When Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, the Republican whose coming recall election has made national headlines, signed into law a repeal of procedures for women to get equal pay for equal work, it only added to the national narrative. Republicans are not literally waging a war on women. They are simply holding women captive to a view that most of us think belong in the 1950s.
A 2009 law allowed women to seek damages in state court when they were held back by discrimination. They had to prove their case before a state administrative agency first, but after that, collecting damages was easier because state courts are less expensive and less crowded. The new law, the one just signed by Governor Walker, keeps women out of state courts. Now they must go to federal court.
The chief Wisconsin legislative sponsor of the new law was Republican state senator Glenn Grothman. He is widely quoted as saying income matters less to women than to men. It is the Pin Money Quote. But he actually stated his case more cogently. The income gap is a result of individual life choices:
Take a hypothetical husband and wife who are both lawyers. But the husband is working 50 or 60 hours a week, going all out, making 200 grand a year. The woman takes time off, raises kids, is not go go go. Now they’re 50 years old. The husband is making 200 grand a year, the woman is making 40 grand a year. It wasn’t discrimination. There was a different sense of urgency in each person.
If women worked as hard as men do, if they stayed in the workplace, they would be paid equally. It all has to do with effort and family choices. That's the beginning and end of it.
There are studies and studies, one after another, that reach the same conclusion. Women are paid less than men for the same work. It's not an actual conspiracy. It's more of a gentlemen's agreement based on unquestioned assumptions.
The American Association of University Women, for example, conducted an examination of one age old narrative. It is that women are paid less because circumstances reduce their value in the workplace. Women are less educated, less experienced, more likely to drop out because of parenthood, and so on. They conducted a rigorous analysis (pdf) and discovered that, yes, those factors did reduce the market value of professional women. But even after taking those factors into account, women were still paid less. And not just a little less:
After accounting for college major, occupation, industry, sector, hours worked, workplace flexibility, experience, educational attainment, enrollment status, GPA, institution selectivity, age, race/ethnicity, region, marital status, and number of children, a 5 percent difference in the earnings of male and female college graduates one year after graduation was still unexplained.
A similar analysis of full-time workers 10 years after college graduation found a 12 percent unexplained difference in earnings. Other researchers have also found that the gender pay gap is not fully accounted for by women’s and men’s choices.
Their conclusions are buttressed by previous studies on U.S. gender pay gaps in such publications as the Industrial and Labor Relations Review and Sociology of Education. Women were paid less as a result of discrimination, a gap that could not be explained away.
But Republican state senator Glenn Grothman has his own set of evidence although the expertise on which he relies is considered less traditional:
What you’ve got to look at, and Ann Coulter has looked at this, is you have to break it down by married and unmarried. Once you break it down by married and unmarried, the differential disappears.
So there you have it. A bunch of scientists with surveys and studies on one side, Ann Coulter on the other. And we see who prevailed among conservative lawmakers in Wisconsin.
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