NEW YORK — When I was on the board of directors for the National Organization for Women in New York City during the 1970s, I led protests against the pay gap. I wore a "59 Cents" pin to reflect my objection to the discrimination I felt was the cause of women earning only 59 cents to each dollar earned by men. Now, since I'm a husband and father, discrimination against women isn't just political, it's personal.
But one question haunted me through the years: If an employer has to pay a man one dollar for the same work a woman would do for 59 cents, why would anyone hire a man? If women do produce more for less, I thought, women who own their own businesses should earn more than male business owners. So I checked. I found t hat women entrepreneurs earn 50% less than their male counterparts.
It's not that women are less effective or productive — they just have different priorities. A 2001 survey of business owners with MBAs conducted by the Rochester Institute of Technology found that money was the primary motivator for only 29% of women, versus 76% of men. Women prioritized flexibility, fulfillment, autonomy and safety.
After more than a decade of research for my book, Why Men Earn More, I discovered that men and women make 25 work-life choices that actually create a wage gap. Men make decisions that result in their making more money. On the other hand, women make decisions that earn them better lives (e.g., more family and friend time).
But what happens when women make the same lucrative decisions typically made by men? The good news — for women, at least: Women actually earn more. For example, when a male and a female civil engineer both stay with their respective companies for ten years, travel and relocate equally and take the same career risks, the woman ends up making more. And among workers who have never been married and never had children, women earn 117% of what men do. (This factors in education, hours worked and age.)
Without husbands, women have to focus on earning more. They work longer hours, they're willing to relocate and they're more likely to choose higher-paying fields like technology. Without children, men have more liberty to earn less — that is, they are free to pursue more fulfilling and less lucrative careers, like writing or art or teaching social studies.
What about the headlines saying that even when their jobs are the same, men get paid more than women? Isn't that especially true in corporate America? Yes. But according to Catalyst, a nonprofit that advocates for gender equality in the business world, men are nine times more likely to be responsible for bottom-line sales, marketing and finances, not human resources or public relations.
But wait. Don't companies favor men for these greater responsibilities to begin with? Sometimes. Overall, though, track records being equal, whoever is more willing to relocate, travel and work 80-hour weeks receives greater responsibilities. The male corporate model is built on a man's greater willingness to be a slave of sorts — especially once he has to provide for children.
Is there discrimination against women? Yes. There's no denying that the old boys' network is alive and well. But there's also discrimination against men. For example, try getting hired as a male dental hygienist, nursery school teacher or cocktail waiter, or try selling clothing at Wal-Mart Stores. (Even the employees in the men's wear department are 93% women.)
When we focus our binoculars only on discrimination, we miss opportunities available to women, such as the 80 fields (e.g., financial analysis, radiation therapy, statistics and most engineering fields) in which women now earn more than men.
I want my daughters to know that working 44 versus 34 hours per week leads to more than twice the pay. As I took my binoculars off of discrimination against my wife and daughters, I discovered new opportunities in store for them.
Dr. Warren Farrell is the author of Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap — and What Women Can Do About It and the international best-sellers Why Men Are The Way They Are and The Myth of Male Power. Dr. Farrell is the only man in the U.S. ever elected three times to the board of directors for the National Organization for Women in New York City.
© 2012 Forbes.com