The Cost of Being a Girl: Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap
by Yasemin Besen-Cassino
Temple University Press, 238 pp.
Speaking at the 2016 Republican National Convention, Ivanka Trump won plaudits for pledging to work with her father, now President Donald Trump, to combat the gender pay gap. Women, she explained, make up 46 percent of the labor force but still earn only 83 cents for every dollar earned by men. She disputed that gender discrimination was the root of this inequality. Instead, she said, "[a]s researchers have noted, gender is no longer a factor creating the greatest wage discrepancy--motherhood is." Her speech earned nodding approval from liberal outlets. Vox, for example, cited Columbia professor Jane Waldfogel's seminal 1998 article arguing that "the greatest barrier to economic equality is children."
As with many attempts to explain the stubbornly persistent pay gap, the motherhood theory suffers from a few flaws--such as the fact that when men have children, their pay goes up. But it also falls into a long line of academic research that blames women for their lesser earnings while ignoring the very real effects of simple discrimination.
Since the passage of the 1963 Equal Pay Act, academics have devised a variety of theories to explain the gender gap, such as the suggestion that women lack the same experience and training as men. But since women have outnumbered men on college campuses since the late 1970s-reaching 55 percent of undergraduates in 2014-that argument is largely moot. Another claim is that women simply self-select into lesser-paying jobs. Data show that this gets it exactly backward: in fact, when women move into a male-dominated field in large numbers, salaries plummet. (Conversely, when men move into a female-dominated field, such as nursing, salaries rise.) Moreover, a woman's "decision" to avoid a certain field might not be a choice at all. In the tech and science worlds, for example, many women have been effectively harassed out of jobs by men.
Some gender pay gap skeptics offer up an even more dubious theory: We're paid less because we want to be! Women, the argument goes, would rather have a nice working environment and flexible hours and are more interested in nurturing others and socializing than in raking in the big bucks. We leave the workforce by choice to care for children and aging parents. Or maybe we're just bad at asking for raises; if only more of us would embrace "Getting...