A WSJ opinion piece published on the eve of Equal Pay Day takes issue with the President's State of the Union remarks regarding the pay disparity between women and men, specifically aiming at the oft quoted 77 cents on the dollar statistic. The authors proceed to drill down into Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers in an effort to equalize the comparison, correcting for full-time v. part-time status, number of hours worked per week, and marital status. They then offer some anecdotal conjecture – curiously unbacked by statistics given how interested in numbers they are – to further account for the gap: "men are loggers and women aren't because they don't like dangerous jobs and dangerous jobs pay more" type stuff (we'll disregard for a moment that the most dangerous occupation in the US, commercial fishing, pays below the median wage for all workers.) After citing research by an institution with which they're both affiliated stating that the gap – when all is normalized – is actually 5% (a number they deem negligible) the authors conclude by chalking any remaining delta up to "women's choices."

Because I'm not a statistician, I'll allow a Forbes article to paint what seems a more realistic picture of the current state of the wage gap, including what really happens when you control for the very variables the WSJ piece emphasizes.

Whenever statistics materialize in a debate, you're inevitably going to hear the exhortation to compare "apples to apples," and though not explicitly stated in analogy form, this is the main thrust of the WSJ piece. What the fine gentlemen with their meticulously arranged stats seem to be missing is that, taken holistically, this is an apples to apples comparison: we are, after all, simply comparing people to people. Perhaps some of these apples are Macintosh and others Red Delicious, but they are all apples nonetheless.

Given that the WSJ is a business-oriented publication, I can't help but find fault with the authors' inability to get out of the weeds while seemingly dismissing the reality of the bigger picture in the process. This approach would never fly in a corporate boardroom, where both micro and macro trends are extrapolated from an endless cycle of studies, analyses, focus groups, and market research; these trends are then used to identify opportunities for improvement, areas for growth, and better paths to solving problems.

Yet paradoxically, the approach the authors choose is to mire their article in minutiae in an attempt to obscure the fact that the 23% divide is still a very real number. If they believe Obama was being disingenuous by highlighting the 77 cents on the dollar statistic, they are being equally so by minimizing it, obstinately refusing to engage with the deep structural issues it betrays, of which I would argue a few immediately jump out:

  • Women not only still bear the brunt of child rearing duties, aka free labor, but are also penalized with reduced lifelong earning capacity for their efforts
  • Women are still being gendered in a way that impacts their career options/the careers in which they envision themselves, as well as the way in which they communicate, negotiate, and present themselves; the business world (and society at large) however, still prioritizes and rewards the interests and behaviors that emerge from male gendering
  • Women who participate in the workforce are still being held back by the ongoing persistence of pink ghettos/occupational segregation

Even if we accept their particular granular analysis, by reducing the broader wage gap to a simple artefact of women's choices (and ignoring other workplace realities e.g., that less than 5% of CEOs in the Fortune 500 are women) the authors are either willfully eliding the outcomes of society's normative practices, or are so ignorant of their ramifications that they have no business writing articles addressing this subject at all. Or, y'know, maybe they have some invested interest in maintaining the status quo.

Gloria Steinem often remarks – and I'm paraphrasing here – that in the initial phase of social justice movements, we're told our demands are unnatural, contradictory to the way things have always been, and correspondingly entirely superfluous; in the second phase, it's grudgingly admitted that reform was once perhaps needed, but enough has been done – everything's fine here, folks, problem solved, let's all just move along. I suppose it's progress that we've achieved a backlash, but somehow with the material conditions of women still lagging, I think most reasonable people can agree it's not quite enough. And, in the off chance there is any question otherwise, let me leave you with a few of the [apparently unmoderated] comments left on the WSJ opinion piece. All quotes verbatim, sic throughout. Fasten your seatbelts…

WSJ Opinion: Gender Wage Gap Is a "Myth"

Women lie!

When have Democrats, Environmentalist and feminist been truthful or logical?

This also doesn't consider the "working from home" mom's who claim to be working while taking care of their kids.

When will discrimination against [white] men stop?

Yes, and they [women] are under represented in prison, and win almost all child custody cases hands down. When the same people start chiseling away at these numbers, then I will start giving a rats rear end about the laundry list of grievances.

Meanwhile too many men are out of work.

What about the huge fall in men attending college? Where is the equality and fairness there, liberals?

When graduating from college the first group to be hired in a very tight engineering market were the good looking single minority girls by GPA since they got a two-for. Then the single white girls followed by the not so pretty single girls by GPA. The next group was married by GPA and then the single guys by GPA.

The victim mentality argument (aka, there's no problem here)

Its the usual game to make victims where there are none,create issues that no one cares about ,—except maybe the non thinking "victims"

…by preying on the victim mentality that the media have created in many women, political opportunists seek cheap votes for spouting nonsense.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE WAR ON WOMEN?!

Someone please hand this guy a history book

And the idea that women were ever subjugated and oppressed in America is a risible myth. Even when they didn't have the right to vote or could effectively compete with men for paying jobs, they had always had, like women since time immemorial, the soft power that comes with the womb.

Women can't really do the jobs men do

I am in the Marine Corps infantry. Currently, there is a significant push for women to be in the infantry based on the notion of equality. Marine Corps infantry is a dangerous job to say the least. When women break into its ranks (because they will) there will be celebrations of the triumph of justice. But what additional risk will that pose to men on the job who rely on the women to be able to do the same things men can do?

The real problem with respect to this issue is the reality... Women simply are not as productive as men... Comparisons of all female medical practices versus all male medical practices have shown that eloquently.

General chauvinism, otherwise unclassifiable

"Math is hard!"

—Barbie

Hysterical female trope

After you get off your soapbox darling can you give us some facts instead of progressive emotions?

Feminism is funny. HAHA!!1!

Since, according to feminists, gender is a choice, why don't women just choose to be men? They could instantly increase their income by 30%!

(Bonus reply) Transphobia is fun!

And if they are in the prison system, the taxpayer will pay for that change.

And finally, the ever-classic "amiright fellas?" (complete with an emoticon, which I didn't even realize existed in 1950.)

The First Lady can easily spend 77% of what any man earns ;-))

In conclusion, the gender gap remains stubbornly unbridged, and with guys like this running businesses, that's hardly a surprise.