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Friday, April 27, 2007

ERA Won't Fix Any Of These Problems

So, I'm reading the Op/Ed pages lately, and there has been a growing clamoring, now that Democrats control Congress, to get the Equal Rights Amendment back on the front burner.

This weeks report that women start making less money than men straight out of college is the latest report to get feminists up in arms, and declare that an Amendment to the Constitution is the only solution.

In today's Washington Post Martha Burke and Eleanor Smeal argue that "gender gaps" in education, health care, and political positions will somehow magically disappear with the passage of the ERA. Salaries will somehow become comparable, differences in health insurance rates will go way, suddenly political participation will be based on population distribution.

It's all bunk. Let's start with their statement that "And in every state except Montana, women still pay higher rates than similarly situated men for almost all kinds of insurance". Actually, if they had said "all kinds of health insurance" they would have been correct.

Women have lower rates for life insurance, car insurance, and homeowners insurance in pretty much every state. That's because insurance is a risk based business, the insurance company charges premiums based on how much the client will cost them. In every example but health insurance, men are bigger risks. We drive faster, die younger, so life and car insurance are always higher for two equal people of different genders.

Health insurance is the same, it's risk based. Men are less likely to use it, first off. We (for some reason) hate going to the doctor, that right there lowers our cost to the insurance company. Secondly, men are less likely to have expensive treatments than women until you get into the 60+ age group.

The gender gap in pay won't magically go away unless Congress decides on a national pay scale for every job, regardless of all other factors. For instance, the 7% gap at college graduation is explained in two ways that weren't in that recent report. Men are more likely to be tougher negotiators on their own behalf. I don't know why, but they are, I've never started a job at less than $5,000 OVER the average starting salary, because I know how to sell myself, and my skill set. I'm also not afraid to push the envelope in negotiations with a potential employer. Women, according to two of the personnel managers I've talked to, are more likely to ask what the starting salary is and accept it.

Secondly, one of the factors that the wage report on college grads didn't really hit was minor degrees. Business School grads are the prime examples. Men are more likely to get a Business degree with a minor in a technical field. This puts them into areas like R&D or product management.

Women who get the business degree, are more likely to have social minors, sociology, psychology, etc. This puts them in HR departments and personnel management areas, which pay less, for the same major degree. Unless the ERA stipulates that minor degrees can't be factored into salary and puts a wage scale on majors it won't change the gap in business school grad pay.

The ERA won't help women in politics, either, unless Congress is going to pass a law that says 50% of all candidates must be women. Even then that wouldn't mean 50% of those elected are women, unless of course we're going to try and get an election fairness doctrine passed.

It may well be that the same factors that keep women from being tough salary negotiators keep many of them from wanting to become major political figures. It's a very similar situation, that compromise doesn't work well in; especially in today's poltical world.

Finally, it won't help in education, either, unless we are going to force students to chose majors based on gender distribution. We can tell boys and girls that everyone should try everything, but unless we force more women into science and math departments, the numbers will probably stay the same. It's that odd "free will" thing that keeps them in humanities and teaching, not the evil empire.

Maybe Larry Summers, former Harvard President was right, maybe there are some genetic differences that keep men and women unequal in certain respects. Maybe Burkes right, and it's all because evil men run the world and don't want women to be equal. The truth is probably somewhere between the two.

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