For many women’s rights organizations in America, the purported gender wage gap of “eighty-two cents for every dollar made by men,” among full-time year-round workers, is frequently pointed to as an instance of modern-day sexism. Advocates of gender equality continue to draw attention to the matter by popularizing “Equal Pay Day” each year and insisting that disparities between men’s and women’s wages are the result of gender discrimination. However, calls for gender equality in pay often fail to consider that there is not equality in how much time working men and women, on average, dedicate to their jobs. Men occupy more full-time positions than women and also tend to devote a greater number of hours each day to their jobs. The bottom line is that workers should receive earnings that are commensurate with the time they commit towards their occupations. When one worker works more hours per week than a co-worker, that worker can and should be higher paid than the co-worker who dedicates less time. Far from being an instance of discrimination, ensuring that workers are paid in accordance with their time commitment is fair, reasonable, and just.
Part-Time vs. Full-Time Work
The decision of how much time to commit to an occupation – and therefore, whether to occupy a full-time or part-time position – is ultimately up to the individual worker but will impact the wages that worker receives, and potentially the opportunities for career advancement that are available to them. According to a recent report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a total of 45.1 million women worked full-time (35 hours or more per week) and 15.5 million worked part-time in 2020. By comparison, 60.5 million men worked full-time and 9.1 million worked part-time in the same year. Notably, 12.3 of the 15.5 million part-time working women (roughly 79.3 percent) did so for “noneconomic reasons,” while 6.7 of the 9.1 million part-time working men (roughly 73.6) percent) did so for noneconomic reasons.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics distinguishes between “economic” and “noneconomic” reasons for working part-time because those who work part-time for economic reasons do so because they could not find the full-time work they preferred, which is why they are sometimes referred to as “involuntary part-time workers.” Those who work part-time for noneconomic reasons, on the other hand, do so because they are choosing not to work full-time due to personal reasons or time constraints in their personal schedule that would prohibit them from committing to 35 hours or more a week. This data not only shows that more women are working part-time than men, but that a higher portion of those that do are electing to do so for reasons not relating to their finances and are presumably not seeking to transition into full-time work. In other words, women, more so than men, are actively prioritizing other elements of their life – which may include childcare, eldercare, household or domestic responsibilities, or volunteer work – over the benefits that working full-time can provide, such as greater opportunities of professional advancement and most likely, higher pay.
Lifestyle Choices and Their Impact on Time Commitment
In addition to stark differences between numbers of part-time workers, studies show that even among full-time working men and women, women who are married mothers still tend to dedicate less time to their occupations than men who are married fathers. This, in part, may explain the “82 cents to every dollar” disparity between full-time workers of different genders, because less overall time commitment will impact yearly take-home pay. Using the American Time Use Survey, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that between the years 2011-2015, full-time working fathers dedicated a combined average of 6.17 hours per day to work and work-related activities, while women dedicated an average of 5.25 hours per day. The same data reported married full-time working women spending 1.36 hours caring for members of the household and 1.87 hours on household tasks (including housework, cooking, and cleaning), and married full-time working men spending 0.92 and 1.29 hours on the same tasks, respectively.
The disparities between the average hours full-time working mothers and fathers spend on their occupations and on parental or household responsibilities are, predictably, much larger between part-time working mothers and full-time working fathers, and non-working mothers and full-time working fathers. For instance, among part-time working women the average number of hours spent working, caring for members of the household, and on household tasks were 2.79, 1.79, and 2.7 respectively – supporting the theory that many women working part-time are choosing to do so because of other responsibilities they may have. This data underscores the fact that compared to men, women dedicate more time out of their days to responsibilities unrelated to their occupation, largely those that concern parenting children and completing household tasks. If a woman chooses to have a family, it is her prerogative to decide how much time she is going to dedicate towards caring for her household; however, the consequences of working fewer hours, in both part-time and full-time positions, will be revealed in the earnings that female worker receives, and may also impact her consideration for promotions, pay raises, and other career advancement opportunities.
While differences in time commitment is only one factor contributing to disparities in men’s and women’s wages, it remains an important one because it demonstrates that calls for gender equality in the workplace are not considering the inequalities present in average time commitments between male and female workers. Those who advocate for closing the gender wage gap may argue that women are forced to dedicate less time to their professional lives because of gender discrimination, structural barriers of the workplace, and pressure to conform to societal expectations of motherhood and marriage. Regardless of whether working women actually face unique obstacles in the workplace, every person has the choice of what to prioritize in his or her life and has to accept the consequences of the choices he or she makes. No one is forcing women to work fewer hours or to spend more time on domestic or parental responsibilities; the choice of how one spends his or her time begins and ends with that person alone, and the individual choices made by women should not be used as grounds for determining whether the gender wage gap is a genuine consequence of gender inequality.