Why the U.S. Economy Is Not Biased Against Men

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Last week, we posed a controversial question: Is the economy a level playing field for men and women, or are the cards stacked against one gender -- as the result of workplace sexism or the natural evolution of the economy?

You responded with more than 100 comments. We published a round-up of the most interesting and nuanced answers. To cap this bi-weekly collaborative feature called "Working It Out," our correspondent Marty Nemko published his take, Why the Economy Is Biased Against Men.

To incorporate the big response from readers, we've decided to publish two additional counterpoints from Catalyst, a nonprofit organization for expanding women's business opportunities, and Bryce Covert, the editor of the Roosevelt Institute's New Deal 2.0 blog. Your comments, as always, are welcome.

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Why Women Face Real Discrimination
-- Bryce Covert, editor of the Roosevelt Institute's Next New Deal and a blogger for ForbesWoman.

On Wednesday, Marty Nemko said that it's men, not women, who are discriminated against in today's economy.

First, Nemko claims the wage gap is bunk. It is "calculated in a way that is biased against men," he says, because "men are more likely to be in specialties requiring longer training, high-stress, and irregular hours." He also writes that "in honest conversation," there is a consensus that men are more willing to put their lives aside to get promoted and women are focused on having and raising children. This is, in his mind, the root of economic differences between men and women: They have different priorities.

Is there hard data we might examine in order to determine what's causing the gender wage gap he thinks is so misleading? In fact, there is. A GAO report tried to account for the difference in earnings between men and women and found that factors like work patterns (experience or time in the workforce, for example), industry, occupation, race, marital status, and job tenure do come into play. However, it then stripped all of those factors out, and it still found that women make 80 percent of what men earn. It concluded, "[W]e were not able to explain the remaining earnings difference." One of the possibilities, it said, is discrimination, pure and simple.

The wage gap also holds true no matter what industry or occupation women enter. In the Bureau of Labor Statistic's list of nearly 600 occupations, women make more than men in only seven of them, and in those the difference can be as slight as a couple of dollars a week. Plus women make less than men in every single one of the BLS's 13 industry categories. Women will be paid less no matter what career choices they make.

Nemko is also worried that more women than men are getting college degrees, pointing out that 60 women graduate from college for every 40 men. But when they move into the workforce, are they rewarded for that educational attainment? Far from it. The Census Bureau looked through data on higher education and found that women make less than similarly educated men at every level. Worse, the gap widens the more education a woman takes on. While overall men with post-high school education make more than $800 more per month than women with the same level of education, men with a B.A. in business make $1,000 more and men with advanced degrees in business make $1,400.

The "anti-men practices" he says are "routinely imposed by employers" -- chief among them, flexible work schedules and family leave -- can actually benefit men. After all, while women are expected to be the default caretakers, men are parents too. Zemko points out that a major cause of men dying earlier than women is stress-related illnesses. So work policies that support those who want to work and care for kids benefit both men and women. Far from "diverting money" from men and "costing jobs," these policies should help everyone.

A rising tide should lift all boats. The steps the country needs to take to close the wage gap should also improve men's wages. Giving men access to better work schedules that allow them to be fathers as well as workers helps everyone. But we're not there yet, and calling the economy in favor of women just doesn't hold up against the data.

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Standing Up for Equality
-- Mike Otterman, social media manager, Catalyst, and Jeanine Prime, PhD, vice president of research, Catalyst

Most guys get that equality programs -- things like flexible work arrangements, mentoring programs, on-site childcare, and legislative solutions for equal pay -- are good for women and men. They support equality, not just because they care about women, but because they recognize it's in their own interests.

There are a lot of big-picture economic reasons why gender equality makes sense. Economies are stronger in countries where more women participate in the workforce. In fact, if women participated in the paid labor market at the same rate as men, America's GDP would jump 9%, the euro-zone's 13%, and Japan's 16%. And research suggests a correlation between diversity on boards and better financial performance and innovation.

But here's where it gets even more interesting: Men now have more personal reasons to support equality too. Take fair pay. Of the more than 25 million married couples with children in the US in 2010, 57.7% were dual-career couples. And in 2009, working wives contributed 37.1% to family income. Yet many women today still earn less and get promoted less frequently than men from day-one of their careers--regardless of their aspirations, credentials, work experience and parenthood status. Over the course of a 40-year career, this can add up to an average of $380,000 in lost wages. For fathers who rely on their partner's income, support for pay equity is a no-brainer. Equal pay equals more money for the family.

Or take other traditional "women's issues" like child care and flexible work arrangements. Catalyst research shows that men, not just women, experience anxiety about whether their children are being adequately cared for while at work--anxiety that can affect how productive they are. Employers who provide on-site child care help make the men they employ more productive too.

Furthermore, research shows that men increasingly see fatherhood as more than a matter of financial support and are placing importance on it above their careers. But at the same time, men don't feel supported by their employers in fulfilling parental responsibilities--with many men resorting to hiding absences to take care of their kids.

To foster an environment where men can build better relationships, personal fulfillment and financial security, more and more guys are joining initiatives like The Good Men Project and more recently, Men Advocating Real Change or MARC (Full disclosure: Mike Otterman and Jeanine Prime are MARC's community managers.) These online movements connect and amplify the "good guys" and give men who "get it" greater voice and visibility. Plus, they create a platform for men to stand up to those who call for a return to our Mad Men past.

Supporting equality does not mean the end of men. It is not a zero-sum game. Scaling back initiatives that foster workplace equality is not only anti-women, but anti-men too.

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