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Every year the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) publicizes “Equal Pay Day” to bring public attention to the gender earnings gap. According to the NCPE, “Equal Pay Day” fell this year on April 4, and allegedly represents how far into 2017 women will have to continue working to earn the same income that the men earned in 2016, supposedly for doing the same job. Inspired by Equal Pay Day, I introduced “Equal Occupational Fatality Day” in 2010 to bring public attention to the huge gender disparity in work-related deaths every year in the United States. “Equal Occupational Fatality Day” tells us how many years into the future women will be able to continue to work before they will experience the same number of occupational fatalities that occurred for men in the previous year.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released data this week on workplace fatalities for 2016, and a new “Equal Occupational Fatality Day” can now be calculated. As in previous years, the graphic above shows the significant gender disparity in workplace fatalities in 2016: 4,803 men died on the job (92.5% of the total) compared to only 387 women (7.5% of the total). The “gender occupational fatality gap” in 2016 was again considerable — more than 12 men died on the job last year for every woman who died while working.
Based on the BLS data for 2016, the next “Equal Occupational Fatality Day” will occur more than 10 years from now – on May 30, 2028. That date symbolizes how far into the future women will be able to continue working before they experience the same loss of life that men experienced in 2016 from work-related deaths. Because women tend to work in safer occupations than men on average, they have the advantage of being able to work for more than a decade longer than men before they experience the same number of male occupational fatalities in a single year.
Economic theory tells us that the “gender occupational fatality gap” explains part of the “gender earnings gap” because a disproportionate number of men work in higher-risk, but higher-paid occupations like coal mining (almost 100% male), commercial fishing (99.9% male), police officers (85.9% male), logging (94.9% male), truck drivers (94.0%), roofers (98.3% male), and construction (97.3% male); see BLS data here. The table above shows that for the 20 most dangerous US occupations based on fatality rates per 100,000 workers by industry and occupation in 2016 men represented more than 90% of the workers in 14 of those 20 occupations, and more than 85% of the workers in 18 of the 20 occupations.
On the other hand, women far outnumber men in relatively low-risk industries, often with lower pay to partially compensate for the safer, more comfortable indoor office environments in occupations like office and administrative support (72.1% female), education, training, and library occupations (73.1% female), and healthcare (75.6% female). The higher concentrations of men in riskier occupations with greater occurrences of workplace injuries and fatalities suggest that more men than women are willing to expose themselves to work-related injury or death in exchange for higher wages. In contrast, women, more than men, prefer lower risk occupations with greater workplace safety, and are frequently willing to accept lower wages for the reduced probability of work-related injury or death. The reality is that men and women demonstrate clear gender differences when they voluntarily select the careers, occupations, and industries that suit them best, and those voluntary choices contribute to differences in pay that have nothing to do with gender discrimination.
Related: Here’s a quote from Camile Paglia in 2013 writing in TIME (“It’s a Man’s World and It Always Will Be“) about men’s important, but mostly underappreciated role in the labor market and the importance of their willingness to do the dangerous work that makes us all better off:
Indeed, men are absolutely indispensable right now, invisible as it is to most feminists, who seem blind to the infrastructure that makes their own work lives possible. It is overwhelmingly men who do the dirty, dangerous work of building roads, pouring concrete, laying bricks, tarring roofs, hanging electric wires, excavating natural gas and sewage lines, cutting and clearing trees, and bulldozing the landscape for housing developments. It is men who heft and weld the giant steel beams that frame our office buildings, and it is men who do the hair-raising work of insetting and sealing the finely tempered plate-glass windows of skyscrapers 50 stories tall.
Every day along the Delaware River in Philadelphia, one can watch the passage of vast oil tankers and towering cargo ships arriving from all over the world. These stately colossi are loaded, steered and off-loaded by men. The modern economy, with its vast production and distribution network, is a male epic, in which women have found a productive role — but women were not its author. Surely, modern women are strong enough now to give credit where credit is due!
Bottom Line: Groups like the NCPE use “Equal Pay Day” to promote a goal of perfect gender pay equity, probably not realizing that they are simultaneously advocating an increase in the number of women working in higher-paying, but higher-risk occupations like logging, roofing, construction, farming, and coal mining. The reality is that a reduction in the gender pay gap would come at a huge cost: several thousand more women will be killed each year working in dangerous occupations.
Further, the proponents of “Equal Pay Day” are promoting a statistical falsehood by suggesting that women working side-by-side with men in the same occupation for the same company are making something like 25% less than their male counterparts, which causes them to have to work an additional 65 days (and 13.5 weeks) to achieve “equal pay.” The NCPE’s statement that “because women earn less, on average, than men, they must work [25%] longer for the same amount of pay,” implies that gender wage discrimination is behind the gender pay gap. Of course that would imply that some corrective action by government is necessary to address the gender pay gap, even though most studies find that there is no gender earnings gap after factors like hours worked, child-birth and child care, career interruptions, and individual choices about industry and occupation are considered. For example, a 2009 study by the Department of Labor concluded:
This study leads to the unambiguous conclusion that the differences in the compensation of men and women are the result of a multitude of factors and that the raw wage gap should not be used as the basis to justify corrective action. Indeed, there may be nothing to correct. The differences in raw wages may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers.
Conclusion: I hereby suggest, that after adjusting for all factors that contribute to gender differences, Equal Pay/Earnings Day actually fell on about December 31 last year. Or maybe the first week of January…. but NOT the second week of April. Women should be embarrassed by the statistical falsehood that is annually promoted by NCPE’s Equal Pay Day that suggests that gender discrimination in the labor market burdens them with 13.5 additional weeks of work to earn the same as their male counterparts – when that’s not even remotely true.
Finally, here’s a question I pose for the NCPE every year: Closing the “gender earnings gap” can really only be achieved by closing the “occupational fatality gap.” Would achieving the goal of perfect pay equity really be worth the loss of life for thousands of additional women each year who would die in work-related accidents?
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