrimination.
The assumption that hours worked can’t have anything to do with discrimination is unrealistic. If discrimination exists in the job market, it potentially has effects on all aspects of the job market – including how many hours a week people work.