Reporters Shouldn’t Just Parrot Misleading Statistics
It would hardly be International Women’s Day without a speech from an elected official repeating the mistaken notion that American women still suffer under systematic discrimination in the workplace as evidenced by the statistic that women, on average, earn 77 percent of what men earn.
Yesterday, President Obama included this statistic during his remarks to celebrate International Women’s Day: “The statistics of inequality are all too familiar to us — how women just earn 77 cents for every dollar men make.” This was dutifully parroted by those covering the event, including Dan Robinson’s Voice of America article.
An enterprising reporter might actually look into the statistics, instead of just transcribing them, and question whether it makes sense to compare American women’s barriers to advancement to those around the world, particularly where women still face widespread abuse and discrimination. After all, the “wage gap” figure that President Obama cites is not a “statistic of inequality,” but the outcome of women making different career choices than men. Research shows that women, on average, work fewer hours in the office, take more time out of the workforce, and opt for jobs that offer more personal fulfillment, physical comfort, regular hours, less travel, and less risk than men do. These are the primary reasons that women tend to earn less than men do.
Even liberal groups that use wage-gap statistics to push for more government intervention in the workforce acknowledge that when you control for factors such as the above, three-quarters of the wage gap disappears (see p. 18).
International Women’s Day should celebrate women’s achievements and consider the real hardship that too many women around the world still face. It shouldn’t be an occasion to repeat misleading statistics about the oppression of U.S. women.