Discrimination Role in Pay Gap a Myth

March 1 st 1997

On January 28, The London Free Press published a remarkable report by Southam Newspapers stating that "differences in jobs and family responsibilities are why full-time female workers earned only 73 cents for every dollar earned by men in 1995, according to new Statistics Canada research comparing the income of men and women."

The report went on to quote Raj Chawla, a senior Statistics Canada research analyst, as saying "discrimination does not exist."

What a remarkable assertion emanating from a bastion of feminist political correctness like Statistics Canada. It comes as no surprise that Chawla now claims his comments "were taken out of context." In his words, "The conclusion that the reporter should have drawn from our conversation was that the average earnings data presented in this report could not substantiate statements regarding the presence, or absence, of any systemic discrimination affecting earnings of women visa-vis those of men."

Of course, data on average earnings cannot substantiate claims of discrimination. Yet it's a point that is routinely lost on feminists, inside and outside the news media, who are forever asserting that if women who work full time earn substantially less than men, discrimination must be the main explanation.

There is not a shred of evidence to back up this assumption. On the contrary, there is good reason to believe that discrimination against women in hiring and promotion is now rare in both the public sector and the private sector, where failure to hire the best person for the job inevitably results in lower efficiency and reduced profits.

The same goes for racist discrimination in the competitive private sector. Few managers are so prejudiced they put bigotry ahead of profits. Left to their own devices, private-sector employers will hire workers who can produce the most at the least cost, regardless of race, gender, or any other extraneous consideration.

In a multinational study entitled The Economics and Politics of Race, Thomas Sowell, a prominent black economist in the United States, has demonstrated that wherever job-place discrimination is rampant, government regulations are mainly to blame. In South Africa, for example, it was government regulations during the apartheid era that barred blacks from white trade unions, supervisory jobs, and professional posts.

While these rules were stringently observed in the public sector, employers in the private sector were forever trying to circumvent them in the interest of maximizing profits. As more and more blacks became qualified for skilled trades and managerial positions, apartheid became less and less economically viable. Sooner or later, the racist regime was bound to collapse under the inexorable pressure of free-market forces.

No difference

What, then, explains the wide gap between male and female earnings in Canada? If discrimination is not a prime factor, what accounts for the fact that among full-time workers, women earned only 73 cents for every dollar earned by men in 1995?

Statistics Canada has provided some clues to the answer. In its report Earnings of Men and Women, 1995, the agency concedes that "when education is factored in, there was almost no difference in average earnings for university-educated single (never-married) males and females (95.7 per cent)."

Married women were in a much different position. In 1995, those who had a university education and worked full time had average annual earnings of $43,949, compared to $59,883 for their male counterparts. That works out to an earnings gap of 73 per cent—the same as for full-time workers, regardless of education.

This finding is not unusual. Over the past 20 years in Canada, the U.S., and most other industrialized countries, numerous studies have demonstrated that among full-time workers, never married women have almost the same average annual earnings as never married men, while married and divorced women earn substantially less on average than their male counterparts.

Does this prove sexist male employers cozy up to never-married women, while discriminating against married and divorced women? Not at all.

There are other obvious explanations. For one, Statistics Canada has demonstrated a typical wife still takes on much greater responsibilities in the home than her husband, especially in relation to child care.

Educational and job choices are additional factors. Statistics Canada reports that as recently as 1994, women held fewer than 20 per cent of the generally highly skilled and well-paying Canadian jobs in natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics.

Granted, as Chawla says, these data prove nothing about the extent of discrimination against women or men in the workplace. What it does suggest is that the January 28 report was essentially correct: the earnings gap between Canadian men and women is mainly due to differences in jobs and family responsibilities.

 

Rory Leishman is a national affairs columnist with the London Free Press.

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