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

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.

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