Feminists keep demanding new laws to protect women from the so-called wage gap. Many studies have found that women make about 75 cents for every dollar a man earns. Activists say the pay difference is all about sexism.
"No matter how hard women work, or whatever they achieve in terms of advancement in their own professions and degrees, they will not be compensated equitably!" shouted Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., at a "wage equity" rally in Washington, D.C.
But how could this be possible? Suppose you're an employer doing the hiring. If a woman does equal work for 25 percent less money, businesses would get rich just by hiring women. Why would any employer ever hire a man?
Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations, gave me this simple answer: "Because they like to hire men, John. They like to hire people like themselves and they darn sure like to promote people like themselves." In other words, men so love their fellow men that they are willing to pay a premium of, say, $10,000 on what would otherwise be a $30,000-a-year job, just for the sheer pleasure of employing a man. Nonsense. It's market competition that sets wages.
Men do care about money -- and that, not wage discrimination, is why men tend to make more of it.
"Women themselves say they're far more likely to care about flexibility," says author Warren Farrell. "Men say, I'm far more likely to care about money."
Farrell spent about 15 years going over U.S. Census statistics and research studies. His research found that the wage gap exists not because of sexism, but because more men are willing to do certain kinds of jobs. "The average full-time working male works more than a full-time working female," Farrell said.
Farrell illustrates his findings at lectures by asking men and women to stand in answer to a series of questions about job choices, such as whether they work more than 40 hours a week, outdoors or in a dangerous job. Again and again, more men stand.
Job choices explain the pay difference, Farrell argues in his recent book, "Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap."
They also explain, Farrell said, why more top corporate executives are men.
"We have been suckered into believing that because there are more men at the top than women at the top, that this is a result of discrimination against women. That's been the misconception. It's all about trade-offs. You earn more money, you usually sacrifice something at home," Farrell said.
Suppose two people have equal potential, but one takes on more demanding, consuming, lucrative jobs while the other places a higher priority on family. The one who makes work the focus will be more productive for an employer than the one who puts his or her home life first. The latter will get more of the pleasures of family. So he (and it tends to be "he") will make more money, even though she would be equally productive and equally rewarded if she made the same choices.
"Women and men look at their life," said Farrell, "and women say, 'What do I need? Do I need more money, or do I need more time?' And women are intelligent enough to say, I need more time. And so women lead balanced lives. Men should be learning from women."
One irony is that some people, especially young women, may make the choices that lead to the pay gap precisely because they have been taught the job market shortchanges women. Women who see the market as hostile may put their hearts into their homes instead of their careers -- thus making less money.
But the market isn't hostile. The market is just. It rewards you for the work you do, not for the work you choose not to do. If men want the family time many women have, we must accept lower financial rewards -- and if women want the money, they have to work like money-grubbing men.
It's our choice.