‘Wage gap’ due to differentiation among sexes’ roles

Letter to the Editor, Loyola Maroon, Friday, 11 April 2003

Trey Ragan and Walter Block


We are writing to address a prevalent misconception regarding the wage gap or, rather, lack thereof between males and females. In the April 4 edition of The Maroon, Barbara Webster is quoted as saying, “We try to charge guys more and charge girls less because of the wage gap. So it’s kind of like a little protest.”

But there is no such a thing as the wage gap. Yes, centuries ago the wage gap existed, but it was entirely justified. Male physical strength was – and still is – greater than that of females, and in those long ago times this phenomenon played an important role in the difference between the economic productivity of men and women.

Nowadays, however, upper body strength determines productivity only rarely. On average, males and females are equally intelligent, skilled and productive. Since wages depend upon productivity, they should be equal for both genders. And they are, for those who are equally attached to the labor force.

For example, there is virtually no difference in income for the men and women who have never married. It cannot be denied that there is a difference in income between men and women overall, but this is almost entirely due to the vastly different contributions made to child care, house cleaning and shopping, among other domestic duties.

According to the marital asymmetry hypothesis, women who have ever been married – this includes the widowed, divorced, separated – will have lower productivity than males due to childbirth and extra household responsibilities.

These extra tasks cause the productivity of married females in markets to fall, ergo, their wage rate as well.

Since most women have been touched by the institution of marriage, this pulls down their average productivity in the market, and hence their wages.

The so-called feminists ask us to believe that female wages are below those of males due to employer discrimination, not productivity differences. But were this so, it would be more profitable to hire the former than the latter.

Employers who discriminated on the basis of internal plumbing would earn less and eventually be forced into bankruptcy. If the typical male and female had hourly productivity rates of $10, but the former were paid $10 and the latter $7, then hiring a woman would earn for an employer an extra $3 in pure profit.

If laws are passed mandating that lower productive women be paid the same as men, the only result will be excessive female unemployment, the effect of all minimum wage laws. If male productivity were $10 and female $7, a more realistic example, but the law required that both be paid the former amount, then hiring a woman would bring losses of $3 per hour, and many would become unemployed.

In terms of business ethics, it is still entirely fair that women, on average, be paid less than men are.

They produce less in the market, but more in the household.

Trey Ragan
economics senior

Walter Block, Ph.D.
Harold E. Wirth Professor of Economics

[Webmaster’s note: this is posted here, not because I agree with it (Athena forfend!) but because I wanted to preserve it as part of an ongoing public dialogue about the implications of Austro-libertarian principles for feminist concerns (see, e.g., me here and here, and Walter’s response here), and the Loyola Maroon had unfortunately deleted the original version from their website. – RTL]