Did Someone Say Paycheck Fairness Act (again)?

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Forbes recently ran an article discussing the persistent wage gap between men and women. What is the newest theory as to why women earn less? Their salary expectations are too low.

Women: it is still your fault you are earning less than your male counterpart (so sorry to break the news to you).

This new theory is based off a Universum study that asked about 66,000 undergraduates at 318 universities what they expected as a first-time salary. Women reported to expect $49,248, while men expected an annual take home of $56,947. Megan Casserly of Forbes notes that the salaries the students reportedly expect are not inaccurate or the product of guesswork.

The numbers pinpointed by both male and female undergrads are remarkably on-point. They’re not pipe dreams, they’re well-informed guesses. Whether they’re talking to women in the workforce who are candid about their own salaries or tapping anonymous online networks, women’s salary expectations appear to be informed.

So while it is not immediately clear to me what this data shows – other than women are realistic in their expectations about joining the job market – Casserly takes this information as a sign that government intervention is needed to level the playing field. “At the risk of sounding like a broken record,” Casserly writes, “it does seem as if the most immediate solution is (however unlikely) the twice-proposed and twice-stalled Paycheck Fairness Act.”

The Paycheck Fairness Act intends to make it illegal for employers to pay men and women (who do the same job) differently. Which, like most suggested and imposed government policy, sounds good in theory. Everyone getting paid fairly? Yes! How could that ever be a bad thing?

There are reasons other than gender for compensating one employee more than another like qualification, aptitude, and capability. No two individuals are necessarily equally qualified for a job. When an employer makes an investment in hiring an employee, it makes sense that they gauge the hire’s market value. If one, say for pregnancy, has less work experience, they are likely less valuable to the company. If another had lower wages from a past job due to poor negotiating skills, the company will try to pay her less as well. These problems can come down to the woman’s life decisions; decrying “discrimination” is foul.

Women earning less than men is still a problem. Seeking the cause is still a worthy endeavor. But for the sake of progress, can we please stop suggesting women need help to get a fair shake in this life? I am not surprised by the results of this Universum study, but I am shocked and offended at Megan Casserly’s conclusion. I don’t need no man – or government – making sure this big scary world doesn’t take advantage of me.

And hey, maybe women earn less than men because they have discovered – in all their infinite wisdom – that money isn’t the secret to happiness.