Misconceptions of the Wage Gap Debate


A recent poll conducted by SurveyMonkey for Equal Pay Day shows that 62% of Americans believe in the wage gap, which claims that women are paid less than men for similar work.

Thankfully, however, the survey shows public opinion is moving in the right direction. Fewer people believe in the wage gap than in previous years, and more people believe that obstacles for women are mostly gone.


There has been a noticeable shift in the wage gap debate in recent years. It may be a disingenuous attempt at moving the goalpost, or it may be a lack of understanding of what the debate was really about.

Activists advocating to fix the gender wage gap are astounded by the accusation that it’s a “myth.” After all, the wage gap is well documented. It is true the average woman makes less than the average man. The popular statistic several years ago was 77 cents per dollar, and now it has moved to 81 cents. How could anyone blatantly deny that such a statistic exists?

The “myth” accusation refers to the claim constantly thrown around years ago (roughly 2012-2015) that women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns for doing the same work, and that discrimination is the cause.

This claim is a myth. The “doing the same work” claim has never been proven, and the claim that it’s due to discrimination was an assumption that was never proven. If you were to review the numerous criticisms of the gender wage gap claim years ago, you will find that they refute the misleading claims about the wage gap, not the existence of the gap itself.


Discrimination serves as the null hypothesis for activists against the wage gap. Unless proven otherwise, the cause is assumed to be discrimination. And reality suggests this is a myth. In more socially progressive nations with greater gender equality and benefits for women, there are actually fewer female STEM graduates than nations with less gender equality. This has been dubbed the “Gender Equality Paradox.”

We also see accusations of unfairness and gender discrimination within very progressive companies. VICE Media paid nearly $1.9M to settle a lawsuit for supposedly underpaying women workers.

Snopes even debunked the gender wage gap in their explanation of the claim that Elizabeth Warren paid her female staff less than her male staff. It rightfully pointed out that while there is a gap, such a claim is partially false because it does not take other variables into account.

The BBC even faced a scandal when it was revealed that their best paid celebrities were mostly male. The best paid female celebrity was #8 on the list, and made only 20% that of the BBC’s best paid male celebrity. If discrimination is primarily responsible for the wage gap, why are so many progressives discriminating against women?

An article from Vox shows research that suggests the wage gap exists only when women have children. Young, single, childless women earn the same as young, single, childless men. Once women have their first child, their earnings drop. Men, on average, do not face such an earnings drop.


The cause of the wage gap used to be important. If women were being discriminated against, that was a problem. If women faced institutional barriers that prevented them from pursuing their dreams, that was a problem. If women were making different life choices, that was fine. Everyone admitted that a gap existed. The underlying cause was the reason for debate.

The wage gap debate is no longer about the cause. Activists and feminists campaigning against the wage gap are now admitting that discrimination may not be the primary cause, and that gender differences may play a role. But this does not seem to matter. Regardless of the true cause, activists are still dedicated to eliminating the gap.

This debate is now about equality of outcome.

The wage gap, regardless of its cause, means that two groups do not have equal outcomes. And progressives see that as an issue. If the average woman is earning less than the average man, this is an injustice. If women are choosing to earn less than men (there’s more to life than one’s income), then society must be unfairly influencing women to earn less. No matter what, regardless of the cause, the gap itself will always been seen as an issue by progressive activists.

If one cares about equality of opportunity, the wage gap is not an issue so long as personal choice is the cause. If one cares about equality of outcome, then gaps between groups must be eliminated at all costs, regardless of personal choice.

No matter how many times the wage gap is debunked, or how many times Thomas Sowell writes another excellent book on the inevitable gaps in group outcomes, #EqualPayDay activists will see the gap as a problem.

This is the misconception of the wage gap debate. It is no longer about the cause of the gap, but rather whether or not the gap itself is a bad thing, regardless of whatever is causing it.

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Nathan A. Kreider is author of the Misconceptions column for Being Libertarian, and has written for the Austrian Economics Center, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the Liberalists. He also occasionally publishes a blog and video content, including short book reviews, which can be found on his website, nkreider.com. He can be contacted by email via [email protected]