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Gender Pay Inequity?
Marilyn vos Savant's explanation of why the widely-quoted statement
"women, on average, earn 77 cents on the dollar compared to men" is a
misunderstanding and why she believes the wage gap between the sexes
actually may be tiny. The results of her poll about men and women in the
workplace follow it.
See: http://www.parade.com/parade/marilyn/content2.html
Some time ago, you polled your readers for their opinions about men and
women in the workplace, and I put in my 2 cents. I’m still waiting to read
the results. Can it be that they are too controversial to publish?
—Herb Millspaugh,
San Francisco, Calif.
No, but they’re surprising, all right! Before the survey, I replied to a
question about the claim that women are paid less than men for equal work by
writing: “But if their work is equal, why aren’t employers slashing their
payroll costs by hiring women instead of men? In a free market, businesses
are highly competitive, and if they’re paying men more than they pay women,
there must be a reason.”
One reason, I wrote, might be that women often have less experience because
of years spent at home raising children. During that time, men and women
with unbroken careers have built customer bases, cultivated professional
relationships and stayed in touch with developments in their industries.
Those employees are going to be worth more, and that’s only fair.
The National Committee on Pay Equity wrote to complain about that
assessment. It blamed sex discrimination instead: “Women, on average, earn
77 cents on the dollar compared to men. Some of the gap is attributable to
experience, education and time taken out of the workforce to raise children.
But there is plenty of evidence that shows wage discrimination exists. We
routinely hear from women who discover that they are paid less than equally
qualified men.”
This is a common misunderstanding, based on an inflammatory
misinterpretation of Census Bureau survey statistics: The “77 cents on the
dollar” figure is simply the weekly median (meaning middle: an equal number
of women above and below) earnings figure ($473) of all working women
divided by the weekly median earnings figure ($618) of all working men.
These figures include everyone from dishwashers to physicists and have
nothing whatsoever to do with equal pay for equal work. Yet the misleading
phrase “77 cents on the dollar” has been the impetus for lawsuits and
legislation, not to mention the source of unnecessary fury on the part of
both sexes.
In short, much of the “wage gap” is due to experience, education and delayed
or broken careers, plus the fact that women are concentrated in lower-paying
occupations. It is possible that very little equal-pay-for-equal-work gap
exists at all. Note: Equal qualifications don’t produce equal performance in
the workplace. Just because employees complain that they’re not being paid
as much as others doesn’t mean their complaints are justified: Both male and
female employees routinely fail to recognize their own personal
shortcomings, and both complain about not being paid as much as fellow
workers who they believe are equal or inferior to themselves.
To be convinced of any real equal-pay-for-equal-work gap, first we must see
unbiased studies that show men and women working in the same jobs and
producing the same results but with unequal pay. And even that isn’t enough.
Then we must consider relevant additional factors, and there are many. For
example, employees with management potential may be paid more. If women are
perceived to have less ability to handle positions of more responsibility,
they could lose some ground here.
To see if women are considered equally capable and valuable in other ways
(that is, excluding management potential) by the public itself—not by
employers—readers were asked to fill out a questionnaire. The results were
amazing. There wasn’t a single job for which the vast majority (say, 90%) of
the readers answered that “it made no difference.” And the only job for
which even a simple majority (over 50%) of the readers actually preferred a
woman was a babysitter, and that turned out to be the vast majority (about
90%). The runner-up (and still under 50%) was soothing angry
customers—handling complaints! So that’s how we see it. Are we right or are
we wrong? Are men and women equal or unequal?
If any unfair gap exists, litigation can help with situational inequities,
but lawsuits make the stereotype worse, because they imply that women, as a
group, need special help and are incapable of competing with men on their
own. (For example, forced hiring and promoting has cast a cloud of doubt
over all women.) On the other hand, if employers are not seriously
biased—and the pay differences are for good reasons—I believe that forcing
equality in pay is unfair to men.
In my judgment, women are capable of far more than they currently
demonstrate, but to realize their full professional potential—whatever that
may be—they would need to give up the home values they cherish, and I doubt
that will happen. As I once wrote, “Money, power and fame are not most
mothers’ goals.” Nor should they be.

 

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