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Dr. Sasha Galbraith Headshot

The Wage Gap Plot Thickens

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A recent article in the Wall Street Journal blatantly states that there is "no male-female wage gap."

Among other things, the author, Carrie Lukas (executive director of the conservative Independent Women's Forum), points out that women work an average of 8.01 hours per day on the job, versus men, who work 44.4 minutes longer each day. This difference, she says, explains over one third of that wage gap. Really?

This just goes to show, statistics can be misleading. While often useful, they are also great at hiding a multitude of evils, as well as giving us nonsense. Take, for example, the fact that rich families spend more on groceries than poor families. So what? I guess then, the extra hours that women put in at home in unpaid family, elder and household care count for nothing in that wage gap. In fact, Lukas cites one group of people -- single, childless urban female workers between the ages of 22 and 30 -- who earn 8 percent more than similar men. And that's my point exactly! According to a University of Michigan study of U.S. families, married women with three kids or more logged an average of 28 hours of housework per week. Compare that to the 10 hours per week put in by their spouses. In fact, getting married creates seven hours per week more (unpaid) work for the wife.

Fine, you say, most married women with loads of kids don't work full-time outside the home. True. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 43 percent of married mothers work full-time outside the home, about half the ratio of married fathers. But among married fathers and mothers who work, women spend twice as much time on housework (two hours per day) than men.

Why should we care if people work for no pay? Because ignoring unpaid work distorts our Gross Domestic Product and the assessment of our national living standards. If a mother goes into the paid workforce, she has to arrange for someone to take care of the kids. In some cases, it might be a relative who probably will do this work for free, or it might be a childcare center for which she has to pay. Similarly, the family will probably have to pay someone else to clean the house and cook meals (restaurants and take-out services). While all those paid services count toward the GDP, they also overstate the implied benefits to our standard of living -- which is usually assumed to track with the rise of GDP.

Why should we care if women are paid less than men for doing exactly the same job? Because women invest their earnings differently than do men. According to a UNICEF report, women spend more money on the education, health and welfare of their families. This, in turn, benefits the economic well-being of the country as a whole. If women were paid the same as men, the U.S. GDP would be 9 percent higher (and Europe's would increase by 13 percent, according to a UN report).

I've often wondered what would happen if all the women in the world decided not to do any of their unpaid work for a day. Oh wait, I think that's called Mother's Day. Happy Mother's Day, ladies.

Crossposted from Forbes.com.